UPPER NICHOLS CANYON HISTORY

An Urban Nature Hideaway

Cut into the south side of the Hollywood Hills, Nichols Canyon stretches from Hollywood Boulevard to the south up to the top of Mulholland Drive to the north. The narrow winding roads snake through the canyon where homes are tucked into lush vegetation or perched on bluffs and cliffs with views to the ocean and downtown. The main canyon road offers a heart-pounding challenge to cyclists looking for a good weekend workout.

One of the most influential artists of the 20th century, British artist and Nichols Canyon resident David Hockney brought our canyon to international awareness with his painting called " Nichols Canyon". His naturalistic colorful depiction of the winding road and landscape of Nichols Canyon (sans many houses!) captures the rural feeling of this urban canyon in the heart of Los Angeles.

In fact, it is a great natural locale. Nichols Canyon has two large waterfalls over 100 ft. high which come from a water source at the highest point of the Hollywood Hills. Though these are now on private property, they keep water flowing into the stream which runs along the lower canyon road out to a catch basin at the bottom. Recent serious drought conditions and the draining of ground water due to subway construction has slowed the flow considerably. However the water continues to sustain rich wildlife residents of deer, coyotes, skunks, bobcats, raccoons, red-tail hawks and more. During the Spring, the chorus of bullfrogs in the lower stream can be heard at night in the canyon.

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John G. Nichols

John G. Nichols

Nichols Canyon was named after John G. Nichols who served as mayor of Los Angeles, California between 1852 and 1853 and again from 1856 to 1859. He was a businessman and a builder who lived in the first brick house to be built in Los Angeles, and he was the first mayor to expand the city. In 1851 his son, John Gregg Nichols, was the first Anglo American to be born in the city.

Homes began to be built in Nichols Canyon in the 1920s and there are still many residents who remember when Nichols Canyon Road was a rutted dirt road that no government agency wanted to claim it as theirs. Others remember when there was Boy Scout camp providing the real nature experience for LA County scouts at the top of Nichols Canyon.

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The Famous and Infamous

The canyon has attracted both the famous and infamous. One of the more bizarre residents of Nichols Canyon was Father Yod, an ex-marine and self-styled guru for lost and wayward youth, who founded The Source restaurant in the 1970s. He lived in a three bedroom house that at one point housed nearly a hundred people. Everyone slept in a beehive like complex of cubbyholes. In 1974 he took his cult of followers to Hawaii to avoid a child endangerment charge.


Generations of Hollywood stars made their home in Nichols Canyon. Ava Gardner, Natalie Wood, Rudy Vallee and Frank Sinatra followed by Steve McQueen, John Cassavettes, Ringo Starr, Kevin Costner, Richard Dreyfus, Dan Ackroyd, Julia Roberts, Kiefer Sutherland, Renee Zellweger, Matthew McConnaughey and many others.

Others recall hearing the parties from one of the rowdier residents, Bruce Willis, who lived at top of Nichols Canyon during his first hit gig on the TV series "Moonlighting". As Bruce would say, his lifestyle did not mix well that of his neighbors and cops were frequently called to quiet down late night parties. . Luckily, Bruce found a six acre canyon for sale further down Mulholland, and the neighbors could finally get good night's sleep.

Nichols Canyon has had a starring role in many TV series, commercials, a couple of movies, movie and music careers.

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Legendary Musicians and Performers

The area appealed to folks in the music world from Joe Cocker to Mama Cass, Ringo Starr to Broadway's Marge and Gower Champion. Joggers could hear "Doc" Severinsen practicing his trumpet as they ran down Nichols Canyon Road in the mornings.


Although philosophically Mama Cass is considered part of the 60s and 70s, Laurel Canyon rock and roll generation, she actually lived in Nichols Canyon. Several of the Mamas and Papas songs were written at her house here, including the iconic California Dreaming. However, Mamma Cass also acted as a friend or even a mother to many of the often talented but sometimes troubled young people that came to Los Angeles in order to make their name on the Sunset Strip. Her house was a meeting place for John Lennon, Harry Nilsson, Crosby Stills Nash & Young as well as with Jimi Hendrix and other 60's legends. Her guest rooms always had someone in residence. She also kept ties with the older generation in Hollywood by often having afternoon tea with Rudy Vallee who lived a few blocks away.


There is even a song for the canyon. Check out "Nichols Canyon Funk" by American drummer and vocalist Buddy Miles . Though an accomplished performer, Buddy Miles will forever be associated with Jimi Hendrix for whom he played drums in the short-lived but extremely influential, Band of Gypsys.

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Movies & TV in the Neighborhood

Nichols Canyon has had a starring role in many TV series, commercials, a couple of movies and movie careers.  

In the late 1980's Jodie Foster's career was not going too smoothly. Director Jonathan Kaplan wanted her to start in the movie "The Accused", but both the producer Stanley Jaffe and Jodie were hesitant. Kaplan suggested doing a screen test at an empty house for sale in Nichols Canyon. The screen test was a success and Jodie went on to win her first Academy Award thereby resurrecting her career.  

In "Lethal Weapon II" the internationally known John Lautner -designed "Garcia House" on Mulholland was the South African Embassy and residence for the movie's villains. This distinctive arch-shaped, glass sided home was last seen in the movie being pulled down the mountain by chains attached to Mel Gibson's truck. The house still stands today -- proof there is indeed movie magic! More movie magic was created in the Peter Fonda/Terence Stamp movie "Limey" where they give chase from a home on Astral Drive, down the road and voila! they're in Malibu. Only in Hollywood.