Living in Hollywood Heights: The Mystique of the High Tower
By Kimberly Mack
It makes a hard left, and I begin my descent down the steep incline to the Hollywood Bowl. It is quiet, with an occasional resident carrying their groceries. The heat that was predicted is beginning to kick in. A lone lizard scampers across the path into the colorful gardens. I smile at his presence. His oasis is a rich treasure for him to explore.
As I make my way up Camrose to my car, I pause and glance up. Living in Hollywood Heights in the early 1960s as a child with my father was exciting. He had a two bedroom apartment at the top of Rockledge Road off of Camrose, nestled in the hills behind the Hollywood Bowl. He would often entertain; his guests consisted of creative and colorful personalities, ranging from advertising executives, to directors and actors. Many nights I would lay in bed listening to their laughter and the clink of glassware, too excited to sleep. His apartment offered a panoramic, breathtaking view of Hollywood. At night, the twinkling lights of the city below would stretch out like a carpet of sparkling, colorful jewels. His rent was $150 a month. What were once apartments, surrounded by obscure stairways and bougainvillea, are now multi-million dollar homes.
I went to visit recently with my camera in-hand. It was early. The heat the forecast had promised for that weekend had yet to arrive. It was the perfect time of day for my hike, and visit, to my childhood stomping grounds.
Hollywood Heights was my own personal playground growing up. It is a treasure of hidden stairways and paths. I was free to roam wherever my adventuresome spirit and inquisitive nature would take me. And, it was on one of my explorations that I discovered the High Tower and the elevator.
The High Tower was built in 1920, and is clearly visible from Camrose. Its image was designed by Architect Carl Kay (1892-1973). It is well named, and looks like something out of a gothic movie. The tower houses a creaky elevator with an iron gate that takes its passengers to the high-rise apartments above. Today, the elevator is accessible only to residents who have a key. But, in 1963, I use to play in it. My sister and I would venture into the dark mysterious cavern, holding our breath. We’d close the heavy iron door and press the button, waiting in the eerie quiet. Then, groaning and shaking like a tired prehistoric beast, the elevator would slowly climb up to Broadview Terrace, and let us out at the juncture where Broadview and Los Altos Place meet.
Today, it is as though time has not made any mark here. The views are still breathtaking. The four homes that surround the High Tower, designed and built by Kay between 1935 and 1956, remain. The only evidence of recent activity is at Broadview Terrace. In February of this year there was a brief electrical fire. It is the same house Elliott Gould’s character, Philip Marlow, lived in when he starred in the 1973 movie The Long Goodbye. The inside suffered the bulk of the damage. The slight smell of smoke still lingers in the air. The house only waits to be restored.
As the years have passed, the notoriety of the High Tower and the Hollywood Heights area has grown. Not only is it a popular filming area, but is mentioned in the book Walking L.A. by Erin Mahoney. The well known mystery writer, Michael Connelly, also mentions the High Tower and the surrounding neighborhood in his 1993 book Echo Park.
I begin the last leg of my journey as I search for Alta Loma Place. It is tucked around a corner, appearing at first glance to be a dead end, deceiving its visitor. I persevere and follow the walkway. I can see my father’s old apartment high up on the hill. The sound of laughter and music floats out over the street. Someone is having a party.