The Storied History of Nichols Canyon Colony

Many of you may have noticed our recent listing tucked away in coveted Nichols Canyon Colony. But, what’s that, you ask? You may have gone your whole existence in Los Angeles without knowing about the hidden gem that is Nichols Canyon. It’s the exclusive enclave tucked up just north of Woodrow Wilson Drive that, unlike its neighboring Laurel Canyon, actually has sidewalks and a quaint-yet-spiffy neighborhood vibe reminiscent of Leave it to Beaver. But few know the rich history behind this little sanctuary, and just how storied it is. Mexican bandit shoot-outs, psychedelic gurus, and Hollywood golden-age legends, oh my! Read on to get a taste of the vibrant legacy behind one of LA’s best kept secrets.

The Canyon gets its name from John G. Nichols, who served as mayor of Los Angeles (twice!) in the 1850s. Famous for being the first mayor to expand the city, this businessman and builder also lived in the first ever brick house to be built in the city. And his son, John Gregg Nichols, was the first Anglo American to be born in the city. That’s a lot of firsts for one family.

Way before TLC, the local children of Nichols Canyon went chasin’ waterfalls. Back in the day, kids would gather at a small sales office up the canyon, where they would play in the nearby stream and make forts in the lush oak, sage, sycamore, yucca and laurel. And, perhaps the most whimsical of all, is the year-round stream with a whopping four waterfalls. The building served as the real estate office for the Nichols Canyon development. After several remodels, the home was even featured in the 1976 issue of House Beautiful magazine. Now a 2 bed, 2 bath residence, the interior boasts a rustic, antique heart pine interior, inspired by James Cagney’s 1930 cabin in Lake Arrowhead.

James Cagney’s 1930 cabin in Lake Arrowhead

The funky stories only continue from there with a colorful cast of characters. Nichols Canyon has been home to some pretty notable residents and their respective tales. For instance, on the evening of May 13, 1874, a sheriff’s posse from Los Angeles set up camp near the mouth of Nichols Canyon, a mile and a quarter northeast of Greek George’s ranch house (Greek George was a camel driver hired by the US Army). The next morning, in a shoot out at Greek George’s, they captured the Mexican bandit Tiburcio Vásquez. Present day Los Angeles County Park of Vasquez Rocks was one of his favorite hideouts.

Mexican bandit Tiburcio Vasquez

In more recent times, one of the wackiest residents of Nichols Canyon was Father Yod, a self-styled guru for lost and wayward youth. Formerly known as James Edward Baker, Father Yod became the patriarch of a commune of young people, who considered him their spiritual father. The group, known as the Source Family, lived together in a Hollywood Hills mansion that at one point housed nearly a hundred people. In 1969, Yod founded organic vegetarian restaurant The Source on Los Angeles’s Sunset Strip, serving celebrity regulars like John Lennon, Julie Christie, and Marlon Brando. The entirety of the Source Family was supported by the earnings of the Source Restaurant, which grossed $10,000 a day during its peak popularity.

As a native Angeleno, Tori remembers when her mother used to take her to The Source restaurant on the Sunset Strip back in the early 1970s when the hippie movement in LA was in full swing. She specifically recalls that the food was not exactly kid-friendly, if you catch my drift… but little did she know she’d end up living right near there as an adult. Full circle, huh?

The Source restaurant on the Sunset Strip

The British artist David Hockney was a Hollywood Hills resident near the top of Nichols Canyon, and used the area as inspiration in two of his works. In 1980, he created an acrylic painting on canvas entitled Nichols Canyon, with bold, bright colors depicting the winding roads and landscape of the Hollywood Hills in the late 1970s. You can also see Nichols Canyon featured in his painting Mullholland Drive.

Nichols Canyon by David Hockney
Mulholland Drive by David Hockney

Featured prominently in the center of the Nichols Canyon painting you can see a two-story red-roofed white house. Next door to that very house lived silver screen legend Ava Gardner, who purchased her Nichols Canyon home in 1948, which was featured in Architectural Digest’s “Hollywood at Home” issue. In the mid-1950s it was also home to Madeline Foy O’Donnell, one of The Seven Little Foys of Vaudeville fame.

Ava Gardner reclining in her Los Angeles Cottage, located in Nichols Canyon

Last but certainly not least is the incomparable Steve McQueen, who lived on Astral Drive for many years and was known to often drive his various sports cars along the winding canyon roads. Too bad he wasn’t manning the wheel in about 1960 or so, when he was a passenger in a car that drove off a curve on Mulholland and landed in a vacant lot on La Cuesta Drive! Yikes!

Steve McQueen cruising the streets of Nichols Canyon

And of course our exclusive listing, located at 3127 Chandelle Road, is a spectacular example of the kind of hidden gems you can find tucked away in coveted Nichols Canyon Colony. It’s currently on the market for $1,895,000, so if you’re ready to be part of this significant and special neighborhood, contact us for a private showing today