The Toluca Lake Garden Club took guests on a trip back in time at an October 1 fundraising event benefiting its ongoing community beautification projects and the Richard Duenckel Scholarship fund. Attendees mingled while enjoying wine and a lavish charcuterie spread in the verdant garden of TLGC second vice president and fundraising chair Kirith Prady, then settled in for a fun and informative presentation by author George Geary about some of the most historic restaurants in Los Angeles.
The gathering was the culmination of a longtime goal, having originally been planned for the spring of 2020 before being canceled due to the onset of the pandemic. In her welcoming speech to the assembled community members, however, TLGC president Robyn Allyn pointed out that there was no better time than Toluca Lake’s centennial year for this celebration of local history. To set the stage, she said, “Imagine this charming little community back in 1923, with only a handful of homes surrounding a beautiful lake, and many of its residents working at the nearby studios: Universal, Disney and Warner Bros., the last two of which are also celebrating their 100th year.” In Toluca Lake today, she continued, “everyone knows every street and every house by its history,” including the event venue itself — a historic home designed by renowned architect Paul Revere Williams that was once inhabited by singer and actor (and former honorary Toluca Lake mayor) Tex Ritter and his likewise famous son, actor John Ritter.
“Our residents take pride in their community and are always happy to share their stories of the history of Toluca Lake,” Allyn continued. That includes the many longtime members of the TLGC, which boasts a 76-year tradition of service to the community, including beautifying Riverside Drive, sponsoring an annual scholarship for a botany student at Cal State Northridge, planting and maintaining gardens at the Toluca Lake and Rio Vista elementary schools, supporting local nonprofits and participating in neighborhood events.
Prady stepped up to introduce the event’s guest speaker, noting his background as a dedicated advocate for sustainable gardening practices as well as a celebrated chef, culinary expert and author. Geary then took the stage to share some tidbits from his extraordinary career and present selected highlights from his research into L.A.’s culinary history — with anecdotes about Antonio’s Pizzeria in Sherman Oaks, the Tam O’Shanter, Musso and Frank, Cole’s and Philippe the Original (both of which claim to have originated the French dip), among many others. Of particular neighborhood interest, he discussed the history of the Smoke House and praised the preservation and restoration of Idle Hour in North Hollywood, adding that the barrel-shaped bar’s original owner, even into her 80s, lived in an apartment on the upper story that could only be reached by ladder and entered through a window. After answering audience questions, Geary signed copies of his books and chatted with attendees eager to share their reminiscences of bygone local favorites.
For more about George Geary and his books, read “A Historic Career in Food.”