On Mount Washington Drive, Broken Fences Unite Neighbors

Kim Axelrod Ohanneson

(Originally published in Patch, http://highlandpark-ca.patch.com/articles/on-mount-washington-drive-broken-fences-unite-neighbors on October 6, 2011)

“Do you know what happened to the fence on Mount Washington Drive?” asked my friend Pat.

Lately, my travels have taken me down Canyon Vista Drive rather than up.  So with the advent of cooler weather, the Small Black Dog and I hiked the Hill to assess the situation.

The view of spectacular cloud formations and misty city was distracting but the splintered fence was hard to miss.  Someone driving up the winding road of blind curves and distracting vistas had smashed through both of the wooden retaining fences.  Broken boards, splintered wood, white paint chips, part of an amber fog light, and a section of license plate holder littered the pathway and the dry, brown slope below.

When we first moved to Mount Washington in the mid-Eighties, a rustic, white, wooden fence curved up Mount Washington Drive to the few houses that straggled down the Hill from San Rafael Drive.  The double fence designated a safe pedestrian path on the road and also provided a vantage point to linger over a spectacular view that stretches to the Palos Verde Peninsula.   The main reason for the fence, of course, is to prevent motorists from plunging off the cliff below the Self-Realization Fellowship’s southern border.

In the last ten years, the wooden fence was almost entirely replaced by a far less attractive but undeniably sturdier barricade of dull, grey metal and beige concrete.   Only a small part of the wooden fence remained in the upper quarter of the Hill.

Of course, the driver who lost control managed to smash into the timbered section rather than the sturdier concrete barricade.  Both the outer and inner barriers had been breached but they did their job.

I was surprised that I hadn’t heard the crash.  We live close to the accident site and sound travels in the canyon.  There was no accident report on record with the City Property Traffic Division and a call to Officer Rey, Senior Lead Officer for Cypress Park, Glassell Park, and part of Mount Washington, had not been returned.

I decided to check with my neighbors to see if anyone knew anything.

Alex, whose home borders on Frontenac and Canyon Vista Drive, hadn’t heard any crash and wasn’t sure if the fence had been breached two weeks ago or three weeks ago.  We had a nice chat, however, about a book he’d lent me – William G. Bonelli’s Billion Dollar Blackjack about corruption and the Los Angeles Times where Alex had worked for many years.

Melissa, who lives in Jack and Denny Smith’s former home with her black labradoodle Langston, took me around the house, which has a plethora of windows, light, and bookshelves, and told me about her upcoming renovations as we gazed out over the native plants in her back yard.   Handsome Langston quickly decided that he would like to be my new boyfriend.   I’m pretty sure it was my ear scratches and not the scent of the Small (and still smelly) Black Dog on my pant leg.

Edeltraut "E.T." Schober is worried that the broken fence is a danger to schoolchildren walking up Mount Washington Drive.  Credit Kim Axelrod OhannesonMy neighbor E.T., who seems to know practically everyone on Mount Washington because of her extensive, twice-a-day rambles with her rescued dog Angel Face, knew only that someone had been coming up the Hill when they smashed into the fence.  In late afternoon/early evening, that stretch of Mount Washington Drive is notoriously tough.  The sun shines directly into drivers’ eyes as they navigate the blind curves.  It was unclear when the accident happened but E.T. speculated that maybe the late day sun had blinded the driver.

As Angel Face nosed around the wreckage, E.T worried about the safety of kids who walk along the path on their way up to Mount Washington Elementary School.  The splinters of wood and shards of metal are also dangerous for dog paws.  E.T. expressed concern that she didn’t know what to do to get the fence fixed.  As E.T. and Angel Face continued up the Hill, I lingered on the path as clouds massed in the west in anticipation of an early sunset.

In his poem Mending Wall, Robert Frost rephrases an old proverb when he says, “Good fences make good neighbors.”  I was no closer to solving the mystery of the crash but even when broken, this good wooden fence, which has guarded and guided Mount Washington residents for decades, helped bring me closer to my good neighbors.

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