Thursday, April 12, 2012

A House In The Hills

I grew up near the Mulholland Tennis Club on Crest View Drive, which ran from a Skyline Drive along rows of small to middle sized homes whose fronts and garages butted up against the street with no yards.  The street ended in a cul-de-sac where sat the house that my parents built for fifty-five thousand dollars in 1962.  My dad always told me of how when they were laying out the stakes and strings on the lot that would define the walls of the home, he moved a whole row of them one foot to the north in order to make our living room slightly more roomier.

My parents decided to build up in the Skyline tracts because it was private up there.  As I alluded to earlier, the architecture of the homes was closed and reclusive.  You couldn’t see inside the homes at all from the front.  Many entertainment folks in the 1960’s bought in this and surrounding neighborhoods because the area was so tucked away up on the hilltops.  We had a few neighbors who were not openly gay, but co-habitated together out of sight up there.  It wasn’t hard to figure out why two flamboyant fifty year-old men were living together.  One couple lived right next door to us in a home that had been modeled after ours, but whose floor plan was flipped.  These two men were special effects and make up guys and put on a great Halloween show.  When we rang their doorbell for trick or treating, the door opened slowly to reveal a casket under purple black lights and candles.  Two bodies would rise from behind the coffin with white glowing masks and with gloves that would reach into the casket and pull out some candy to give to us. 

There were very few trees on these hills.  Those that were there had been transplanted into this quasi-granite desert whose only soil consisted of rocks pebbles and was not naturally hospitable to growth.  Standing guard over all of the community was a radio tower hundreds of feet high that served as a structural beacon indicating "home" from wherever we were in the Los Angeles area.  Most of my childhood was occupied with either riding around on my green Schwinn bike, skateboarding, or climbing down the hillsides from various open lots and back yards.  The neighborhood felt both old and new at the same time.  Old because, though there were cement sidewalks throughout, they weren’t particularly well maintained.  There was dirt on a lot of them, and the sidewalks felt hastily installed with non-uniformly graded cement.  It made skateboarding a pain in the ass since it meant that we got bounced around a lot. 

However, in reality, the neighborhood was relatively new at the time I lived there with my folks.  There was a high percentage of open lots.  There was an open dirt lot just beyond our cul-de-sac, from which you could see the downtown buildings and the lights of Dodger’s stadium at night.  We called it the Norton's Lot, since it was just adjacent to our neighbors, the Nortons a husband and wife director and script coordinator respectively.  There was also a dirt lot just a few houses from ours on a corner that we called the Cooper Lot, since it sat next to the Cooper's house (a hugely successful entertainment attorney).  The Cooper's lot allowed for dirt jumps to be made for our bikes.  And beyond our little Crest View Drive area, up on Skyline, there were rows and rows of dirt lots.  There must have been about fifteen or twenty in a row.  This street, in the section I am speaking of, has a slight downward grade to it.  So we used to take our bikes and jump from lot to lot, descending along the way.  It was great fun. 

The last lot ended at about where a street called, Skywin Way fed off of Skyline and met a street called, Edwin Drive.  As we left the last of this series of open lots from Skyline and headed to Edwin Drive, as we made a left, there was another cul-de-sac, and three more open lots.  These lots were at differing heights to each other, which allowed for a very big dirt jump.  This was the biggest of them all in our neighborhood.  One time, I was jumping on my bike, along with my friends David and John on their bikes, and during my jump, my kickstand fell down, and it occasionally did, and as I landed, the kickstand hit the ground and angled me off into a terrible fall and tumble. 

I got up, realized that my forehead was bleeding, and rode my bike home crying all the way.  David and John followed behind, I think feeling partly responsible for staying with me since they were both a year older than I, and they wanted to make sure my parents didn’t blame them for any of it.  We got to my parents’ house, and I ran in crying to my mother.  She brought me into the bathroom where we could all inspect my head in the mirror.  I had a big bruising bump already growing as my mom dabbed the blood off of my forehead.  David and John jumped up and down with a kind of gawker’s excitement, saying things like, “Wow, you really banged your head hard, man,” which made me feel like I had accomplished quite a feat that afternoon. After all, neither of them would have wanted to do that, and all of the attention wasn’t bad either.  That was my worst bike smash up. 

My parents found quite a few places for great walks in the area.  There were several dirt roads that connected portions of the neighborhood, which no longer exist.  One, for instance, was an appendage of Skyline Drive that kept going south and eventually connected to Green Valley Drive, several hundred feet below.  My parents and I would go on casual summer evening walks after dinner with our chocolate Weimaraner-Labrador mix named Willie. We would watch the Hollywood Hills sink into the pink and purple sunset haze of dusk.  Those are some of the nicest times I remember having with my parents. 

Another great hiking location used to start from a place nicknamed, “502 Mulholland,” because of all of the drinking and racing that occurred there.  There used to be Start/Finish banners occasionally hung over the street from telephone poles copping to the nefarious activities that had gone on the night before.  This area is now a development that has very expensive and exclusive homes, and is the location of Britney Spears’ home during the time she was engaging in those directionless driving binges. 

There was also a very special spot.  I say special because it’s the location of some tender pictures of my and my parents and our puppy-dog, Willie.  The site was on the north side of where there is a large radio tower still today, and looked over the entire San Fernando Valley as well as over Mulholland Highway.  It was a spectacular location.  These pictures show both my mom and I, and also my dad and I together in a way that I seldom saw after that.  I looked like I trusted their love, and they were being affectionate with me.  I’ve always trusted them since, it’s just that when one goes through later childhood and then the teen years, there’s some water that can’t go back under the bridge.  And these photos show us during a time before any skepticism on either of our sides.

That special site is exactly where in 1973, about three years after those photos were taken, a huge house was built.  Over 14,000 square fee, two stories, eight bedrooms, five full bathrooms, on 6.65 acres of land.  This house was absolutely massive, and its driveway began at the end of the cul-de-sac of Edwin Drive, about the same location where I had my huge bicycle crash.  My parents and I were all three saddened by the shutting off forever of this site that was so special and serene to us. 

It wasn’t long until we found out who built the house, and actually, it took a little of the sting away from the loss we had suffered.  It was Glen Campbell.  Yes, Glen Campbell had moved into our neighborhood.  The man who had so many hits on the radio for so long.  My absolute favorite to this day is, “Wichita Lineman.”  I just love that song.

My friend David, one of my cohorts during that bike accident, was the son of a very prestigious and in demand music arranger named, Jimmy Haskell, who worked with Simon and Garfunkle, the Carpenters, Barry Manilow…the list goes on and on.  I used to go up to his father’s studio and play one of his keyboards; just simple things I was learning on my own that I wanted to show him.  He would say, “That’s very good, Freddie!”  Little did I really know how important to the industry Jimmy was back then.  Had I really been aware, I’m sure I would have been petrified with fear and self-consciousness. 

I think that even though we were all just neighborhood kids playing in the streets, David had kind of a connection with Glen’s son, Travis, since both of their dad’s were so heavily in the music industry, which meant that I got to know and ride bikes with Travis as well, and occasionally naively trotted around this American music legend's house; another example of my not realizing whose presence I was in.  I remember one time when me, David, and Kristian all went to visit Travis.  We were walking through this mansion sized house when we realized they had a little river running inside under one of the hallways, almost as if you were in a diorama in a museum.  The kitchen, the rooms, and the general space in this house never ended. Again, it was just gargantuan. 

My dad and I loved Glen Campbell, and we used to listen to his 45’s on my record player in my room. “Country Boy,” “Rhinestone Cowboy,” and “Southern Nights,” among many others.  When the song, “Country Boy” came out, I heard the lyrics, “You get a house in the hills, you’re paying everyone’s bills, and they tell you that you’re gonna go far.  But in the back of my mind, I hear it time after time, is that who you really are?”  The story was about a guy whose made it big in the business, but who mourns the loss of being with his kin back in the old country.  All of that was lost on me, and I simply thought to myself, “Hey, Glen Campbell's singing about our neighborhood in this song,” and that gave me pride.

I’ve driven back to the neighborhood several times, and most recently, about two months ago, just to fill my girlfriend in on some of these stores and show her where things actually happened.  The lots around my Crest View Drive cul-de-sac, the Norton's Lot and the Cooper's Lot, now have houses on them.  The appendage of Skyline where we'd take those walks at dusk...completely closed off as a private road.  Those fifteen or twenty lots on Skyline that we used to jump down…all houses now.  The three lots on Edwin Drive where my brilliant kickstand initiated bike crash happened…three houses there.  The black gate that led to the Campbell’s house several owners later...chained shut for a couple of years now.

But the trees.  There are finally trees up there.  They’ve sprung up all over the place.  I looked down from a spot near the Mulholland Tennis Club on Crest View Drive where I used to be able to see David's house from above.  No more. Trees and bushes everywhere. They’ve taken root and have flourished.  It’s an old neighborhood now.  My old neighborhood.  My house in the hills.