Here's what the Iverson Movie Ranch obsession is all about ...

For an introduction to this blog and to the obsession a growing number of vintage film and TV fans have with the Iverson Movie Ranch — the most widely filmed outdoor location in movie and TV history — please read the site's introductory post, found here.
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• I've also begun a YouTube channel for Iverson Movie Ranch clips and other movie location videos, which you can get to by clicking here.
• Here's a link to Garden of the Gods, the best-known section of the Iverson Movie Ranch (featured in the movie "Stagecoach," the "Lone Ranger" TV show and hundreds of other productions).
• To go right to the great Iverson cinematographers, click here.
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Saturday, June 29, 2013

The old Mayan Gate to Chatsworth's historic Twin Lakes Park pops up in a James Cagney movie

Twin Lakes Park was a 1920s-era development in the hills above the northwest San Fernando Valley that was known for its Mayan and Aztec-style architecture and its two lakes — created by damming Chatsworth's Devils Creek and Browns Creek.

Twin Lakes Park — photo from promotional brochure, circa 1926

Twin Lakes Park disappeared decades ago, although its legacy survives in the form of a few artifacts — including the remnants of the two original dams; some old deteriorated strips of asphalt that used to be Mayan Drive, one of the main access roads to the park; and a current residential area known by the name Twin Lakes, located just above the 118 Freeway east of Topanga, near the original Twin Lakes.

 Twin Lakes Park Gate, looking south

One thing that no longer exists is the massive Mayan-style gate that marked one of the main entrances to Twin Lakes — straddling Mayan Drive just above Santa Susana Pass Road, a short distance west of Topanga.

 Approximately the same view, looking south

You may or may not see the similarity in the shape of the background hills in the above two shots, but the second shot is my attempt to re-create the view through the Twin Lakes Park Gate, as seen in the old shot of the gate. I wasn't able to duplicate the angle exactly.

"White Heat," 1949

Twin Lakes Park's Mayan Gate made a fleeting appearance in the James Cagney film noir "White Heat," as seen in the above screen shot. As far as I've been able to determine, no one has previously identified the structure seen in this movie as the gate to Twin Lakes Park. The gate appears suddenly and is on screen only briefly, showing up during a sequence focused on a speeding car. The portion of the gate seen above, at the right of the shot, is all we see of it in the movie. Directed by Raoul Walsh, the movie is widely considered to be one of Cagney's best, and includes his iconic line, "Made it, Ma — top of the world!"

The site of the Mayan Gate today

The location of the Mayan Gate was immediately to the east of what is generally thought of as the southeast corner of the Iverson Ranch. The gate may in fact have been situated on property that at one time or other was a part of the ranch. The land shares the topography of Iverson, including its distinctive sandstone boulders. One of those boulders, seen in the above photo, remains at the site today and helps pinpoint where the gate was located. A little bit of the remains of Mayan Drive can also be seen in the above shot.

Here's a poor-resolution photo from the old promotional brochure for Twin Lakes, showing the gate holding a sign reading "Twin Lakes Park." One of the most important details in this shot is the boulder just above and to the left of the gate — the same boulder found at the site today and seen in the photo above this one. The big rocks in front of the gate — seen here and in the "White Heat" shot above — no longer exist, having been removed when Santa Susana Pass Road was built through to Topanga.

Click here to see a previous blog entry about James Cagney's connection to the Iverson Movie Ranch — including Cagney Rock, which can still be found at the site today.

If you're interested in buying "White Heat," the links above will take you to Amazon listings for DVD and Blu-ray editions of the movie.


Steven Beasley said...

Went to check out the location yesterday, and tho I saw the big rock on the left, what's left of Mayan drive doesn't seem to match what's in the recent pic. Presently, Mayan drive heads down hill and at a right angle, whereas in the old pic, the arch is straddling what looks like a straight street , particularly the shot looking south through the gate. Strange. any ideas?

Steven Beasley said...

Meant to say, 'what's left of Mayan drive doesn't match the older pics.'

Electric Dylan Lad said...

Thanks for your comment, Steven. I know what you mean. In the recent shot looking north (northeast, really), with the distinctive rock, Mayan appears to drop down as it curves to the right (heading east). In the photo below that, from the promo brochure, with the same rock, Mayan looks more like it heads up, and you can't see which direction it goes.

I think the differences are mainly attributable to photo angles. I've looked at as many of the old aerial shots as I can find, and the route of Mayan Drive remains consistent over the years. It does appear to make a slight "right turn" after heading through the gate (again, headed north or northeast). Of course, the aerials don't show elevation changes. It could be that grading caused it to drop down a bit in later years, but it's more likely that the low angle used in the brochure photo gives the impression that the road is rising, when in fact it begins to drop down.

When I was recently at the site, I got the impression that the spot they chose to put up the gate took advantage of the height of the road, giving the gate a sort of exalted perch at the top of that small rise, before the road then drops down as one drives north.

In the brochure shot looking north, I think one reason we can't see the road continue much beyond the arch is probably because it drops down. In the shot looking south, the road does look straight between the arch and Santa Susana Pass Road, which is consistent with old aerial shots ... but that section of the road is pretty short.

It's even shorter today because Santa Susana Pass Road was rerouted when they connected it up with Topanga (and that's when the old part of the road, which was a continuation of Mayan Drive heading south but was called Santa Susana Pass Road, became OLD Santa Susana Pass Road). In the process of rerouting SSPR, the rocks that were previously seen around the area where Mayan Drive met SSPR (seen in the shot with the car, from "White Heat") were removed.

In that same "White Heat" shot, you can also see how close the gate was to SSPR. When you go back to the shot of the gate looking south, it appears (to my eye, anyway) to be farther from SSPR, but that's just a characteristic of the photo angle.

Thanks for your comment. I enjoyed your song "Cool Wind," which came up when I clicked on your name in my email. Early Eagles rule. Did you see the Neil Finn video with Iverson footage? It's in the blog index under Neil Finn.

Also check out the L.A. band the Lonely Wild, who shot two videos right across the street from where the Mayan gate used to be, on Stoney Point. You can find the vids by clicking Lonely Wild in the index.

Thanks again.


Steven Beasley said...

A few days ago I decided to try to follow Mayan Drive through the brush. As you know, from SSPR the road dips a little to the east. I just followed the road path, but it doesnt go far. Im wondering since the Twin Lakes enclave of homes is on the other side of the 118, Mayan must have been a somewhat lengthy road to get to the lake and surrounding cabins. But I understand when they graded all the dirt to build the 118 that a lot got pushed around. Sure wish there were more pics available. i wonder why there arent? It must have been a fairly popular place. I wonder when the lakes were drained, and why..

Swami Nano said...

Hi again, Steven ...

That's really cool that you made it back out to check out the spot again. I don't know how much you know about Mayan Drive, but I've looked at some old aerial photos and so forth, and it did indeed go a long way, winding through the hills to the north. If you email me offline, I can probably point you to some photos and maps. My email's

Meanwhile, do you know about the section of Mayan Drive that's on the east side of Topanga? That part is more interesting than the little bit on the west side. There's a big rock mound just south of the 118 (not Stoney Point, well north of that ... right next to the freeway), and Mayan curls around the east side of it. It consists of broken up asphalt, and you can still walk it. You can find it on a Google map.

North of the 118, they use Mayan Drive as the name of one of the roads in that quirky housing development that's at the top of Topanga, turn right. I don't think that Mayan Drive is the same as the old one, but I'm not sure about it.

If you look at old aerials and bird's-eyes, you can see that the old Mayan Drive connects up with the one main road that heads north through the hills from that part of the Valley. It's a road that can be seen in the old movies in the background of some shots of the Upper Iverson. I have a blog post that shows it, although it's not the greatest example ... here:

That little road you can see behind Roy Rogers becomes a main route through the hills that probably eventually heads up to Ventura. If you can find a map, there's a point where you can see one road heads left and goes north, and Mayan Drive heads right and goes toward the Twin Lakes area. I think the road behind Roy's head is after that juncture and isn't Mayan Drive but is the other road, heading north.

It might sound complicated, but if you can get ahold of an old map, it'll make sense. I think to some extent those roads are still around and are hiking trails and fire roads now.


Steven Beasley said...

Thanks. Will check it out. For a long time I blithely assumed the present Canoga ave entrance to Twin Lakes was the original entrance, but bulldozed by the 118 project. you did some great detective work finding the big peanut shaped rock by the original entrance.Do you know much about Browns cyn history? I've heard the old stone dam was built in the late 1800s. Was it originally part of TL? It looks like there might have been a swimming hole there, as i once found part of an old metal ladder, like the kind to climb out of a swimming pool. Thre was also a cave entrance just to the right of the dam (if you're facing it) that appears to have recently been 'filled in'. I never entered because it was often filled w/ water..

Steven Beasley said...

I dont know if you're interested, but Im in Northridge. If you ever want to hook up and tramp around the Twin Lakes area together, let me know..thanks for the COOL WIND compliment!

Swami Nano said...

That sounds good, Steven. Send me an email so I'll have yours.


Swami Nano said...

I want to correct something I said a few comments back (on March 3, 2014). I mentioned the current Mayan Drive north of the 118 Freeway, which winds through "that quirky housing development" at the north end of Topanga — the one you reach by going all the way to the end of Topanga and hanging a right. I said I didn't think the current Mayan Drive is the same as the old one, but after checking some old maps I can confirm that it is indeed the exact same road.

In fact, the "quirky housing development" is built on the same streets that were intended for the original Twin Lakes development and were already in place in the 1920s. That development never got off the ground, and the houses didn't come along until years later, but the area does use the name Twin Lakes these days, and I would say the residents have a legitimate and historically accurate claim to it.


Anonymous said...

If you follow "Saugus to the Sea" North (extends from Canoga Avenue from the 118) and up into the old "Twin Lakes" development that "never got off the ground" you will actually end up in the old burned out "Mormon Camp."
I am not sure how it came to be a Mormon Camp, but a dear friend recently sold the last large plot of land up there known as "grandpa's" where she spent many weekends camping up in grandpa's cabin when she was a young girl. All that remain are housing foundations and the remnants of burned down power poles.
When Presidio Partners first bought up all that land, their engineer informed the community that the lots were actually given away in cereal boxes in the 20's - postage stamp lots he called them.
One of the "Twin Lakes" was reputed to belong to Errol Flynn and the damn can still be seen from DeSoto Ave. (North of the 118) Flynn had a cabin (The old Dave Rhodes Ranch) and he used to hunt in the area. As a lifelong resident of Chatsworth, I sometimes get frustrated when the ancient 10,000 year old Tongva/Gabrieleno history is overshadowed by the sex appeal of the Hollywood attractions. This area is home to some of the best preserved and oldest petroglyphs and cave paintings in the United States.

Swami Nano said...

Thanks for the great background info on the Twin Lakes area. I wish I knew more about the old petroglyphs. We have some rock carvings in Garden of the Gods that are said to be of Tongva origin, but I've never been able to verify this. I would love to learn the real story if anyone happens to know about them. The carvings are plainly visible on the south side of Sphinx.

Steven Beasley said...

Hi EDL- A few weeks back I DID follow Mayan Drive on the east side of Topanga, and found it as you described.I also noticed a ravine a few hundred yards east of Mayan, and as it curves up towards the 118, gets deeper and greener. I hiked close to it w/ my kids and our small dog, but turned back when we spotted a very healthy coyote eyeballing us from a ways away. I want to go back and check out that ravine. Could be caves. Ive recently taken up metal detecting as a hobby. Would love to find some relics. I hear at one time there was a stagecoach robbery and treasure was supposedly 'buried' in the area. Wouldnt mind stumbling upon that (ha). I'll keep dreaming.

Swami Nano said...

Hi Steven:

That looks like a great hiking area. I'd be interested to know if you find any relics around there. I wonder where the stagecoach was allegedly held up, as the stage road wasn't right in that area as far as I know. If you know Devil's Slide, up behind Chatsworth Park ... where the passengers supposedly had to get out and push to get the stage over the brutal rocky incline ... that'd be where I'd do it if I were fixin' to rob the stage.

I imagine that coyote was thinking of your "small dog" as a "large meal."

Have fun!


Steven Beasley said...

Will report back unless I get eaten.

Steven Beasley said...

The other day a friend and I hiked up the 'private' road at Twin Lakes and made it up the hill where the old clubhouse was. Incredible view. Found an old stone with a couple of girls' names carved in it and hand dated '1934'. Thought that was cool..