article by Terry Canfield Schmidt
There are many reasons why people choose to live in the city… and perhaps the same set of reasons explain why people are willing to spend hundreds of hard-earned dollars for a relaxing weekend in the countryside. Too bad they didn’t think of Nichols Canyon… a place where the excitement of city life co-exists with the tranquility of the suburbs.
Nichols Canyon, located in the Hollywood Hills begins on Hollywood Boulevard and continues into the hills just below Mulholland Drive. Known to have Spring year round with a lovely creek and water fall 100 feet high, it is the only place in Los Angeles to host natural water falls. In addition to the beauty of the natural landscape, some small man made waterfalls can also be enjoyed from the paths frequented by joggers and cyclists alike. A miniature paradise in the hills… it’s no wonder Nichols Canyon became famous for being home to many wild animals: raccoons, skunks, rabbits, coyotes, frogs, hawks and more can all be spotted pretty frequently. The neighborhood’s incredible beauty attracted celebrity homeowners which have kept the area growing in stature throughout the years.
Nichols Canyon was named after Angelino mayor, John G. Nichols who served in Los Angeles between 1852 to 1853 and then another term from 1856 to 1859 and was the first to really make tangible efforts to expand the city. In 1851 John Gregg Nichols became the first Anglo American born in Los Angeles. Aside from being a public servant, Nichols was a businessman and a builder. He was the first to build and live in a brick house in Los Angeles.
Back in the frontier days there was a small sales office resting almost ¾ mile up Nichols Canyon. It had an old, western porch and roof overhang giving shelter to children who would play in the stream; this came to be known as Rick E Lake. It was named after Rick Ambrose who is its current owner. It is a large property and features four waterfalls and 150 ft. of waterfront that sets on a year round running stream. Before it was converted into a residential area it was the Nichols Canyon Development’s real estate office. It has been remodeled numerous times and even landed in the pages of Beautiful Homes Remodeling Magazine in 1976. Fast forward to the present day, the house now consists of 2 bedrooms and 2 bathrooms. Inside we find an antique heart pine interior inspired by, movie star, James Cagneyl’s cabin in Lake Arrowhead. The house is believed to be the subject of David Hockney’s artwork, Nichols Canyon. Only a few original bungalows have survived the test of time most were either expanded or replaced entirely by new owners.
How Stories became Movies
Stories about the Canyon are plentiful. One of the most famous stories tells of an event that happened the evening of May 13, 1874. A Sheriff’s posse from Los Angeles decided to camp just a few meters from the mouth of Nichols Canyon, almost 2 miles northeast of Greek George’s ranch house. Come the next morning, the famed Mexican bandit, Tiburcio Vasquez was captured on Greek George’s Ranch. The present day County Park of Vasquez Rocks in Los Angeles was among his most frequented hideouts. One can see that with these stories of derring do, that Los Angeles became a magnet for the early filmmakers who were at the time outlaws themselves, trying to escape Pinketon’s Detective Agency which was trying to collect patent royalties on the early silent shorts, which is why the helmets that the cops wore in shorts like Keystone Cops were in fact the ones used at Pinkertons Agency. This became the first of many known insider jokes that movie makers have been making for decades.
Another is the story of Father Yod. Father Yod was a former Marine and a self-styled guru dedicated to the lost and wayward youth. He also founded The Source, a famous restaurant circa 1970. There came a time when his modest three-bedroom house provided shelter to almost a hundred people, everyone sleeping like sardines in a can. In 1974, Yod took all his followers to Hawaii to avoid any child endangerment charges.
British artist David Hockney also once lived in the Hollywood Hills near Nichols Canyon. In 1980, he created an acrylic painting on canvas called Nichols Canyon. His work was dominated by bright colors giving life to the winding road, scenic views and landscape of the Hollywood Hills during the late 1970’s. Nichols Canyon can also be seen in Hockney’s painting, Mulholland Drive.
The names of celebrities who have lived in Nichols Canyon continues to grow and we’re talking big Hollywood names! The list includes talk show icon, Ellen Degeneres, as well as timeless favorites Bruce Willis, Kevin Costner, Wes Craven, Richard Dreyfus and Matthew McConnaughey. Nichols Canyon is home to Julia Roberts and Ren@e Zellweger. The impressive list also includes Hollywood heart throbs Ryan Seacrest, Ian Ziering, Jonathan Rhys Meyers and even the legendary Frank Sinatra himself. Other celebrities include Dan Aykroyd, Mama Cass, John Kay, John Cassavetes, Gower Champion, Marge Champion, Joe Cocker ,Steve McQueen, Alex Murray, Ricky Nelson, Larry Parks, Anthony Perkins, Chris Pontius, Henry Rollins, Melody Rogers, Telly Savalas, Doc Severinsen, Pauley Shore, Ringo Starr, Kiefer Sutherland, Rudy Vallee, Larry Storch, Cindy Williams, Guy Williams and the legendary Frank Zappa. Wow! What a Canyon!
Among the list of movies that were filmed in Nichols Canyon are Unknown World and Lethal Weapon II . Authors have also used Nichols Canyon as a location in their stories. Examples include Robert Crais, Carol Wolper, David Freeman, Jackie Collins, Michael Connelly and Harley Jane Kozak. Buddy Miles also wrote a song titled Nichols Canyon Funk. Recently, Nichols Canyon became part of the TV series Taken, where it is identified as a murder victim’s residence. With all of this being said, the area was recently named one of the safest in the country!