Photos: When the Cahuenga Pass Was Rustic

The Cahuenga Pass circa 1905, when only a modest wagon road cut through the gap in the mountains. Courtesy of the USC Libraries - California Historical Society Collection.

Sure, there are exposed hillsides, hidden wildlife, and a few trees. But "rustic" hardly captures the character of the Cahuenga Pass these days. Cars whisk through this notch in the Hollywood Hills at 70 miles per hour. Truck horns and tire squeals pierce the steady hum of the 101 freeway.

Yet there was a time when "rustic" applied. Adventurous types once camped beneath the pass' oak-dotted hillsides. In the 1870s, a primitive hotel -- named the Eight Mile House because Los Angeles was eight miles down the road -- rose among a stand of eucalyptus trees inside the canyon. As late as 1914, filmmaker Cecil B. DeMille rented a wooden cabin in the pass as his home. He rode daily into his studio on horseback -- with a revolver on his hip.

The pass has long been a convenient shortcut between the San Fernando Valley and Los Angeles Basin. In a previous geologic epoch, the Los Angeles River spilled into Hollywood through the pass, before continued uplift of the Santa Monica Mountains rerouted the waterway around present-day Griffith Park. The first Southern Californians likely blazed a foot-trail millennia ago, and by the late 18th century the villagers of Cabueg-na or Kaweenga (the origin of the name "Cahuenga") near Universal Studios regularly trekked through the pass. In 1852, a steep wagon road replaced the old trail, and in 1911 the Pacific Electric stretched its interurban railway tracks through the pass. Any remnants of the pass' rustic character vanished in 1940, when the Cahuenga Pass Freeway -- one of L.A.'s first -- opened through this erstwhile campground.

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Camping in the Cahuenga Pass in 1892. Courtesy of the Security Pacific National Bank Collection - Los Angeles Public Library.

An early drawing of the Cahuenga Pass. Courtesy of the Photo Collection - Los Angeles Public Library.


A view of the Santa Monica Mountains, taken near the present-day Paramount lot on Melrose in 1915. The Cahuenga Pass slices through the mountains toward the left of the photo. Courtesy of the USC Libraries - California Historical Society Collection.

The Eight Mile House in the Cahuenga Pass was Hollywood's first hotel. Courtesy of the USC Libraries - California Historical Society Collection.

The Hollywood Freeway eventually replaced this unpaved road through Cahuenga Pass. Courtesy of the USC Libraries - California Historical Society Collection.

An early view of the Cahuenga Pass' rutted road. Courtesy of the Photo Collection - Los Angeles Public Library.

1922 aerial view of the Cahuenga Pass, looking north toward the San Fernando Valley. Courtesy of the Security Pacific National Bank Collection - Los Angeles Public Library.

Construction of the Pacific Electric's San Fernando Valley line brought rails and overhead wires to Cahuenga Pass in 1911. Courtesy of the USC Libraries - California Historical Society Collection.

The Cahuenga Pass today. Photo by Flickr user stevedevol. Used under a Creative Commons license.

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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