When North Hollywood Was a Town Named Toluca, or Lankershim

The town of Toluca (now North Hollywood) in 1894. Courtesy of the USC Libraries - California Historical Society Collection.

Some of Southern California's "lost towns" never actually vanished; they simply assumed new identities. That's what happened to one small San Fernando Valley farming village that sprang up in the late 1880s -- a village we know today as North Hollywood.

The town's name was born unstable; in its early years, residents feuded over what to call their home.

Some preferred Lankershim -- a name that honored James B. Lankershim and his father Isaac. In 1888, Lankershim subdivided the easternmost 12,000 acres of his father's old wheat ranch, carving the vast tract into farms of 10 to 80 acres each. On the map advertising the new venture, the Lankershim Ranch Land and Water Company identified a prospective townsite where the old road to the San Fernando Mission crossed a newly graded road, Central Avenue. The map identified the townsite as Lankershim.

Many of the residents who settled there disregarded the map's suggestion. Instead, they called their town Toluca. The name's origins are unclear, but it had the strong backing of an influential newcomer (according to one legend, it was an Indian word meaning "fertile valley," and it is also the name of a city in Mexico). When mining baron Charles Forman arrived on the Lankershim Ranch around 1892, he took leadership of efforts to organize the scattered orchards into a town -- a town he called Toluca.

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This 1888 map advertised the subdivision of the land that would eventually become North Hollywood and surrounding communities. Courtesy of the UCLA Library Special Collections.

A detail from the above map showing an illustration of the Lankershim townsite. Courtesy of the UCLA Library Special Collections.

The county had already created a Lankershim School District in 1889, and the Southern Pacific also affixed the Lankershim name to its train station there, but that didn't deter Forman and his Toluca partisans. They persuaded the federal government to place a post office in the budding town; when it opened in 1893 across from the Lankershim train station, it proclaimed the place to be Toluca, California. Forman's followers also petitioned the county board of supervisors to rename the school district. The supervisors complied, but quickly reversed their decision after Lankershim supporters cried foul.

Eventually, the controversy fizzled, and the Toluca post office became the Lankershim post office in 1906. The main street, too, became Lankershim Boulevard. Developers would eventually resurrect the Toluca moniker when planning nearby Toluca Lake, but the town would be known as Lankershim, California, as it grew from a small settlement of 250 in 1898, surrounded by peach, apricot, plum, and apple orchards, into a sprawling suburban bedroom community in the 1920s.

The name wouldn't last long, though. In 1927, Lankershim business owners peeked over the Cahuenga Pass and saw good things happening to the motion picture town of Hollywood. To borrow some of that glamour, they proposed that Lankershim rename itself North Hollywood. This time, there was little quarreling. City workers and business owners painted over old signs with the new moniker, and the town of Lankershim was no more.

Lankershim Boulevard's name did remain, but that, too, almost disappeared in 1968, when the North Hollywood Chamber of Commerce petitioned the city to rename it after Universal Studios. Historically minded citizens beat back that proposal, preventing a total erasure of the old name from city maps.

The town that would later be named Lankershim and then North Hollywood appears as Toluca on this 1898 official map of Los Angeles County. Courtesy of the Library of Congress.

The residence of farmer W. H. Andrews at the present-day intersection of Lankershim and Magnolia. Courtesy of the Security Pacific National Bank Collection - Los Angeles Public Library.

The Lankershim School was founded in 1889. Courtesy of the Photo Collection - Los Angeles Public Library.

Circa 1900 view of a pear tree orchard in Toluca. Courtesy of the USC Libraries - California Historical Society Collection.

A peach harvest in Toluca in 1890. Courtesy of the Security Pacific National Bank Collection - Los Angeles Public Library.

Most of the fruit grown around Toluca/Lankershim was canned or dried for storage. Courtesy of the USC Libraries - California Historical Society Collection.

A view of Lankershim, Calif., circa 1911. Courtesy of the Photo Collection - Los Angeles Public Library.

This 1911 postcard advertised the lands of the former Lankershim-Van Nuys ranch and shows the location of the town of Lankershim. Courtesy of the San Fernando Valley Collection - CSUN Oviatt Library.

L.A. as Subject is an association of more than 230 libraries, museums, official archives, cultural institutions, and private collectors. Hosted by the USC Libraries, L.A. as Subject is dedicated to preserving and telling the sometimes-hidden stories and histories of the Los Angeles region.

About the Author

A writer specializing in Los Angeles history, Nathan Masters serves as manager of academic events and programming communications for the USC Libraries, the host institution for L.A. as Subject.
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