Heads up to any fellow Angelenos! There’s road work on Barham Blvd. near the Cahuenga Pass (til June…) and it’s really tying things up!
For the curious outside of LA, the Pass is a busy cut through a low point in the Santa Monica Mountains that connects the San Fernando Valley side with the Hollywood/Downtown LA area side. This road wrinkle was not fun to discover as I was racing to a tv extra job – because we background performers are taught that “Being early is being on time, and being on time is being late“. My own motto, however, is “Why settle for early when you can be stupid early?” – so I still made the gig. (Whew!)
From several decades of living in LA – and just from living, really – I’ve come to expect and accept delays. And I try to remain zen through the periodic bumper-to-bumperness of life’s journeys –
With varying degrees of success.
On this occasion, between relaxed repetitions of my mantra for the car ahead (“Put the phone down and drive. Put the phone down and drive.”), I used my time to daydream about how long ago there may have been traffic jams of one sort or another in this very spot. And as I tried calmly to crawl along (“Pick a lane, Mr. Mercedes. Pick – a lane.”), the memory came back to me of the very first time I ever crossed over the Pass –
And what a precious memory it was!
While my history here now goes back years, known history surrounding the Pass of course goes back centuries! The name “Cahuenga” apparently comes from the word local Native Americans used when it was only a handy foot path for changing valleys without changing much altitude. During California’s Spanish era, it was part of El Camino Réal, the “Royal Road” that connected the chain of missions situated up and down the coast. Later on, it became a route for wagons and stage coaches and, finally, the major freeway it is today.
A little post-daydreaming research revealed that the Cahuenga Pass was the site of two battles (the Battle of Cahuenga Pass in 1831 and the Battle of Providencia in 1845), and there’s the obligatory legend of a lost treasure! Stories say that in 1864, bags of gold and jewels were supposed to be delivered to help finance Mexican President Benito Juárez’s bid to stay in power – but some bags ended up being buried near where the Hollywood Bowl now sits. So the next time I hit the Sound of Music Sing-Along there, I’m gonna keep a sharp eye out!
The whereabouts of a Cahuenga Pass Treasure are still a mystery. But back in the 70’s when I first rode through the Pass, the only mysteries I cared about were the ones solved on The Hardy Boys tv show every Sunday night! I was just into my teens when the folks and I drove down from the Bay Area for a wedding and for a tour of Universal Studios! This was huge to me for two reasons:
First, I had a gigantic crush on Shaun Cassidy who played Joe Hardy! And from the fan magazines, I knew (on top of compelling facts like what Shaun liked for lunch) that the series was shot at Universal! And second, I’d been dreaming of being an actor. So when we drove through the Cahuenga Pass on the first night of our trip and I caught a glimpse through twinkling lights of the studio we’d visit the next day, it seemed to me as if we were crossing through not just some natural gateway, but a magical one that held everything my young heart desired!
Regrettably, a third reason was not that just across Lankershim Blvd., in a corner of the Universal/Studio City Metro Station parking lot, sat (and sits) an important little piece of local history – a replica adobe ranch house and the original foundations of Campo de Cahuenga:
If the folks had pointed out this site on the morning when my mind had gone 100% Hollywood, I’m afraid this is how it might have been:
Dad: ”Look, Sweetie! This is the spot where Andrés Pico and John C. Frémont signed the Treaty of Cahuenga in 1847!”
Mum: ”Yes, according to the Triple-A book, the Treaty ended hostilities in California between Mexico and the U.S.! Right there! Isn’t that something?”
13-Year-Old Me: ”Uh huh, uh huh. John C. Frémont. Didn’t he direct mostly westerns?”
Mum and Dad: (Very heavy sighing.)
Anyhoo. Even though I spent the day scanning every bit of Universal Studios that I could, Joe Hardy didn’t appear to be on a case that day. (A good thing, since I think I might have just imploded or something if I’d seen him.) But I eagerly took in all the attractions of the time like the Jaws shark that rose out of the water to menace every tour tram (I think he still does!), the spinny tunnel thing I’d seen on The Six Million Dollar Man, and the dressing room of some really old actor named Robert Wagner. (I just compared the age of this ”really old actor” at that time to my own age now – and I have no further comment on the matter.)
I also excitedly absorbed every bit that I could of the actual filming activity and atmosphere! I remember having the odd notion that this studio nestled alongside the Cahuenga Pass must have been built on good ground – fertile, creative ground. And I had the overwhelming feeling that this was a place I was somehow meant to be!
But you know, I also used to have the feeling that the moon followed our car…
All these years later, I have to share that as far as movie stardom goes, destiny did not take a hand after that day. In fairness though, neither did discipline or determination. I did move to LA and ended up making a living in the entertainment industry as a production paralegal – which is well and good since I’ve always found a certain magic in being able to pay my bills! Still, I never quite lost the sense that the Cahuenga Pass held something special. And when I was eventually offered a paralegal job in Burbank, I took the opportunity to move close by.
I’ve now been here long enough to observe how the area continues to change as more ingredients are added to this marvelous mingling of the practical and the not-so-much. The next change may be the addition of a bridge animals could use to cross over the Pass and freely roam the mountains again, making it safer for some of the region’s very first commuters. Also, Harry Potter has become a neighbor!
My professional life also ended up changing in – well – in the delightfully ”not-so-much” kind of way that’s possible here! As I mentioned, I now use the Cahuenga Pass to get to background work at the many studios right nearby – including Universal! (I may cross paths with Mr. Cassidy yet!) On the entertainment totem pole, I can tell you that being an extra is verrry low. But when it gives me the chance to stroll across the very same good ground that so enchanted me back in the day, I can tell you too that it brings back the giddy little kid who’s still a part of me –
And that kid rejoices!
Until I got stuck there on Barham, I never knew that beyond being a place where battles have been fought and treasures buried in front of movie cameras, those were some of the true experiences of people who journeyed over the Pass before me!
And yeah, I may have encountered delays along my own journey – but turns out I can still make it to some pretty amazing places!
Cheers! (And that’s a wrap!)