Water Mill Decoration Over Original Artesian Wells - Sportsmen's Lodge 2005 - Photo in Archives of The Museum of the San Fernando Valley -2008 - Photo and Article by Gerald Fecht (click on image to enlarge)
For people, newly arrived in the San Fernando Valley, it is hard to imagine that our semi-arid hillsides and chaparral-covered mountains were much admired by Spanish explorers and Mexican settlers. The reason was that, unlike the fearsome Mojave Desert to the northeast, the Valley had constant, albeit modest supplies of water. At the base of the hills that surround much of the Valley are natural springs, many of which are year-round sources of water. Great Pleistocene Era animals may once have stopped for water here.
Historic springs exist many places along Ventura Boulevard. This is why the Spaniards established California's first highway, El Camino Real, along this long used pathway.
One such artesian spring that fed the Los Angeles River was located on old Ventura Highway, near the entrances to Coldwater and Laurel Canyons. Travelers riding on saddle horses or in buckboard wagons might have stopped to water their animals here, but the Butterfield Stage probably passed it by on its way from Campo de Cahuenga to Casa de los Encinos.
When the Mission San Fernando Rey de España was deeded its land grant from the King of Spain, the land where Sportsmen's Lodge stands today was the property of the Catholic Church. With the Mexican Revolution, the land was secularized and re-deeded to Califorñio rancheros. The land was sold to the entrepreneurial Isaac Lankershim and his associates at the end of the 19th century.
In 1909 the Sportsmen's Lodge property changed hands once again, this time to the powerful newspaper mogul Harry Chandler. Harry knew well the value of water and transportation to the development of the San Fernando Valley. Two years later the "Red Car" trolleys entered through Cahuenga Pass and a century of phenomenal growth followed. Chandler would eventually sell his west Valley ranch house to Edgar Rice Burroughs of Tarzan fame, and the Lodge property made its way into the hands of the then famous actors Noah and Wallace Beery.
Today, with boulevards and freeways crossing the San Fernando Valley, it is hard to imagine a time when Ventura Boulevard was one of very few east-west passages in the area. Gradually, parts of Ventura Highway were paved as a two-way roadway, and horse ranches, orchards and farms took advantage of Mr. Mulholland's Owens River water supply. A small oasis of fix-it shops, cafes for snacks and new fangled gasoline stations sprouted where Coldwater Canyon crossed Ventura Boulevard. These small businesses grew by a series of small lakes and ponds that had been developed out of a small lake created in the 1880s near the edge of the Los Angeles River. The Berry brothers and their contemporaries stocked those lakes with trout. Wallace Berry fancied himself quite a fisherman and liked to pose with his catches. At this time the Lodge was called the Hollywood Trout Farms.
By the 1930s the trout ponds at what is now called Sportsmen's Lodge became a serious business. Fish were delivered alive throughout Southern California and even as far as Nevada. People brought their children to the site to catch their first fish and have them cooked-up in the growing restaurant. Because of its location, just west of the Max Sennett Studios (later Republic Studios) the area became the perfect place to stop on the way home, or to visit for a get-away lunch. The place was also on the road home for actors and other film workers who carved out small "rancheros" in the privacy of the west and north Valley. (Since this was during Prohibition, we'll assume that only soft drinks were available.)
One enterprising fellow, using natural spring water, created the San Fernando Valley's first golf course at the intersection of Coldwater Canyon and Ventura Boulevards in 1922.
At the conclusion of WWII, Sportsmen's Lodge was officially renamed. And, a legal bar was opened in the 1950s. The adjacent hotel was the perfect place for out of town actors and film workers to stay while working in the Valley. Reliance on the artesian spring disappeared and the water redirected underground to the Los Angeles River. Catching fish in a restaurant didn't fit into the plans of the city's Health Department. Although the maze-like corridors of Sportsmen's Lodge reveal an added on feeling, the trout are now imported and koi fish lazily swim about manicured ponds.
Old time San Fernando Valley residents still talk of running into Gene Autry or Roy Rogers at Sportsmen's Lodge. Actors like Rex Allen, Lash Larou, Gabby Hayes, and John Wayne were often spotted at the Lodge. Other performers who frequented the restaurant included Clark Gable and Carol Lombard, Bette Davis, and Katherine Hepburn. Bogart, Bacall and Spencer Tracy also were at Sportsmen's Lodge regularly for lunch.
During the 1960s there was a real scarcity of ballrooms whose capacities would hold 500 people. The Sportsmen's Lodge was the exception. Thus, for a generation of Valley residents, the Lodge became a part of their high school prom and wedding reception memories. The Lodge was enlarged to accommodate more guests. Decorate trees and plants matured, waterfalls and swans added, as well as tropical plants and flowers.
The halls of the Sportsmen's Lodge restaurant and hotel are filled with the stories of the famous, and those who were celebrities for a day. Among the many memories occurred in the 1968, when U.S. Senator Robert Kennedy stayed at the Lodge, with his entourage before his spectacular victory in California's Presidential Primary. Kennedy won the election but lost his life at the hands of an assassin.
In 2002, Paula Foster Chambers wrote:
" In the early 2000s, efforts were taken to secure protected historical status for the Sportsmen's Lodge. In 2002, the Studio City Residents Association, backed by the Los Angeles Conservancy, submitted an application to designate the Lodge's banquet center as a Historic-Cultural Monument."
The Cultural Heritage Commission approved the historic designation and sent it on to the Los Angeles City Council."
The effort to conserve the Sportsmen's Lodge as the Council rejected a Cultural Landmark, but the movement continues.
In 2007, Sportsmen's Lodge was sold to Los Angeles developer Richard Weintraub. While retaining the name of the facility, the area will be redeveloped to reflect the ambiance of the San Fernando Valley as it was in the 1950s.