LAistory: The Outpost Sign

Outpost-Bison001.jpg
Photo by Marc Wanamaker/Bison Archives

Hiking through the Hollywood Hills, one finds a lot of garbage. There's the usual bottles and cans of various types, old bits of carpeting, couches, bones, bicycles, even old cars sometimes. They all have (little h) history. Someone had to truck it up there and leave it, either to get rid of it, or to live in it, whatever. But very little has (capital H) History to it.

Though there have been the occasional signs to commemorate it, they aren't there consistently. So to many of the hikers (and their dogs) who hike through Runyon Canyon, the various piles of metal are just garbage — maybe part of a fence, some shelving, the twisted, rusted out debris of so many failed Hollywood dreams.

Outpost-Sign-1.jpgBy the time Charles Toberman bought the land that he would develop into the Outpost Estates in 1920, it had already passed through the hands of two owners. Some sixty years earlier, Don Urquidez built his adobe home on an Indian burial group, before selling the land to General Otis, a veteran of the Spanish American War and the first publisher of the LA Times. A colorful guy, Otis boasted that the Treaty of Cahuenga (which ended the hostilities between the United States and Mexico in 1847) in the LA Times (who retracted the statement shortly before Otis' death in 1917) Otis declared the house his club house, The Outpost, and entertained many fellow veterans there.

Toberman had recently developed an area slightly to the east, Las Colinas Heights when he bought the land from General Otis. He sold a portion of the parcel to Jesse Lasky. When he realized that he had made a mistake and the new development couldnt be reached from Hollywood, he was forced to buy the land back from Lasky at an inflated price. Still, the plans went forward and Toberman announced that Outpost would be "one of the most exclusive and beautiful residential parks in the world."

Over the next twenty years, Toberman dug the utilities into the ground, and designed the Spanish style houses with plaster walls and baked orange tiles. Most of them are still standing today. They were inhabited by stars like Dolores del Rio and Bela Lugosi. It was during this time that the Outpost Sign was built. Like the neighboring Hollywoodland Sign, it advertised the Outpost community. Unlike the Hollywood sign, it was made out of red neon -- and for awhile, it was one of the largest neon signs in the world.

It was dismantled during WW II when security was dependent on nightly blackouts, and after that, it disappeared into legend -- that is until 2002 when Bob Eicholz and Steve Scott, residents of Outpost Estates, were hiking in Runyon Canyon, saw the ruins and put it all together.

outpost-hollywood.jpg Up there to see it for myself, on a crowded, warm afternoon, there was no sign marking this monument to an age where a huge advertisement could become a symbol of an industry and a way of life, the exuberance of a boomtown, the warm glow of new technology.

Some girls asked me if I knew whether the trail was a loop. I explained that I'd just come for the sign. They were surprised, because they thought it was just trash. They warmed to the story but decided to go back down the way they'd come. One said, "I'd prefer to go up, but I'll go down I guess." The other replied that she liked to go down, as evidenced by last Friday night. Ah, Los Angeles...

Present day photos by Jacy/LAist

LAistory is our series that takes us on a journey to what came before to help us understand where we are today.

Check out our other entries in the series:

Val Verde
Thelma Todd's Roadside Cafe
An eclectic house in Beverly Hills
Echo Park's Bonnie Brae House
Marineland of the Pacific
Grand Central Air Terminal
LA's Own Wrigley Field
How LA got its name
The wreck of the Dominator
The 1925 "Hollywood Subway."
The Pink Lady of Malibu
Lions Drag Strip
Disneyland...when it was cheap to get in
The ugliest building in the city
Union Station
Union Station's Fred Harvey Room
A Smelly Mystery at another train station
The Egyptian Theatre
Pilgrimage Bridge
The "It" Girl, Clara Bow
Elias J. "Lucky" Baldwin
Get Involved!
Houdini's House
Spanish Kitchen
The Platinum Blonde
Chutes Park
Fatty Arbuckle
The Brown Derby
Griffith Park