Although the city of Los Angeles was founded as a Spanish pueblo in 1781, it did not grow much until 1860. By 1870 there was a diffusion of homes out toward the Westlake District and on the east side of the Los Angeles River to Eastlake and Boyle Heights. The rich built south toward Agricultural Park (Exposition Park). Panoramic views were not a consideration in those days, and only the bases of the hillsides were dotted with residences.
Most of the hills of the Los Angeles basin were sparsely settled, mostly due to the initial lack of accessibility. Mount Washington was no exception. Originally, the hill was once a part of the huge and sprawling Rancho San Rafael and its only residents were some 15,000 sheep! Once public transportation was established in the area, the Highlands, now known as Highland Park, blossomed into one of Los Angeles’ first streetcar suburban developments of the early 1900’s.
The turning point for Mt. Washington came in 1909, long after the land boom of the 1880’s, with the construction of a hotel on the summit and an incline railway by which to reach the hotel and subdivision. The hotel took full advantage of the panoramic view from the summit. It was the hope of the developer that people would ride from downtown on the Los Angeles Railway, get off the trolley at Avenue 43 and Marmion Way, and ride the Los Angeles & Mt. Washington Incline Railway to the summit, where they would experience the breathtaking view, whether day or night, resulting in the purchase of a lot. The ploy worked; Mount Washington, CA became an exclusive and highly desirable hilltop residential site for those who wished to experience a special situation. Visitors came from all over the region, and at one point the Mt. Washington Hotel became a gathering spot for celebrities such as Charles Chaplin, who always stayed at the hotel while making a film at Sycamore Grove studios, in adjacent Highland Park.
The evolution of the movie industry to its current location in Hollywood shifted much of the attraction of Mount Washington and the hotel and the area became less of an attraction. In 1925 the vacant hotel was sold to Parmahansa Yogananda, a monk of the ancient Swami Order in India, and founder of the Self-Realization Fellowship, which is still housed there today. Luckily, today the Mt. Washington Hotel exists as it did in the past, the grounds and gardens are well maintained and visitors are welcome! The tennis counts are in the same location, and the homes on the summit are as stately as when built over three-quarters of a century ago.
By the late 2000s, the neighborhood attracted middle- and upper-income residents, mostly whites, Latinos, and Asians.