Welcome to Toluca Lake! (Part One)

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Toluca Lake… what a magical name! A bit of a city carefully concealed in the madding throng of the big city of Los Angeles; a bit of paradise tucked away behind studios, condos and shops. It’s a quiet retreat, not just for the elderly but for celebrities who want to get away. So here goes, and welcome to the real Toluca Lake.
When I was asked by the publisher of The Tolucan Times to do a series on Toluca Lake, I thought it would be relatively simple. There had to be information everywhere. I soon learned that is not the case. In preparing for this series for The Tolucan Times I fell in love with the Township of Toluca Lake. There really is no other place like it, and I truly mean that. When you go racing down Riverside Drive on your way to work or to some meeting, did you ever think for one moment that some of the most fabulous homes in all of California are hidden behind those businesses in Toluca Lake? I remember some years ago hearing a friend tell me they had discovered some of the most beautiful homes in all of Los Angeles located in Toluca Lake. When I started this series for the Tolucan, I decided to discover Toluca Lake.
I spent three weeks driving all over Toluca Lake to gain the story about the quiet town which is, in my opinion, the Beverly Hills of the San Fernando Valley. I also went to the streets of Los Angeles asking people if they knew where Toluca Lake was. Here is a sampling of those answers.
When I asked a well-dressed businessman in downtown Los Angeles if he knew where Toluca Lake was, he replied, “I think it is near Big Bear.” In Claremont, California, I asked a student if she knew where Toluca Lake was. Her answer was cause for laughter when she said, “Oh sure. It is one of those lakes in Yosemite National Park.” I asked a man at the Cheesecake Factory in Pasadena—where I was having lunch—if he knew where Toluca Lake, California was located. He replied, “Sure, it is off the 5, on the way to Bakersfield.” While many of the people I stopped placed Toluca Lake anyplace but in the San Fernando Valley, a few did know that it was some place in the valley.
I am here to tell that Toluca Lake is situated in the southeastern San Fernando Valley between the city of Burbank and the Los Angeles district of North Hollywood and the unincorporated county area of Universal City. It is also located between two major film and television production studios—Universal Studios to the south, and Warner Brothers to the east. The Santa Monica Mountains surround the area. The original boundaries of Toluca Lake were Cahuenga Boulevard, Clybourn Avenue, Camarillo Avenue and the Los Angeles River.
I thought I would have some fun with the locals. I stopped in at Marie Callender’s and asked if they could direct me to the lake at Toluca Lake. The couple I asked just laughed, and said, “That is just a name, there is no lake.” When I stopped at Boston Market, I asked a man cleaning tables if he knew where I might find the lake at Toluca Lake. He just shook his head; he didn’t know.
Ah, but when I stopped in at Paty’s Restaurant on Riverside Drive, manager Bob Greene and hostess Sharon Mustaller sat me down, and while Chris Metsos, the owner’s son of Paty’s, filled our coffee cups, Bob poured his heart out about Toluca Lake. Look out, Fritz Coleman (mayor of Toluca Lake), I am nominating Bob Greene as the next mayor of the township. Bob not only told me there was a lake at Toluca Lake, he took the time to drive me to the lake, and like one of those Hollywood tour guides, gave me the full story of the lake and a running history of Toluca Lake.
While Bob was providing the history of the lake, two men who had been fishing in Toluca Lake walked by. Not far away, kids were swimming. If ever I wanted to sell my Fremont Place home in Los Angeles, and move to the shores of Toluca Lake, that was the moment. Some local residents who knew Bob came strolling by.
When I returned to Paty’s with Bob, there, sitting in a booth was funnyman George Lopez chatting with hostess Sharon Mustaller. Bob said George was a regular. Bob Greene is that guy who controls the paparazzi at Paty’s when Miley Cyrus comes to dine with her parents. (By the way, Miley lives in Toluca Lake.)
Paty’s takes great pride in a waitress named “Millie.” Millie has been serving food for more than 35 years at Paty’s. Bob Greene tells me that Inside Edition and CNN recently stopped by to chat with Millie and her long-running stint at Paty’s.
Not far away from Paty’s is the famous Bob’s Big Boy (Est. 1949). Every Friday, Bob’s hosts the classic car get-together in the parking lot. Everyone from just classic car owners to Jay Leno stop by to show off their cars. That Friday night get-together has been seen around the world thanks to CNN.
It was General Charles Forman, the man who supplied most of the lumber to build Salt Lake City, Utah, who was the first person to actually build a home in Toluca Lake. Bob Greene told me that was in 1887, a few years before his time. General Forman’s ranch home was located at what is now Forman and Toluca Lake.
General Forman is given credit for naming Toluca Lake. It is believed he took the name from the Piute Indian name meaning “fertile” or “beautiful Valley.” Somewhere in my travels through Toluca Lake, I heard there was a village in Mexico named Toluca, and that is where the name originated. I like the Mexican village story as it conjures up a folklore that seems right for the area.
By 1923, the Forman Ranch in Toluca Lake had provided peaches, apples and walnuts. That year, investors bought and developed the land as Toluca Lake Park. This venture failed, and a new group soon took over, renaming the development company the Toluca Lake Company. With a vision of creating the first bedroom community in the San Fernando Valley, the company formally changed the name of the community to simply Toluca Lake, and adopted the “swan on rippled water” as their logo. (That logo is still identified with Toluca Lake today.)
I want to get back to General Charles Forman, who was one busy guy. In 1893, he petitioned the United States Postal Service for the establishment of a post office at Toluca Lake. That was the first time the name of Toluca Lake was known to have appeared anywhere in the county of Los Angeles. Today, when you visit the Toluca Lake post office, be prepared to wait in line for your turn with a postal clerk. It does not matter who you are, you’ll have to wait. What I found amusing about the waiting is that many people have met new friends in that line, and have remained friends. So if you’re looking to meet a new-friend, go stand in line at the Toluca Lake post office. You won’t find more pleasant postal clerks than those at that post office.

TO BE CONTINUED…

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