At the heart of Toluca Lake is a body of water both iconic — inspiring the neighborhood’s name as well as its beloved swan symbol — and, even for many locals, elusive. Here’s a peek into the past of the secluded lake whose quiet charm has drawn people to the area for more than a century.
In 1889, when General Charles Forman purchased much of the land that now comprises the neighborhood of Toluca Lake, he also acquired a muddy, spring-fed lake that he used to help irrigate the crops on his ranch. After Forman’s death, a group of investors purchased the property in 1923 and began subdividing it for development. To enhance the area’s natural appeal, the lake was expanded and promoted as a park where families could picnic and relax. Lakeside Golf Club opened in 1925, adding to the recreational allure. After Warner Bros. acquired its lot in Burbank in 1928, Hollywood stars were quick to discover the private, bucolic residential neighborhood nearby, and land sales boomed. Soon the lake was ringed with stately homes, whose residents enjoyed exclusive access to its waters for fishing, swimming and boating.
The lake continued to evolve over the years, with a well and pump installed to feed it after the springs failed and the water level dropped to just a foot deep in 1930. The water table continued to lower due to the paving of the L.A. River in 1938, and even two pumps were not enough to keep the lake from evaporating completely in 1951, leaving it “as dry as the Mojave desert” for the next year, as the Los Angeles Herald Examinerdescribed the striking sight. To restore it, the bottom was graded and paved with 4 inches of asphalt to prevent water loss before the lake was refilled to a depth that now ranges from about 18 inches to 10 feet. The property owners signed a maintenance agreement to fund periodic upkeep, managed by the Toluca Lake Property Owners Association.
Famous lakeshore dwellers over the years included Charles Farrell, Mary Astor, Boris Karloff, W.C. Fields and Frank Sinatra, building the mystique of Toluca Lake as a glamorous golden-age celebrity playground. Less publicized, however, was the strong, stable community of longtime residents who simply enjoy the quiet, beauty and friendliness of the lakefront lifestyle. As Tim Davis, a lake homeowner since 2011, puts it, “It’s very special and serene.”