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By the Shores of Toluca Lake

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Earlier this week I made a right turn out of a parking lot in order to avoid waiting a lifetime to make a near-impossible left turn. I found myself on a quiet side street in lovely Toluca Lake, and eyeballed my trusty GPS navigation screen in order to see if the road I'd taken would connect me through to a street I knew would hook me up with Riverside Drive and send me on my way home.

But what did I see on the screen? It was a patch of blue, which, as any one whose ever read a map knows, means a body of water. Could it be? Is it? After all these years? I found the actual lake in Toluca Lake!

Maybe you, too, have a small mental file marked "Things that might be entirely obvious or known to others but happen to baffle me." One of those entires is the query: Is there really a Toluca Lake in Toluca Lake? I'd heard smatterings of chatter in the past that some celeb or another lived along its banks, or that it was the domain of the late and legendary localite Bob Hope, but I'd never seen it for myself. It was just the stuff of pure conjecture. Now I know you'll say "Why didn't you just look it up?" and I'll say "I don't know, I just didn't, dammit. I wanted to find out for myself."

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Of course, my excitement tapered off substantially when I realized that the lake was surrounded entirely by private property and completely impossible to view as I drove along the curves of Toluca Lake Avenue. While this was the happy accident I was hoping for, it wasn't panning out like I'd wished it would. No glimpses of blue waters, no public park wherein I might relax with a book or snap some photos. This lake is all about the privilege of living on its shores, and remains shrouded in mystery to me. I suppose it's time to move my Toluca Lake tidbit from the aforementioned mental file into the proverbial "round file." Ah, well.

But what's the real story about Toluca Lake, the lake itself?

According to the Greater Toluca Lake Neighborhood Council's history of the area, the area was originally known as Lankershim Gardens (now almost and oxy moronic moniker, if you conjure up a mental image of present day Lankershim Blvd). Toluca, which allegedly means "fertile valley" was the name of a larger area of settlement along the LA River. We know that the first homes were built in what we know as Toluca Lake in the 1920s. But that still doesn't answer my question about the lake itself.

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Gerald R. Fecht posted some more in-depth background info on one of the original landowners in the area on his blog called Museum of the San Fernando Valley. Fecht describes a colorful character named General Charles Forman, who in the 1890s

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bought a large parcel of rich farm land including much of modern day Toluca Lake. He built an adobe ranch house at the intersection of Forman and Toluca Lake Avenue. Modern-day Forman Avenue – southward from Riverside - served as the driveway to his ranch house. His land included at least the western portion of that ancient and historical marshy pond that we now call Toluca Lake.

Hey--I drive on Forman and cross Riverside everytime I take myself to my nearest Trader Joe's. Who knew? Furthermore, Forman is, according the legend, the one who said Toluca came from the Piute Indian word for "fertile" or "beautiful."About a decade after Forman's death in 1912, developers took over the land, and in 1923 began to build a community where his ranch once stood. This, then, aligns with the 1920s being the initial phase of Toluca Lake, and perhaps we can infer that, in a time when land north of downtown had an elitist allure, a home along Toluca Lake would be much prized. This is probably why it grew into the privatized mini-colony it is today, and why I can't see the lake as I drive by on Toluca Lake Avenue, which seems like a shame to me.

Now I have a new goal: Get myself an invite into one of the homes on the lake. Any homeowners willing to have me and my camera over for tea?

Meanwhile, this little bite of local history is going to have to be just a tease until we get to Toluca Lake in our rockin' Neighborhood Project series.

Photo of beautiful Toluca Lake, California from North Hollywood Directory and Information's Pictures page

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Photo of boaters on Toluca Lake via the gallery on America's Suburb courtesy the LA Times