Monday, March 5, 2018

L.A.'s Rock Landmarks - The Canyon Country Store

I've droned on about Laurel Canyon over the years. While I lived a canyon over in the early 1980s (Benedict Canyon – you would know that if you read Jay and the Americans), it was not the Canyon. L.A. Has a certain vernacular. "The City" meant Beverly Hills, a city engulfed by L.A. on all sides; "South of the Boulevard" meant the Hollywood Hills south of Ventura Blvd. in the Valley (which means the San Fernando Valley, and The Canyon means only Laurel, though there were many others that connect the Valley to the "Basin." Mama Cass was the Canyon's Gertrude Stein, we've established that, and Peter Tork was the west coast's Truman Capote and the purveyor of the naked party house. There was bowling at Zappa’s and Morrison lived on Love Street, but the one Canyon landmark that remains virtually unchanged is The Canyon Country Store, the makeshift cultural center of the L.C., indeed, the "store where the creatures meet."

At the intersection of Kirkwood Drive and Laurel Canyon Blvd. a small inn called the Bungalow Lodge opened in the early 1900s (there's conflicting information on the exact date), catering primarily to hunters. The Lodge went up in flames in 1929. Reconstruction using brick and stones (from the original river that flowed where Laurel Canyon Blvd. is now) began later that year, and the spot was re-fashioned as a local market. Thus, the Canyon Country Store was born.

At the height of the counterculture movement of the 1960s, Laurel Canyon became southern California's answer to Haight-Ashbury in San Francisco, though less psychedelic and far more bohemian. Throughout the '60s and '70s, the Laurel Canyon Country Store acted as a meeting place for these musicians to write songs together and jam on the market's front patio. Mitchell wrote Ladies of the Canyon and Nash wrote CSNY's "Our House" about the neighborhood. Most famously of all, Cass Elliot lived in the shop's basement (now a fancy wine cellar) for a spell.

Jim Morrison's semi-constant companion, Pamela Courson, probably frequented the country store most of all. The contentious pair lived right behind the market at 8021 Rothdell Trail and opened their home to seemingly all artists and travelers who came past. According to Laurel Canyon lore, during a Morrison/Courson main event, folks hanging out at the market would watch Jim's books and clothing flying out of the top windows.

In the '80s the Canyon shifted from bohemian nucleus to secluded enclave, and rock stars flocked to the neighborhood for the quiet life. But legends continued to frequent the Country Store in search of their favorite goods, including chocolate. Mick Jagger came for the "English Kit Kats on hand," while David Bowie repeatedly purchased Flakes, his favorite Cadbury chocolate bar.

The clientele today ranges from old-timer hippies to the wives of studio executives stopping in for packs of cigarettes. What might have served as the location for a sit-in is now the perfect spot to enjoy a sandwich and the calming sound of L.A. traffic. If you play your cards right, the twenty-somethings working at the cash register (the same job Jennifer Aniston worked before landing Friends), will offer you your receipt, hand-lettered with the phrase, "You are loved." Peace signs in the Os, of course.

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