Toluca Lake? Hollywood Power Players From Miley Cyrus to Kirsten Dunst Have Called This L.A. Enclave Home
The storied celebrity haven, which counted Bette Davis and Bob Hope among its residents, is luring the likes of Steve Carell to the Valley at prices still way below the Westside.
This story first appeared in the Feb. 5 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.
Although it's been popular with entertainment industry types since the silent film era, Toluca Lake until recently has not generated the type of buzz that other celebrity havens have, instead being one of those places people refer to as "a hidden gem." But word is getting out: As writer-producer Adam Leff puts it: "The Bird Streets are over — all the movie- and rock-star types are moving to Toluca Lake."
Developed during the 1920s, the 1.22-square-mile tract in the San Fernando Valley was envisioned as a Spanish-style village in homage to the nearby historic Campo de Cahuenga (where the treaty ending U.S.-Mexico hostilities in California was signed). Early buyers had to agree to construct Spanish Revival-style homes as a condition of purchase. According to local lore, this restriction fell by the wayside when Bette Davis instead built an English country-style home. (Regrettably, radio personality Rick Dees replaced it with a hulking neo-Georgian in the 1990s.)
The living room of the 5-acre Bob Hope estate, which boasts a 15,000-square-foot house, a glass-encased indoor pool, an outdoor pool, rose garden and a three-hole golf course.
Through the years, Toluca Lake has been home to Frank Sinatra, Bing Crosby, W.C. Fields, William Holden, Miley Cyrus, Steve Carell, Melissa McCarthy, Kirsten Dunst and Warner Bros. vice chair Edward Romano. The enclave's proximity to four major studios — it's less than 10 minutes away from Disney, Warner Bros., Universal and CBS Radford — means that a significant percentage of its residents live in a neighborhood most often compared to Mayberry. Says Eric Vetro, vocal coach to Katy Perry, Ariana Grande, Pink and other pop stars: "Everybody looks out for everybody else. The post office is a social hub. Every year, there's a huge Christmas parade. And you could not feel any safer." Vetro purchased a vintage Colonial Revival with a circular driveway 13 years ago, and its half-acre lot allows him to host large-scale events, including an annual 300-person songwriting festival for ASCAP and the Festival of New American Musicals. Minimal paparazzi and lack of "those awful tour buses" add to the privacy, he says.
Television producer Judah Miller (American Dad!) and his wife, Broadway actress Marissa Jaret Winokur, have been Vetro's next-door neighbors since 2004. Miller, who refurbished his midcentury modern house designed by Lucille Raport, an associate of Richard Neutra, noticed a few changes in the past decade. "When we first got here, most of the people around us were older. Now I'm seeing more baby strollers than ever before."
Sweetsalt helped kick off the rise of Riverside Drive's foodie trend.
Then there's the ongoing transformation of Toluca Lake's Main Street, Riverside Drive, which once seemed frozen in time. While the street's iconic Bob's Big Boy restaurant, built in 1949, still is going strong, the past few years have seen a slew of new restaurants, bars and pressed juiceries springing up. Arguably kick- starting the trend, the wildly popular Sweetsalt — opened in 2010 by Top Chef alum Alex Eusebio and his wife, Sara Mann Eusebio — was joined on Riverside Drive by their coastal-Mexican spot Cascabel in 2014. More recent arrivals include Forman's Tavern, an upscale gastropub from the group behind Studio City's Laurel Tavern; the literary-themed craft cocktail bar Catcher in the Rye; and Aeirloom, an organic bakery. The nabe also has suffered the departure of stalwarts Chez Nous and Mo's, about which Miller says: "My favorite thing about Toluca Lake is its history. It's a shame to lose a place with character in favor of a new Lemonade or some other chain."
As one might expect, Toluca Lake's median values have risen, to $1,023,000 per property — though prices are still less ostentatious than Santa Monica's and Marina Del Rey's, where median price per square foot is $1,420 and $737 to Toluca Lake's $570. Homes on the market number just 15, ranging in price from $1.4 million to $12 million. The most desirable real estate is found south of Riverside Drive around the neighborhood's eponymous body of water with ducks, swans, fountains and boating (no swimming). Protected by electric gates, multiple security cameras and guards, the neighborhood-within-a-neighborhood contains only 35 homes with lake privileges as well as a golf course and country club. These coveted properties don't come up for grabs too often — "maybe one or two in a year," says real estate agent Craig Strong.
An aerial view of the actual Toluca Lake and its most coveted properties.
The most recent lakefront offering was a Spanish Colonial built in 1929 by Toluca Lake's original architect Park French. The 5,426- square-foot residence was listed at $3.75 million in November by former Eurythmics musician Dave Stewart, following his purchase of a different Toluca Lake property (a 1920s compound once owned by Howard Hughes). "It sold in two days, with multiple offers," reports listing agent Tina Stern. Submitting the winning bid was Fifty Shades of Grey producer Dana Brunetti. A longtime Los Feliz resident, Brunetti says he rarely if ever had set foot in Toluca Lake before November, when his real estate agent badgered him into viewing the listing. "I was so tempted to cancel the meeting," he admits, "and I'm so glad I didn't." At first sight of the picturesque, 6-acre lake, Brunetti was smitten, a Valley snob no more. "Once I found out about the lake, I became kind of obsessed," he says. "I spent hours online looking for anything and everything relating to it." (YouTube yielded a rewarding find: a Little Rascals episode featuring the lake during the 1930s.)
Along with lake and mooring privileges, Brunetti's new home is one of only five in the development that comes with access to a lush half-acre garden replete with majestic trees and a turtle pond. Upon his first visit, the House of Cards producer's Trigger Street Productions partner Kevin Spacey was as astonished as Brunetti had been. "Kevin said, 'Holy cow, it's like you got Disneyland in your backyard!' "
Of course, Toluca Lake's best-known listing would have to be the legendary Bob Hope estate. Originally listed for $27.5 million, the 5-acre property's asking price has been chopped, and listing agent Strong is confident it soon will find a buyer. Should the home fetch its current price of $12 million (for the main home and roughly 3-acres; the remaining 2 acres with assorted accessory buildings is listed for $10 million), it will set a new record for the area.
Named after Toluca Lake founder General Charles Forman, the new gastropub Forman's Tavern offers burgers and bar food cooked in an 801-pound wood-fired smoker, plus over 100 different varieties of whiskey.