July 4, 2018
By Gemma Nisbet
West Travel Club & The West Australian
The ramshackle row of mailboxes by the side of the road might not look like much: just five metal and wood structures in various states of repair, perched atop a rickety fence and framed by succulents, agave plants and prickly pears.
But for Joseph Guadalupe, it represents one of the things he loves about his leafy, eclectic Los Angeles neighbourhood. “They could change it but they haven’t,” he says. “That’s one of the great things about Laurel Canyon.”
A resident of this tangle of narrow streets behind Sunset Boulevard for about six years, Joseph runs tours of the area.
Joseph is also a musician who plays in a hard-rock band — “super loud”, he clarifies. This makes him a fitting guide to an area once described by Rolling Stone as “one of rock’s most mythic neighbourhoods”. The birthplace of the influential Laurel Canyon sound, it was for a time both home and muse to the likes of Frank Zappa, Jim Morrison and Joni Mitchell — not to mention members of the Byrds, the Eagles, the Mamas and the Papas, and many more.
And though plenty of famous people — from Clara Bow to Katy Perry — have lived in Laurel Canyon both before and since, it’s this fabled period during the 1960s and 70s that lingers most indelibly. As Joseph puts it “it’s an interesting place with an interesting history”.
And so our two-hour walking tour passes the “shack” where Neil Young lived for a time in the 60s, as well as former homes of the likes of Jackson Browne, the Eagles’ Glenn Frey and the Doors’ producer Paul Rothchild, as well as more recent stars such as Slash and Steven Tyler, who reportedly still lives in the area.
Then there are tales of long-time resident Zappa, whose “Log Cabin” became a legendary rock’n’roll gathering place — complete with a basement bowling alley — for a few months in 1968 (it has since burnt down).
My favourite is what Joseph calls the “John Lennon tree house”, a hillside timber home once owned by radio DJ turned Paris Hilton publicist Elliot Mintz, which Lennon visited during his infamous “Lost Weekend” period. Accessible only via private funicular railway, the house was later owned by Ian Thorpe.
We end with a visit to the Canyon Country Store, long a Laurel Canyon institution. Mama Cass lived in the basement for a while — her room is now a wine cellar — and Jim Morrison’s house was across the street (the line from the Doors’ song Love Street about a “store where the creatures meet” references the Country Store). It’s still the setting for Laurel Canyon’s annual Photo Day, when residents gather out the front for a group portrait.
Country Store aside, I never would have found most of these spots — nor even considered visiting Laurel Canyon — had Joseph’s tour not caught my eye.