Silver Lake History

Silver Lake 1998 by David Kalwitz

History of the Silver Lake Neighborhood

By Jenifer Palmer-Lacy and SLNC History Collective

The Silver Lake neighborhood of Los Angeles, California is located northeast of downtown, in an area once known variously as Edendale and Ivanhoe, a beautiful landscape of hills and glens southwest of the Los Angeles River. The region became known more popularly as Silver Lake, after a central reservoir was implemented by City Water Commissioner Herman Silver in 1907. The reservoir itself, designed by William Mulholland, enhanced the area and reflected the aspect of the surrounding hills north of the city’s original 28 square mile land grant, creating a desirable setting for residential construction despite the difficulty of the terrain.

There are actually two reservoirs contiguous to each other in the system, the more northern one retaining the former developer’s name of Ivanhoe. Many streets (Rowena, Angus, Elsinore, Kenilworth, etc.) have Scottish-inspired names from this period.

By 1904, the Pacific Electric Railroad was in operation in the area and the right-of-way that is now the terminus of the Glendale Freeway permitted transportation to the hills, where many small cottages were built on step streets in the early years of the century. Glendale Boulevard, finished in 1915 and connecting Los Angeles and Glendale by a bridge across the river, further encouraged building in Silver Lake. Several film studios were sited to take advantage of the year-round sunshine and undeveloped vistas between Echo Park Lake and the Los Angeles River.

Silver Lake Reservoir in 1930 – Silver Lake Reservoir was named for Herman Silver, first president of the Board of Commissioners, Domestic Water Works System. He served from 1902-1903. The reservoir is an earth fill dam, asphalt concrete, with paved slopes. It was put into service in May 1908. Photo courtesy of DWP – LA Public Library Image Archive

One of the first was Selig Studios in 1909, located just south of what is now the 2 freeway terminus; it was followed in 1912 by Mack Sennett’s on Sunset and in 1916 by Tom Mix’s Mixville, 12 acres of stables, western sets, and sylvan landscape at the corner of Glendale and Silver Lake Boulevard. Mabel Normand also had a sound stage (now named for Mack Sennett) on Hyperion across from King Middle School. These were used in the production of many films that helped to launch the careers of Charlie Chaplin, Fatty Arbuckle, Gloria Swanson, Antonio Moreno, the Keystone Kops, and other silent stars. Disney Studios on Hyperion grew from a tiny garage on Kingswell street and expanded to occupy the site of the current Gelson’s shopping center. The Mixville blocks would remain the major commercial area of the eastern side of Silver Lake, with markets, shops, small factories, and even a trailer court in the sites now occupied by banks, condos, shopping centers, and, most recently, the Silver Lake Branch of the Public Library.

Architecture by Harwell Hamilton Harris, photo by Michael Locke (thesilverlakenews.com)

The majority of the neighborhood’s streets were laid out in the 20’s, following the contours of the hills. The subsequent development of individual lots resulted in a great variety of architectural styles and modernist experimentation. Private homes and apartment complexes by Rudolph Schindler, Richard Neutra, John Lautner, Gregory Ain, Harwell Hamilton Harris, Raphael Soriano, Allyn Morris, and other modern innovators are well represented. Many architects such as Lautner, Neutra, Morris, and Eugene Kinn Choy designed and built their own homes in the area. There are also numerous representatives of Tudoresque, Chateauesque, Mission Revival, Italianate, Streamline Moderne, and other eclectic styles.

Helba More (dancer) and Anais Nin (writer), via Champagne!

Culturally, Silver Lake has always had a reputation for being home to artists, musicians,
writers, and creative people, unique in its acceptance of a racially and ideologically diverse as well as politically progressive population. Innovators and celebrities such as Anais Nin, Raymond Chandler, and Woody Guthrie, at one time resided here, as well as such current notables as Jorja Fox, Katy Perry, Giovanni Ribisi, Daniel Lanois and author Janet Fitch. Harry Hay’s Mattachine Society and the Black Cat Bar, thought to be originating points of the gay rights movement in Los Angeles, were also located in the neighborhood.

Additional Resources:
redcarproperty.blogspot.com
silverlakearchitecture.shutterfly.com
silverlakereservoirs.org/about/history
en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Silver_Lake,_Los_Angeles
takesunset.com/neighborhoods/silver-lake-los-angeles-ca
theeastsiderla.com/tag/silver-lake

If you have additional resources or photographs to add, please contact us at history@silverlakenc.org