Halloween Yard Haunt Odyssey 2020: Toluca Lake

Here it is at last! Years - well, days - in the making! See nearly two dozen Toluca Lake yard haunts! Tickle your humerus at The Bone House! Shop Till You Drop (Dead) at Trader Closed! Grab some gourds at Haunted Harvest! Shiver at the sight of Arachnaphobia's enormous spiders! Quiver at the full moon over Haunted Hacienda! See skeletons play Twister in a graveyard! Rock-and-Roll on the Highway to Hell! A splendid time is guaranteed for all!

On October 31, 2020, Hollywood Gothique went on a good, old-fashioned Halloween Yard Haunt Odyssey to Toluca Lake. What do we mean by "good, old-fashioned"? In the early days of this website, before the Halloween season had extended its reach to fill all of October, many yard haunts were open only on Halloween Night, so the Odyssey was a mad dash to visit as many as possible before the lights went out. With Halloween Home Haunts now opening in early to mid-October, it is possible to visit them at our leisure, compiling exhaustive coverage of many different areas: Simi Valley, San Fernando Valley, South Bay, the Verdugos, etc.

Toluca Lake, however, has always been a little bit off our radar. Though the neighborhood has a reputation as a proverbial Mecca for trick-or-treaters, it is not home to anything so famous as, say, Rotten Apple 907. Rather, its appeal lies in the proliferation of decorated houses within easily walkable distances - a phenomenon definitely worth exploring.

Moreover, with candy distribution curtailed in response to the Coronavirus pandemic, the neighborhood made an effort to boost their decorating this year, an achievement facilitated by Tina Smith, a local realtor who organized the 4th Annual Halloween House Decorating Contest, with awards for Best in Show, Most Creative, and Spookiest. Her map of contestants and winners was a useful guide for our tour of the neighborhood. Hopefully, most of these houses will be decorated again for Halloween 2021, so that you can visit them, too.

Toluca Lake Yard Haunts: Forman Avenue

Toluca Lake covers such little territory that a careful travel plan is not necessary. There were a few outliers on the decorating contest map (literally outside of Toluca Lake), but the majority were packed within ten minutes of each other in an area below the Ventura Freeway extending from Cahuenga Boulevard to Clybourn Avenue.

Toluca Lake Yard Haunts Halloween 2020
Toluca Lake haunts packed so tight their map icons overlapped: Elephant is Trader Closed. Croc is Haunted Harvest. Apatosaurus is Highway to Hell. Partridge (?) is Clybourn Manor.

This made it possible to wander back and forth without adding much drive time. If one block were too crowded, with no available parking, it was easy to move on and circle back later. There were two streets that drew throngs: Forman Avenue and Mariota Avenue - each a nexus of haunted homes - but zig-zagging in between and around these streets, we stumbled upon other decorated houses, some not on the map.

We began our Toluca Lake Halloween Haunt Odyssey by diving straight into the heart of this ectoplasmic activity, starting at Forman, which lay virtually at midpoint of all the decorated houses. Our goal was to find a house on the cross street Navajo Avenue, but as we reached the intersection, we grabbed a convenient parking space and disembarked, lured by the sight of no less than four yard haunts on the block. In fact, we were so dazzled that we ended up overlooking our intended destination!


4311 Forman Avenue

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Our first paranormal encounter took place on the west side of Forman, where a lawn the size of a small park provided copious room for a graveyard full of ghouls. The decor consisted mostly of static, store-bought props, but there were one or two mechanical effects, including a gravestone that split in half to reveal a zombie emerging from the ground. More important, the enormous lawn, surrounded by a fence, gave the impression of looking into a cemetery that had come to undead life on All Hallow's Eve.

Sometimes size does matter.


The Bone House
4318 Forman Avenue

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Directly across the street from 311 Forman, we visited The Bone House, one of the few Toluca Lake yard haunts with a name. Humor was the key factor here: the low-tech haunt hosted over a dozen costumed skeletons holding jokey signs, some based on the presidential election, which was referenced with tongue in cheek as "Pundemic 2020."

The Bone House offered proof that clever presentation can make something memorable out of simple props. We particularly liked the Lazy Bones skeleton with with a TV remote in hand and a pizza box beside him, next to a dog skeleton playing fetch with an arm bone. If it added some motors to move the skeletons and a few recorded voices to speak the puns, this could become a mini-Boney Island.


Happy Hollow Playground
4312 Forman Avenue

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One door over from The Bone House was this miniature display with a clown, a see-saw and a merry-go-round. Happy Hollow Playground offered a good example of a how well a small-scale haunt can work in a densely decorated neighborhood, giving the impression that the entire street is haunted, not just one or two houses. Please forgive the pretentious classical reference, but by filling the gap between Bone House and the next big display, Happy Hollow Playground reminded us of Schumann's comment regarding Beethoven's Symphony #4: "a slender Greek maiden standing between two Norse giants."


4300 Forman Avenue

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At the end of the block, this was one of several Toluca Lake yard haunts with a sign reminding would-be visitors that there was no trick-or-treating, only the display. The large house was loaded with decorations and enhanced with some projection effects on the front wall. Gravestones dotted the lawn, some with bodies poised as if trying to escape, while ghastly mannequins "guarded" the perimeter. The prominent feature here was the building itself, which was so imposing that it could pass for a haunted mansion, with a dimly glimpsed figure peering down from an upper-floor window.

Located on the corner of Forman and Navajo, this house was responsible for us skipping our intended destination - in our excitement, we mistook it for 4240 Navajo Avenue, which was actually farther east of Forman. Scroll down to see photographs (courtesy of Tina Smith) of what we missed...


Haunted Harvest
4240 Navajo Avenue
Runner Up: Best in Show

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Though it has no official name, we dubbed this yard display "Haunted Harvest." The scarecrows, corn stalks, hay bails, real pumpkins and gourds distinguished 4240 Navajo from the many cemetery scenes we saw that night. We appreciate a haunter who attempts something different.

Our Contest Assessment: We cannot render a judgement on this one since we did not see it in person, but we are sorry we missed it.

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Toluca Lake Yard Haunts: Whipple Street

After the fun on Forman Avenue, we veered west toward Whipple Street.

Toluca Lake yard Haunts Halloween 2020
Baby Triceratops - they're cute when they're little!

Although only one contestant was listed on the map, that did not mean the rest of the block was devoid of decor. Other yards were dotted with a small number of decorations, and we passed one with ghosts suspended from trees, a giant inflatable, and a tiny triceratops skeleton. Dinosaurs rule!

The destination on this leg of our journey was...

Trader Closed
10329 Whipple Street
Co-Winner: Most Creative

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Co-winner of the Most Creative award, Trader Closed provided a ghoulish spoof of the famous grocery store, with puns based on products, the pandemic, and local neighborhood names. Like the Bone House, this display relied on costumed skeletons and humorous signage for its impact - good example of how a clever concept can turn simple materials into something noteworthy.

Our Contest Assessment: Trader Closed is the equivalent of a low-budget movie that relies on clever dialogue rather than high-tech effects for its entertainment value. With its memorable theme and witty puns, it showed more than enough creativity to deserve its award.

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Toluca Lake Yard Haunts: Toluca Lake Avenue

Like Whipple Street, Toluca Lake Avenue was not so densely populated by decorated houses, but it was home to one memorable contest winner.

Arachnophobia
10109 Toluca Lake Avenue
Winner: Spookiest/Scariest

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"Arachnophobia" is officially identified only by its address, but since it won for the Spookiest/Scariest Haunt, we think it deserves a name, and since half a dozen oversized spiders were the first sight to greet our eyes as we drove up, what else could we call it? The display had a nice layered effect, with some ghoulish figures between the street and the sidewalk, a small graveyard between the sidewalk and the house, and skeletons on the house itself.

Our Contest Assessment: By the standards of hardcore haunt-seekers, this one may not seem very scary, but it was definitely spooky. Skeletons dangling from overhead, spiders clinging to the walls, and the gravestones set in the concrete planter were eye-catching, and we imagine young trick-or-treaters were so intimidated by the spectral figure in the window over the garage that the "caution tape" blocking access to the house was unnecessary.

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Toluca Lake Yard Haunts: Mariota Avenue

Toluca Lake's second nexus of ectoplasmic activity was situated on Mariota Avenue and its cross street, Moorpark, where there were two decorated houses we covered in our San Fernando Valley Home Haunt Odyssey (which we will mention below in the section on Toluca Lake Yard Haunts: Previewed). We started south of Moorpark Street and worked our way north, passing some smaller displays before hitting the star attraction.

As on Forman Avenue, the sidewalks here were crowded with costumed haunt-seekers hurrying from one decorated house to the next in spite of the lack of candy. Most were eagerly photographing the elaborate decorations, vying for the best camera angles, which made social distancing more difficult than it should have been. We spent much of the time walking on the street instead of the sidewalk in order to avoid the occasional unmasked selfie-taker - unmasked in both the costume and the pandemic sense of the word.


The Great Pumpkin
4350 Mariota Avenue

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This cute little display recreated a famous scene from the beloved Peanuts special, It's the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown, with Linus and Sally waiting in the pumpkin patch for the supposed icon of Halloween to manifest. The joke was that they were wearing masks to protect themselves from viral infection. The decorations were just real pumpkins and flat cutouts, but we always love a display with a memorable theme.


Haunted Hacienda
4408 Mariota Avenue

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We decided to name this yard display "Haunted Hacienda" because that's what it looked like to us; also, the chimney bore a decoration that could be taken for a double letter 'H." This is another example of a simple display acting like a small piece of a puzzle, fitting in between the larger ones to create a haunted neighborhood. Also, regardless of the decorations, the building looked frickin' awesome in the light of the partially veiled full moon.


Twister
4424 Mariota Avenue

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We're calling this one "Twister" because...well, you'll figure it out when you see the game played by the skeletons (including a sabre tooth tiger). This fenced yard was stuffed to the brim with Jack O'Lanterns, gravestones, witches, ghosts, and even an inflatable vampire rising from his coffin - all of it hauntingly bathed in beautiful purple light. There was so much to see that the crowds were thick with amateur photographers trying to snap each and every creepy character. With its elaborate variety of decorations, we're surprised this didn't win some kind of award; all it needed was a distinct theme to distinguish it from the competition.


Highway to Hell
4428 Mariota
Co-Winner: Most Creative

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Highway to Hell was one of the liveliest yard displays of the evening, with music pulsing through the night and lights streaming up from the driveway, suggesting a phantom rock concert. Coiffed with a punkish orange Mohawk, one skeleton was poised before a keyboard; another, with a guitar strapped around its chest, was suspended in midair, imitating one of Pete Townshend's split-legged leaps. We definitely would buy a ticket to this show if we could!

Sadly, the AC/DC song was not playing (at least while we were there), but the display justified its name with a "Highway to Hell" sign, behind which a skeletal motorcyclist popped a wheelie while intoning, "You look like you're dying for a ride."

Our Contest Assessment: Highway to Hell was far from the largest display (it boasted fewer figures than Twisted), but it made a huge impression, cleverly using lighting and sound to bring its theme to life. Definitely an imaginative creation.

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Toluca Lake Yard Haunts: Previewed & Unviewed

Highway to Hell was the last stop on our Toluca Lake Yard Haunt Odyssey but not the last decorated house on the map. We skipped a few that night, either because they fell outside Toluca Lake's boundaries or because we had visited them earlier in the season.


Clybourn Manor
4336 Clybourn Avenue
Winner: Best in Show

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Among the yard haunts we had covered in our San Fernando Valley Yard Haunt Odyssey was Clybourn Manor, which took the Halloween House Decorating Contest's award for Best in Show. This pirate-theme yard display impressed us much more this year than it had in 2019, with shadows from Tiki torches adding a flicker of life to the static skeletons.

Our Contest Assessment: We have seen plenty of pirates, but this display was nicely arranged, with kraken tentacles, oozing fog, and lovely lighting - plus an audible chorus of "Yo ho, yo ho - a pirate's life for me!"


Other "Pre-Viewed" Haunts

Located on the east side of Clybourn Avenue, the border between Toluca Lake and Burbank, Clybourn Manor is technically in Burbank. However, four other nearby houses, including one directly across the street, are definitely in Toluca Lake and so should be included here.

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Located across from Clybourn Manor - on the Toluca Lake side of the street - was a small display at 4329 Clybourn Avenue, featuring spiderwebs, skulls, skeletons, and a few large inflatable figures.

Further east on Moorpark Street were two enormous displays: the first was Lilly Manor at 10104 Moorpark Street; the second was one we have named "Land of the Giants" at 10240 Moorpark Street. Both are worth seeing for sheer size.

Finally, further north was Rotting Hill Cemetery at 4848 Sancola Avenue, which Google Maps places in North Hollywood. This is highly misleading, suggesting that the yard haunt is adjacent to Pierdel Fantasmagoria, also in North Hollywood. In fact, the two are miles away, on opposite sides of the 170 Freeway. Designating Rotting Hill as being in Toluca Lake makes clear its proximity to the nearly two dozen decorated houses discussed here, so we will stick with that designation in the future.


6 Toluca Estates Drive
Plus Unviewed Haunts

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We were unable to view every contestant in the 4th Annual Toluca Lake Halloween House Decorating Contest. Some were actually located outside Toluca Lake proper, in neighboring Toluca Woods and West Toluca Lake, and we had to prioritize other destinations on Halloween Night (including a few in nearby Burbank that we would otherwise have missed). Above are photographs of the Toluca Lake haunts we skipped, including one not on the contest map, at 6 Toluca Estates Drive. Fortunately, intrepid correspondent Warren So discovered this one the evening after Halloween, reporting:

With a spotlight on each character, we were able to see this property from about a block away in the predominantly dark neighborhood. The display featured Freddy Krueger as the main headliner smack dab front and center of the house, towering over a sign that read “Bad Year Bad People." Quite the truth-sayer he was, being surrounded by famous villains and icons of darkness from films we know and love, aligned around the arc of a circular driveway: Captain Hook, Michael Myers, Dracula, Maleficent, the Evil Queen from Snow White, Pennywise, and even Hannibal Lecter in his orange prison suit behind bars (yes, he had his famous mask on!). With the exception of one twelve-foot skeleton, every other character seemed to be a normal skeleton (perhaps custom-made) dressed up as the characters aforementioned. Since there seems to be a trend of unofficially naming yard displays, the fitting name here would be Skeleton Cosplay.

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'Toluca Lake Yard Haunts: Conclusion

So, what is the final word on Hollywood Gothique's first-ever Toluca Lake Home Haunt Odyssey?

First, the proximity of many decorated houses in a small area makes the neighborhood worth visiting, especially on October 31. We saw no live actors haunting houses, and only one or two homeowners were even visible, but the latter was because of the pandemic, which precluded handing out treats.

Second, the phrase "decorated houses" is key to understanding what is on view. You will not find walk-through mazes or, with an exception or two, shows with coordinated audio and visual effects telling some kind of story. What you will find are numerous yards decked out with multitude of store-bought props and mannequins, often enhanced with elaborate lighting, fog, and a few mechanical effects. The impact is to some extent cumulative; though some large-scale displays stand out on their own, others are memorable for being situated one after another on a single block, immersing visitors in a street full of Halloween decor, where the size of individual haunts is irrelevant.

Third, not every decorated house was on the contest map, which is a testament to just how many displays are packed into the neighborhood: this year's map listed fifteen locations, but there were several more, including Lilly Manor, Haunted Hacienda, Rotting Hill Cemetery, among others.

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Fourth, despite being an upscale neighborhood of the type normally populated by people who prefer low taxes, Toluca Lake appeared to lean liberal, with several houses reminding visitors to vote, with some not so subtle suggestions to vote for removing the current occupant from the White House.

Finally, even though many houses were decorated early in the month (in order to be judged for the contest), Halloween Night was the ideal time to explore Toluca Lake, when streets were alive with costumed trick-or-treaters. Though many houses had locked gates and/or signs reminding visitors not to expect candy, the mood was festive - a repudiation of the gloom resulting from months of living through a deadly pandemic.

Sure, we would have been happier if the adults had done a better job of enforcing social distance, but overall we did not feel greatly at risk when leaving the car to view haunted homes up close. Instead, we felt a renewal of that eager thrill which years ago inspired us to write:

Walking down the sidewalk dark, past Jack O’ Lanterns brightly lit,
I feel the eager joyful fright, as through the shadows children flit.

The bats and owls flap overhead on this the evening of the dead.
On this All Hallowed Sacred Night, we savor ghoulish sweet delight.

After all the tension and despair brought by 2020, Halloween Night in Toluca Lake was truly rejuvenating. We extend a huge Hollywood Gothique thank you to everyone involved.

Steve Biodrowski, Administrator

A graduate of USC film school, Steve Biodrowski has worked as a film critic, journalist, and editor at Movieline, Premiere, Le Cinephage, The Dark Side., Cinefantastique magazine, Fandom.com, and Cinescape Online. He is currently Managing Editor of Cinefantastique Online and owner-operator of Hollywood Gothique.

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