Franklin Avenue is bookended by historic architectural attractions. On the Eastern end, the Shakespeare Bridge stands, a Gothic connector from Los Feliz into Franklin Hills that was built in 1926. The other end of the Avenue has something equally as beautiful and historic but is a bit of a gated mystery because it is the end of the street, a point in which you are forced left onto Sierra Bonita down to Hollywood. Many assume it’s private property or don’t even think about the area since it cannot be accessed by car. But, as many Runyon Canyon hikers accidentally discover, the gated area is the city’s best park because it is not built around a trailhead and no one knows about it.
This is Wattles Garden Park and you very much feel like you have stumbled upon someone’s property and you will be quickly reprimanded for passing through the landscaping surrounding the 1907 Spanish mansion. To explain: when you enter the gate from Franklin, you follow a street that is covered by trees on both sides. On the right, they clear to reveal the house that you see above. At this moment, you say to yourself, “Oh, shit: whose house is this?” because no one is around and it definitely appears that you are trespassing. If you were wandering around Curson, you likely wouldn’t pass through as it seems like someone’s house and, you know, it’d be weird to just walk through there.
When you start to look around, you notice that you actually are allowed to be in this area because there are park signs around and park objects like city trashcans and city benches. It’s a little off putting; however, it’s incredibly intriguing because you feel like you’ve discovered your own secret garden, which it kind of is. The “park” (so weird to call it that) is broken into three (accessible) parts: the frontyard, the backyard, and the community garden. The frontyard is where everyone usually passes through and is the lawn in front of the house. This is a great place to lounge and even come to work in the sun because no one is ever there. It’s the only real proper “park” area in the city that isn’t infested with people nor is it somewhat unsettling to chill at. Sure, there are occasionally sunbathers and off leash dogs–but there are much worse things! Plus, the house is a super fly backdrop.
The backyard is a huge field and leads to gardens, that are–sadly–unkempt and somewhat returned to nature. You’ll notice that there is a decaying Japanese garden from the early twentieth century, too. If you follow the stairs up too far toward Runyon, you may find some graffiti and trash and items that belong to drifters. It’s a little sad and, you know, if we donated more money to our parks we’d have things like this restored. Similarly, you’ll notice the back of the house–the Italian Garden, we believe–is completely sectioned off. Why? No money to keep it up. So, it is closed to the public. (But, you can see it in action in the fashion show scene of Troop Beverly Hills!)
In front of the house, in front of the lawn, is another gated area which usually has one or two people traipsing around in it. This is the Wattles Farm, a community garden ran by local volunteers. It is not accessible to the public; however, tracing the perimeter of this area that stretches from Franklin to Hollywood and all the way back up Curson to the house will give you a peek into exotic plants, fruits, and vegetables being grown within the gates. (Believe us: this is another story we’ll be sharing as soon as we can get a tour of it from volunteers.)
It’s sad that this little, brilliant park is not able to be kept as nicely as it once was and, unfortunately, you can’t go into the mansion because of the same no-money-to-keep-it-open reasons. The place is frequently rented out for events and movies, which is probably why it looks familiar: it was a boarding school in the show The O.C., an institution in Rain Man, practically starred in the camp horror movie Ghoulies, was the setting for Diana Ross’ music video “Eaten Alive,” was the façade for the cemetery in Night of the Creeps, and was also the nursing home that Phyllis Nefler and her troop did the Freddy on in Troop Beverly Hills. It’d be wonderful if the city had the money to turn it into a little Trails or coffee/lunch spot or something since it is right at the heart of town: it’s be like Los Angeles’ answer to Bryant Park. Wouldn’t that be nice? Highly unlikely, though.
You can happen upon this little park any time you are going to or from Runyon, where you can sunbath as a warm-up or cool down from your hike. Or, if you like, do what we did when we found it: take the hard trail at Runyon and, when at the top, don’t go down the way you came–take the connecting parallel ridge that veers to the West. It’s steep and cactus-y, but will drop you down into the backyard of Wattles. It feels like you just walked into a fairy tale landscape. Didn’t think that could happen in this town, did you?