Puccini and Toscanini were not only musical geniuses but were also the unknowing creators of pop culture. Their opera, La Boheme, introduced Bohemian Culture into mainstream, if not stodgy, society. The Bohemian designation has since become a category for the artistic minded and the edgy among us. The Silver Lake area of Los Angeles carries its Bohemian moniker with pride. But Silver Lake’s cool and differently unique vibe hides an even more unusual history. Silver Lake was founded by Hugo Reid, a Scottish immigrant to the United States who in 1852 wrote a series of letters that were published in a local newspaper that described the culture and language of the local Gabrieliño Indians (Native Americans). He also admonished local officials and clergy for their harsh treatment of the Gabrieliños under the Franciscan Mission system. Hugo Reid originally named the Silver Lake area, and more specifically the man-made reservoir at its center, Ivanhoe, after the page turning 1819 Sir Walter Raleigh Scott novel of the same name. Interestingly, some of the main streets in Silver Lake still carry the name of some of the characters in Ivanhoe, such as Rowena and Herkimer. Also, the chief elementary school in the area is named Ivanhoe.
The reservoir is divided into upper and lower sections. The upper part is still named Ivanhoe. However, the lower part is named Silver Lake. That name brings lovely clear water images to mind. But the lower section of the reservoir was named after Herman Silver, a member of the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power. He put the reservoir to use by supplying water to South Los Angeles. As the population north of Los Angeles increased in the twentieth century, the reservoir began supplying water to the nearby area. In 2007, the Silver Lake reservoir was decommissioned due to high levels of bromate. Currently, plans are underway to use an underground reservoir in Griffith Park to supply water to the Silver Lake area. The Silver Lake reservoir is also in the process of being converted from utilitarian to recreational. The area will be replete with a track and a dog park.
When the mission system ended and the twentieth century bloomed, Silver Lake became a secondary home to the entertainment industry of Hollywood. Several studios and production companies laid down roots in the area, including Walt Disney who built his first large studio on Hyperion. Also of note, Laurel & Hardy’s famous movie The Music Box filmed a critical scene in front of the staircase of a house located on Descanso Drive. The area is now home to such hip celebrities as Christina Ricci, Rachel McAdams, Kiefer Sutherland and Ryan Gosling, among many others. Anais Nin, a remarkable French writer, mentioned Silver Lake in her Journals Volume Six. She was once a resident of Silver Lake and penned these words in the Fall of 1961, “the mountains on the east side of the lake looked like a Japanese screen. As the sun set, every evening presented a spectacle equal to a Russian ballet, all gold and trailing saris, or the Chinese opera, all red and smoky incense, or the opal coral islands of the South Seas, the flaming spill of Mexican sunsets.”
Poetry aside, Silver Lake is home to a bustling Greenwich Village vibe.