The area, now referred to as the Cahuenga Pass, was originally inhabited by Gabrieliño natives of Shoshonean descent. Specific information about these early residents is scanty, but apparently they had two primary settlements in the general area:
Kawenga (which supposedly means "little hills") in the approximate site of present day Hollywood (north of the former towns of Colegrove, South Hollywood and Cahuenga Valley); Toluca (said to mean "fertile valley").
These areas were near the present day communities of Toluca Lake and North Hollywood (formerly called Lankershim), near the Los Angeles River, which was formerly called "Rio de Porciuncula" by the Spanish. At the time, the Pass was apparently little more than a dusty, rough narrow break or natural trail in the hills suitable only for hiking, riding a horse or a mule.
When Portola, the famous explorer, traveled through the Pass in about 1769, that steep narrow footpath was what he and his men found between lovely valleys on either side of the hills. With settlement and colonization by the Spanish, and with the development of a pueblo "downtown" near the site of the former native village of Yangna, travel slowly increased over the Pass out to the "new" Mission San Fernando Rey de España and eventually up the El Camino Réal de Rey to the other Alta California missions. The early Spanish name for the Pass and the area near it was "El Portozuela". The Pass was also known as "La Nopalera" for the abundant nopal cactus growing there. This was the "modern" beginning of the important role of the Pass as the principal route connecting urban Los Angeles and the more agrarian and suburban San Fernando Valley.In 1828, a traveler through the area, a Mr. Alfred Robinson, called "the glen of Cow-wanga an indescribable mountain road" when speaking of the Cahuenga Pass and its ruggedness.
By 1830 the name "Cahuenga" had become associated with the area near the northern side of the mountains. However it subsequently became applied to the valley south of the hills as well, and later became attached to an area/town referred to as Cahuenga Valley (southeast of Hollywood and Colegrove).
As settlements grew, farms and ranches developed and commerce increased. Sheep and cattle began to be driven across the Pass. By the 1850's ox-carts and mule teams crossed the hills through the Pass with people and goods. Slowly the roadway was improved and became suitable for wagons. The Butterfield Overland Mail Company stage first crossed the Pass in 1858 with a contract to transport the U.S. mail from St. Louis to San Francisco by way of Los Angeles. Prior to 1848, individual mail carriers, among them Kit Carson, traveled from U.S. territories down to Monterey. Butterfield started with two coaches per week traveling back and forth in each direction.
The history of the Pass in the mid 1800's is full of tales of battles fought, hidden gold and treasure, banditos and highwaymen. These stories include men like Pico, Fremont, Vasquez and Murietta among others.
Historians recall the Cahuenga Pass as the site of the famous Battle of Cahuenga in 1845. Famous, because its only casualties were one horse and one mule. For the next eighty years, the Pass served primarily as a winding tributary permitting the turbulent expansion of the Los Angeles basin spill over into the San Fernando Valley.
It was not until the mid-1920's that developers realized the potential of the rolling slopes boarding the Pass (See our HKCC Photo Archives). The then barren hills north of Cahuenga Avenue and east of what is now Barham Boulevard was designated Hollywood Knolls. The original subdivider envisioned this as the site of exclusive estate-size homes with appeal to filmland celebrities. Several spacious Spanish-style homes were completed before the depression delayed future development. But in 1935, the ring of hammers on nails echoed across Dark Canyon and along the ridges once more.
Then, as now, residents were attracted by the undulating topography, the magnificent vistas, and the unique natural aspect conveniently located near the center of the sprawling metropolis. The Mulholland Dam, completed in 1924, created a private lake to enhance the surroundings. Oaks and eucalyptus trees were planted to shade the lots and curving streets. And the Pacific electric Railway stopped at frequent intervals on its trips to the Valley and back.,.The Pacific Electric Railway has been replaced by the Hollywood Freeway, one of the most traveled arteries. The grassy ridges have given way to attractive homes and giant shade trees. Celebrated residents have left their mark and property values have increased greatly over the years.
But the 1,000 foot elevation is still wafted by gentle breezes and provides panoramic views of mountains by day and an endless carpet of lights by night. The deer and opossum still nibble the vegetation. But, most important, after all these years, the Hollywood Knolls remains the place where you say "Good Morning" to good neighbors. (from hollywoodknolls.org)