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Luminaries of the Canyon: Laurel Canyon’s Most Star-Studded Home

Laurel Canyon has long been a haven for artists, musicians, and actors, but there’s one particular home in the neighborhood with a star-studded roster of owners and overnighters that include: Natalie Wood, Dennis Hopper, Jack Nicholson, Mama Cass, Jimi Hendrix, Ringo Starr, Joni Mitchell, David Crosby, and many, many more. The house, an enclosed English Country cabin, was the site of innumerable decadent parties, songwriting sessions, pool days, and shady drug deals.

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Laurel Canyon began attracting Hollywood luminaries in the early 1920s when it was viewed as a remote, private location in the hills. By the 1950s it became the home of hippest actors in Hollywood, including Marlon Brando, James Dean, and Dennis Hopper. But it was Natalie Wood’s Laurel Canyon house that would solidify the long lineage of Hollywood and counter culture heavyweight’s addresses changing hands that persists to this day.

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The history of the home began in the early 1950s when Natalie Wood, then just a teenager but making waves in Hollywood, and her family built the house near Lookout Mountain.

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After Natalie’s breakout role in Rebel Without a Cause in 1955, she began inviting her friends James Dean, Nick Adams, Sal Mineo, and Dennis Hopper over to the house for pool parties. As Natalie’s sister Lana Wood wrote in her book Natalie: A Memoir by Her Sister, “Boys flowed in and out of our house…” perhaps setting the standard of a revolving door of high profile guests that would later proliferate once Mama Cass, of the Mama’s and the Papa’s, bought the house in the 1960s.

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Here, Natalie, Nick Adams, and Dennis Hopper are making dinner at the house in 1956. In 1957, Natalie met a handsome young actor named Robert Wagner who would later propose to her by secretly placing a pearl and diamond ring at the bottom of her glass of champagne. A tiny inscription on the ring read, “Marry me” and three weeks later he did.

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After the wedding, Natalie’s parents officially signed over the ownership of the Laurel Canyon house to Natalie and Robert, but it wasn’t long after that that she, and many other actors of her era, moved out of the neighborhood and into the more up-and-coming posh environs of Beverly Hills, then seen as a more appropriate locale for established screen stars.

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Natalie Wood’s exit paved the way for Mama Cass’s grand entrance. Natalie selling the home to Cass is seen now as an illustrious example of the transitional period of power from Old Hollywood to New Hollywood. The ’50s were over, and the counter culture revolution and musical renaissance of the ’60s was just beginning.

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Photo courtesy The Selvedge Yard

Mama Cass quickly turned the estate into not only a party house, but a refuge where her friends, musicians mostly, would congregate to eat, drink, be merry, and maybe write a song or two. Cass is known alternatively as the “Earth Mother of Laurel Canyon” and, as Graham Nash described her, “The Gertrude Stein of Laurel Canyon” because her house seemingly recreated Stein’s salon at 27 Rue de Fleurus in Paris in the 1920s.

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Although Cass’s friends, including Joni Mitchell, Frank Zappa, and Gram Persons, all lived in the canyon in nearby homes, it was here where they all seemed to rendezvous to share ideas, lyrics, joints, and beds. It became a kind of second home for all and was even the go-to stop for visiting musicians from across the pond like Eric Clapton, The Beatles, Donovan, and Jimmy Page. Here, a young Eric Clapton sits and listens to Joni Mitchell sing, “Urge for Going” as Cass’s daughter Owen looks on.

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Photo by Henry Diltz. Courtesy The Selvedge Yard

Joni Mitchell and Mama Cass were viewed by all as matriarchal figures overlooking the peaceful canyon community. Cass’s reputation as a social networker grew once she introduced David Crosby and Stephen Sills to Graham Nash at her home. Nash was allegedly living with Mitchell at her nearby bungalow. As Sills later recalled, “You could always go over to [Mama Cass’s], but call first.”

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In lieu of an address book, Cass allegedly asked visitors to write their names and phone numbers on a “graffiti wall” in the living room. If only we could see that wall today! Mama Cass is said to be the first of the “Free Love” generation to move into Laurel Canyon.

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Before she owned the Laurel Canyon house, she lived in the basement of the Canyon County Store and wrote “Twelve Thirty” there, which is best known for its chorus which includes the line, “Young girls are coming to the canyon.”

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Photo courtesy The Selvedge Yard

The Garden of Allah hotel, which was once located at the edge of the canyon and a favorite of many luminaries, was razed in 1959 for a bank branch. Decades later, this would inspire Joni Mitchell’s song, “Big Yellow Taxi” and the lines, “They paved paradise and put up a parking lot.” And, similarly, as the ’60s came to a close and the cultural revolution waned, so too did the Laurel Canyon front porch jam sessions and late night parties that embodied the era.

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After Mama Cass died in 1974, the home would change hands a number of times between a host of celebrities. Ringo Starr lived at the house for a short time. Later, Dan Aykroyd and his wife actress Donna Dixon called it one of their many homes.

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Actresses Alfre Woodard and Renee Zellweger are alleged to have rented the house in the ’90s and early ’00s. In 2008, after sitting on the market for months, actress Beverly D’Angelo purchased the house from Aykroyd and Dixon for nearly 4 million dollars.

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Although Aykroyd claimed the house was haunted, possibly by Mama Cass’s ghost, D’Angelo has lived at the Laurel Canyon home since.

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We can only assume she has, by now, updated the kitchen’s wallpaper. Or, perhaps not! It’s rather charming, don’t you think?

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One thing we can be sure about though is that this legendary house, home and second-home to so many Hollywood mavericks over the years, was the perfect haunt for celebrities because of its over 1 acre of lush, isolated grounds, set back on a hidden lane.

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And although the ’50s, ’60s, and ’70s have long since past, and Laurel Canyon’s feel and vibe has changed many times, today’s residents can still feel the enduring artistic history of the neighborhood.

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Sources:
Huffington Post
Architectural Digest
Vanity Fair
Variety
The Independent
LA Times
The Selvedge Yard

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31 Responses to “Luminaries of the Canyon: Laurel Canyon’s Most Star-Studded Home”

  1. John Tarnoff says:

    Great piece, Jacqui –
    I thought the house was on Woodrow Wilson…
    And great set of pics!

    xx

    JT

    • thehollywoodhome says:

      Thanks, John! And, wow, you really know a lot about the neighborhood. Next time I’m going to use you as a reference!

      Best,
      J

  2. Tatiana says:

    Wow! This is incredible! What history!!!

  3. Nurit Wilde says:

    The house that Cass owned was on Woodrow Wilson Drive. I was there many times and lived just up the street from her on Seattle Drive. The picture of the house shown doesn’t look at all like the house I remember.

  4. joel peel says:

    According to Joni, which I read in some publication, she was in a hotel in Hawaii. It overlooked a bare parking lot consequent to which she wrote “They paved paradise…”

  5. Barbara Webb says:

    I lived on Woodrow Wilson Drive, next door to Mama Cass. . I don’t see photos of that house. After her death Ringo Star lived in that house until there was a fire in the upstairs, and he moved out.
    Mama Cass’ daughter played at our house once with my daughter who was about the same age. Mama Cass’ dog, Charlie, liked to play in my yard, so Mama Cass and I had a meeting, and she said that since Charlie wanted to play with my children she would let Charlie be our dog. She was lovely, intelligent, down to earth and had birds flying freely in her living room with the flowered upholstered couch.

    • thehollywoodhome says:

      Thank you so much for your comment, Barbara! That’s amazing you knew Mama Cass and were part of that scene.

  6. Sara Wynne says:

    i partied at this house a few times. my first time was a 3am pool party after being at the Avalon club. My first White Russian was at this house too, by Dan himself… good memories

  7. Mandy says:

    According to Barbara Webb, who said she was a neighbor of Mamma Cass in a post dated September 29, 2019 on thehollywoodhome.com website, the photos aren’t Mamma Cass’s home. So, are there photos of the actual home. I don’t know the actual address, but supposedly it was on Woodrow Wilson Drive.

    • thehollywoodhome says:

      Hi Mandy, thank you for comment! I am in the midst of doing a bit more research to confirm reports I’ve read. Hopefully I will have an answer for you soon!

  8. LG says:

    I’ve always been a fan of the Mamas & Papas, and Mama Cass. Having moved recently to LA I’m slowly getting to know where all the legendary places are, or were. Several reports list Mama Cass’ last house at 2773 Woodstock Road, which intersects Woodrow Wilson Dr. I drove over there on the way from the valley and there isn’t a house with that address—only *2783* Woodstock Rd. Did something happen to her house–fire, or otherwise razed or destroyed–or was the address simply changed to give the current owners some privacy from lookyloos?
    Thanks!

    • thehollywoodhome says:

      Thank you for your comment, LG! That is very interesting. I will have to do a bit more research and digging to find the answer for you.

  9. LG says:

    Hello:
    I drove by the last known address of Mama Cass’s house, on Woodstock Rd, and the address simply…was not there. It was 10 digits off. Was that house razed sometime since her death, or did more recent owners simply have the address changed? Thank you.

    • thehollywoodhome says:

      Addresses are sometimes changed but it is rare. I am wondering if it’s possible lots were also combined.

  10. Gary Fayman says:

    I drove by Cass’ house many times. It’s technically on Woodrow Wilson Drive, but you need to turn onto a very narrow lane. Her house is the first one on the left.

  11. TT says:

    Looking on google maps, you can clearly see that 2773 is next door to 2783, between 2783 and 2765 Woodstock road

  12. Molly says:

    Thank you! I’m about to take a trip to California and am going to LA just for laurel canyon!!! I’m so excited!!!!

  13. Susan Barton says:

    In the early 80’s I used to go to the house for dinner parties. The owners name was Randy son of a record producer. I saw the room with all the famous signatures including Beatles, Ike and Tina Turner, Hendrix, so many famous names all over the walls. This does not look like the same house

  14. Bill says:

    Sounds like Randall Hall Senter and Lynn Princes house on Utica drive but doesn’t look like it.

  15. Ross says:

    This is the house of Mama Cass, I used to play with her daughter Owen & still live nearby, the house has changed in appearance over the years due to new owners. I still remember seeing CSN hanging around all the time.

  16. Jane says:

    It seems that this house has changed quite a bit over time. As a Cass Elliot fan, I have done a bit of research on Cass and The Mamas and Papas. According to her death certificate, she last lived at 7708 Woodrow Wilson Dr. If you google that address, you cannot see the house from the road. To further substantiate her address, she was sued by Frank Habata in the amount of $1,821.70. From an advertisement Frank did lawn care and clean up. On Sept 22, 1970, Frank obtained a judgement decree of foreclosure against Cass Elliot. Obviously she made good on this debt as she still owned the property at her time of death. The notice does not give the address but rather gives the location according to property records. It states “Beginning at the westerly terminus of a certain curve on the southerly line of Woodrow Wilson Dr., as shown on map of Tract No. 6993 as recorded in the book 129. Pages 29-31 of maps.” It is said that she bought the house from actress Natalie Woods” Natalie was said to have received the home as a wedding gift from her parents sometime in the 50’s. Interestingly the foreclosure notice does not mention “Woods” as a prior owner but traces the property back to John T Reynolds and wife, recorded Aug 31,1951.

  17. mason says:

    the address is 7708 woodrow wilson drive.

  18. Ray Works says:

    This is the house! I lived with Peter Aykroyd, Dan’s brother for a couple of years in the 90s and I’ve visited Dan Aykroyd & Donna Dixon at this home. I spent X-mas eve here in 1992 and walked most of the rooms of this house during various visits. Dan and Donna had it in pristine shape. When I look at the old photos, I can still identify the rooms and how they look now. One thing I did not do was sleep overnight in the house, but wish I had. Dan and I discussed ghosts or some presence in the house at the time and I would have liked to have experienced that!

  19. HD says:

    My stepfather owned a home on Wonderland Avenue that he built himself. Jan Merlin lived up there Emmy Award Screenwriter, Broadway, TV and Movies from the 1950’s through the 1990’s. Westerns, Drama, Comedy. Christmas and many holidays were great up there. Julian Lennon, lived across the street at one time as well as Christian Brando.

  20. Geno says:

    I rented this house in the mid 2000s to write and record music. Dan and Donna owned it and his brother Peter was in and out. Amazing property full of vibe and inspiration. Surely I did not want to leave but came away with some amazing memories and songs. Maybe Mama D will let me come for a visit?

  21. We have a fairly new band, made up of top musicians; several of whom have played with the star-studded, very talented group of songwriters and musicians in the Canyon (Joni Mitchell, James Taylor, Jackson Browne etc…). It’s called Linda and Friends – a 1970’s ROCK review featuring the artists of Laurel Canyon. We are playing Warner Center concert in the park June 16, 2024 and hope anyone interested in the subject can make it. Love to all!

  22. Fascinating article. I’m reminded of a scene in Quentin Tarantino’s film, “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood,” in which a pool party is going on, and one of the actors was obviously playing Mama Cass. So many of my favorite musicians lived in that area.


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