11345 Riverwood Drive: California Rancho in Sunland
Directions to 11345 Riverwood Drive, Sunland: Head towards the Angeles National Forest. It’s straight out of town on smooth freeway for a dozen miles or so. You’ll pass a few friendly housing developments, and equestrian properties along the way, but keep going to where canyons and creeks were carved by nature. If you hit the Big Tujunga Wash to the east, you’ve gone too far.
Inside the exclusive gate-guarded community of Riverwood Ranch, when you come to a sprawling Spanish Hacienda with the backdrop of national forest land to the north, you’ve arrived. 11345 Riverwood Drive Offered at $1,275,000.
Riverwood Ranch Estates is thirty or so private compounds that have been there since before electricity hookup. Back then, they pumped their own water. Property owners here take care of their own private roads, with the kind of self-sufficient, off-the-grid sensibilities that define country ranch living. The ranch showcases the beauty of Sunland and Tujunga taking full advantage of the scenery. There’s easy access to trails for your dogs and horses that are safe by day, but keep in mind this mountain range is home to coyotes, mountain lions, and bobcats.
Even big cats, if you’re inclined to visit the Wildlife Waystation in nearby Angeles National Forest.
In 1965, the Wildlife Waystation was the first exotic animal sanctuary to be established in the U.S. when wildlife lover and expert, Martine Colette, took in her first exotic animal. Today, the Waystation (which got its name from the Old West meaning to rest and refuel) is a 162-acre facility that houses 450 plus animals on any given day, and has provided aid and support to more than 76,000 wild and exotic animals from all over the world.
But the area’s history is as wild as the land and goes way back. According to Wikipedia:
Sunland and Tujunga were originally home to the Tongva people. In 1840 the area was part of the Rancho Tujunga Mexican land grant, but later developers marked off a plot of land known as the Tejunga Park, or the Tujunga Park, Tract. The name Tujunga is assumed to have meant “old woman’s place” in the extinct Tongva language, where Tuhu “old woman” is a term for Mother Earth in Tongva mythology.
Sunland began life as Monte Vista in 1885, when 2,200 acres (8.9 km2) of the Tejunga [sic] Park tract were divided into lots ranging from five to 40 acres. One of the first uses of the new tract was the planting of 40 acres of olives, which made it the largest olive orchard in Los Angeles County.
Los Angeles County’s fashionable Monte Vista Hotel was situated at today’s Fenwick Street and Floralita Avenue in Sunland between 1887 and 1964. In its early years it was used as an elegant retreat for wealthy Los Angeles area sportsmen, who hunted bear and other game in the area. Carriages left Los Angeles for Glendale at 8:30 a.m. and 4:30 p.m., and travelers took a stage coach from Glendale to Tujunga to stay at the Monte Vista.
An advertisement once boasted of Monte Vista’s amenities: “The best cooking, the best furnished house, and better attention than at any hotel in the state.” The hotel had a lobby, dining room, and bedrooms each adorned with a private fireplace, fancy artwork and furniture imported from around the world. A French chef served guests exquisite cuisine. In later years, the building served as a boarding house and finally as a retirement home known as “Cypress Manor”. Sadly, the home closed in 1959 and the building fell into disrepair after the owners abandoned it in 1961. By 1964, it was deemed an eyesore and demolished by the City of Los Angeles.
Los Angeles Historic Resources Survey took note of Sunland’s and Tujunga’s many assets in a 2011 reconnaissance:
While buildings were the focus, P&T surveyors were also thoroughly entertained by the local animals, including horses, coyotes, a kangaroo and peacocks (yes, a kangaroo). Despite the distractions from feathered friends, P&T managed to document the historic built environment in Sunland-Tujunga.
Survey LA’s findings included:
- Arroyo stone terracing, walls, ruins and buildings… Horses, barns, stables and wood fences
- The variety of historic buildings along Foothill Boulevard from Lake View Terrace through Tujunga- everything from 19th century farmhouses to Mid-Century Modern…
- Layers of history at Sunland Park, including arroyo stone retaining walls and the Sunland Recreation Center added on to Sunland Park in 1940
- California Craftsman and Ranch houses galore
- A collection of Mid-Century Modern style homes near Haines Canyon Road
- A historic Sanatorium now used as a nursing hospital on Foothill Boulevard
- The eclectic revival architecture of a restaurant called Villa Terraza
- The Apperson Street School, an award winning Mid-century Modern style elementary school designed by Maynard Lyndon
Tujunga was home to John Steven McGroarty, California Poet Laureate, until his death in 1944. McGroarty was also a playwright and U.S. congressman (Democrat, 11th District). He lived in a home he built himself and completed in 1923, known as Rancho Chupa Rosa. The building is a Historic Cultural Monument (#63) of the City of Los Angeles and is now known as the McGroarty Arts Center. The Spanish Colonial Revival house that line McGroarty Street are worth seeing.
Sunland and Tujunga’s remote location instigated the area’s darker history: According to Wikipedia:
Within hours of the December 7, 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor that brought the United States into World War II, the FBI and local authorities began arresting Japanese Americans considered to be potential saboteurs. Approximately 5,500 were taken into custody, along with several thousand German and Italian Americans, based on a previously compiled (and loosely organized) list of citizens and aliens to be detained should the U.S. “enter the conflict abroad.” None were provided with legal counsel and no evidence was ever produced to support the claims of fifth column activity.
The La Tuna Civilian Conservation Corps Camp (constructed in Tujunga in 1933) was turned over to the Immigration and Naturalization Service the day after Pearl Harbor and converted to the Tuna Canyon Detention Station, for the purpose of holding and processing “enemy aliens.” Administered by the Department of Justice, the camp opened on December 16, 1941, when the first group of detainees arrived from various Southern California towns and cities. Tuna Canyon held an average of 300 prisoners at a time, and 1,490 Japanese internees and about 1,000 Germans, Italians, and Japanese Peruvians passed through the camp.
The 1960’s brought the acid-era hippy commune known as the Hog Farm. With beginnings as an actual collective hog farm in Tujunga, Hog Farm is considered to be America’s longest running hippie commune.
Sunland-Tujunga is not without significant architecture. This 1958 John Lautner-designed home is known as the Hatherall House. Lautner-esque features abound! The four-bedroom, three-bath house built on three acres on a private road, is centered about this round great room, with lightweight steel trusses for roof support. The house was constructed of concrete block, and the living area opens to a courtyard that is walled on three sides for privacy. The master bedroom has a moving wall to close it to the living room. The house last sold in 2009 for $1.35 million.
11345 Riverwood harkens back to the California Rancho life. A single story ranch-style home on a six-plus acre spread is plenty of impressive space for the recreationally minded to experience authentic land ownership. With the Angeles National Forest north, Big Tujunga Wash east, and Santa Monica Conservancy protected land to the west, privacy at this compound will last in perpetuity.
“My mother thought I was crazy,” recalled Neil Martin. “A friend of mine had introduced me to the property which an owner/builder had built for his in-law. When I bought it the house had no water, no driveway, no landscaping no french doors, no tile floors, no backyard, and no front end. It seemed like a incredibly large blank canvas with incredible potential. It was a place to be by yourself in the city. Even on the [Riverwood] Ranch’s a little private community, it’s the last house and nobody drives by unless the road goes out.”
Neil’s vision ended up being a 27 year project.
Even in it’s natural state, 11345 Riverwood’s Spanish Mission style archways were a welcoming sight after a long ride in the backcountry. Now, it is a veritable oasis. The main house, is a statement in California Rancho style, with an expansive open floor plan flowing through the living room, the dining room, and kitchen.
Generously placed windows flood the interior with natural light while ensuring views from every room. Dark wood beams, and saltillo tile floors carry throughout, inexplicably warm and cozy, and cool all at once.
Additional rooms in the main house include a large family room, two additional bedrooms, and another full bath. This estate masters the quintessential California indoor/outdoor living. Incidentally, Owner Neil Martin had some help. He is the son of Albert P. Martin, AIA and wife, Gloria, an artist. We profiled their self-built mid-century modern home on our blog: 2173 Redcliff in Silver Lake, which had been Neil’s childhood home.
“My dad was gracious enough to lay out the backyard hardscape,” said Neil. “I hired a landscaper to transform the back yard. All the original landscape is all gone. I like to have paths that end with something interesting such as the stone gazebo at the northwest corner of the property. All of the outdoor sculpture, and the benches by Brandelli, were pieces my mother did.”
For more active recreation, the 20’ x 40’ pool has the serious swimmer in mind, and with double-shallow ends, it’s ideal for volleyball. The in-ground hot tub is a cedar wood coopered barrel, as you would expect.
At the edge of civilization, in the last house in the city of Los Angeles, you get a lot of wildlife. Numerous watering stations and bird feeders have been installed by Neil’s wife, Heather, to encourage wildlife to co-exist on the property.
Perhaps Neil said it best: “It’s a place for someone for whom privacy quiet and space is more important than being able to walk to a 7-11.”
The out buildings and improvements include a huge workshop garage – itself is a 22’ x 60’ steel building with skylights, two roll up doors, and a car hoist in the center to indulge a healthy interest in motorsports.
And there’s still unimproved space on the property to customize to your heart’s content. Perhaps with horses—it is possible to literally ride out to hundreds of miles of trails for horseback riding, or motor up for the Angeles National Forest road system. Not to mention the ski resorts less than an hour away.
Hollywood loves Sunland and Tujunga for their vastly photogenic rugged terrain, that’s never too far from the studios.
Ben Hur raced his chariot in Big Tujunga Canyon, and Tarzan sounded his ululating jungle call in nearby Lancaster Lake (now long since gone) adjacent to Sunland Park. All The Kings Men, Mildred Pierce, Meet John Doe, Corvette Summer, the Craft, Ernest Goes to Camp, and River’s Edge are a few of the numerous films shot in Sunland-Tujunga.
Nowadays, scenes of Teen Wolf and Sons of Anarchy are shot in numerous locations around Sunland and Tujunga. And that’s plenty to howl about.