The Mystery of Canned Heat House: The Bear, The Blind Owl and the 27 Club

In an affluent neighborhood in western Los Angeles County, a two-story house has sat abandoned and decaying for decades. Rumors tell of a time when rock stars, including a member of the infamous "27 Club," lived, jammed, and partied within the sagging walls.

Abandoned Canned Heat House in Topanga Canyon, Los Angeles

I'm always astonished when I hear of abandoned places in L.A.'s upscale areas. It blows my mind that a home could be left to languish in a region where property is prohibitively expensive for all but the most well-to-do buyers. 

When I learned of the dilapidated house in Topanga Canyon, I knew there had to be an interesting story behind it. On the way to meet friends for dinner in nearby Woodland Hills, I couldn't resist the urge to stop and check the place out. 

A simple gate blocks vehicle access to the property, but is easily bypassed on foot. I stepped around it and crossed the wooden bridge over the ravine that snakes along Topanga Canyon Blvd. 

Abandoned Canned Heat House in Topanga Canyon, Los Angeles

Abandoned Canned Heat House in Topanga Canyon, Los Angeles

The small patio between the house and the hillside is covered in graffiti, trash, and dead leaves. It looks like it would have been a great place to spend a quiet afternoon, or to have friends over for a barbecue. 

Abandoned Canned Heat House in Topanga Canyon, Los Angeles

The interior of the house is in rough shape. Nearly every surface is coated with spray paint. Discarded spray cans fill the bottom of a cylinder that rises up through the center of the structure. 

Abandoned Canned Heat House in Topanga Canyon, Los Angeles

The skeletal remains of a staircase spiral upward to the second story.

Abandoned Canned Heat House in Topanga Canyon, Los Angeles

Much of the floor and ceiling have collapsed, making it somewhat difficult to move around safely. 

Abandoned Canned Heat House in Topanga Canyon, Los Angeles

Abandoned Canned Heat House in Topanga Canyon, Los Angeles

Couches and a fireplace occupy a sitting room, though it isn't clear whether the furniture was added before or after the place was abandoned. 

Abandoned Canned Heat House in Topanga Canyon, Los Angeles

The cinder block walls appear to peel away from one another in what must have been an intentional aesthetic choice of the architect.

Abandoned Canned Heat House in Topanga Canyon, Los Angeles

Abandoned Canned Heat House in Topanga Canyon, Los Angeles

The ravine standing between the house and the road was dry, except for a layer of mud. I'm sure it looks much different after a heavy rain. 

Abandoned Canned Heat House in Topanga Canyon, Los Angeles

Situated in the Santa Monica Mountains, Topanga Canyon shares borders with state-owned park land and the affluent beach city of Malibu. Surrounded by lush greenery and scenic views, it isn't surprising that many famous artists, musicians, and actors have chosen to call Topanga Canyon home. 

In 1952, Woody Guthrie was one of the first popular musicians to move to Topanga, followed by many more in the '60s. The neighborhood's residents have included Jim Morrison, Neil Young, Sissy Spacek, Bob Denver, Viggo Mortensen, and dozens of others. 

Abandoned Canned Heat House in Topanga Canyon, Los Angeles

I've read conflicting reports on the history on this particular house. It is said that the property once belonged to Bob "The Bear" Hite, the lead singer of Canned Heat, a band that became popular in the '60s. His band mates and other musicians visited frequently for jam sessions and parties. 

Alan "Blind Owl" Wilson, guitarist and founding member of Canned Heat, often spent the night there. He loved the outdoors and usually slept out under the stars. 

On September 3, 1970, on the eve of Canned Heat's European tour, Alan Wilson was found dead in his sleeping bag on the hillside behind Bob Hite's house. The cause of death was determined to be a barbiturate overdose, though it is unclear whether it was accidental or a suicide. Wilson had been battling depression and made several suicide attempts in the preceding months, but the lack of a suicide note made it unclear whether or not he meant to kill himself that night. 

Abandoned Canned Heat House in Topanga Canyon, Los Angeles

At the time of his death, Alan "Blind Owl" Wilson was 27 years old, making him a member of the "27 Club," a term for popular musicians who died at the age of 27. Other members of the 27 Club include Kurt Cobain and Amy Winehouse, as well as Janis Joplin and Jimi Hendrix, who died only weeks after Alan Wilson.

Bob Hite's house was destroyed in a flood in the 70s. The house that now occupies the property was built in 1990, but construction was apparently halted due to concerns over flooding, which is why much of the interior appears unfinished.

Some claim that Bob Hite's house was actually located on a different parcel of land in the area, but without access to property records I was unable to determine the truth. If you have any information, please leave a comment below.

Abandoned Canned Heat House in Topanga Canyon, Los Angeles

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17 comments :

  1. It's hard to imagine people paying property taxes on places like this--just "hanging on" to it for reasons I can't fathom.
    Cool find. Certainly looks like a nice spot.
    We just got back from a road trip to Nebraska and Iowa and so very very many of the old farmsteads are disappearing. I got some nice photos, but wow--stuff is disappearing FAST--especially in the farming areas. As the mega farms swallow up the small ones, the houses are bulldozed (and barns--oh sob!!) . History disappears quickly.

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    1. Nebraska and Iowa are so beautiful. I'm sad to hear that things are disappearing. I absolutely love old farm buildings. There's something so wholesome about them, even when they're abandoned. This is a good reminder of why I need to get back on the road ASAP and document more places before they're gone! I'd love to see the photos you took.

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    2. Hey kiddo--I'll put up a blog post tomorrow with some of my photos. Gotta wait until half the neighbors are asleep so I can load them.
      I love old house---but not old internet. Ha!

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  2. Incredible. The graffiti really makes it cool to photograph too, but the story behind it is what I found most fascinating. Thanks for writing this!

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    1. Thank you! I like when graffiti is artfully done and actually looks good. I'm glad you enjoyed the article :)

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  3. Great place..look forward to your next adventure, I have always looked
    for abandoned places. Seen some great ones but did not documents them
    We RV traveled the USA coast to coast and a ghost town always attracted us. Many were just a long forgotten cemetery.

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    1. Thanks, James. I absolutely love cross country road trips. I bet you have some great stories from your travels. Thank you for reading. Stay tuned for more. I'm about to start posting about the places I explored on my Rust Belt Road Trip of 2015.

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  4. You should check out this spot near the house you went to. Cool hike (15 min) from the dirt parking lots before the gate. Top of De Soto, up Browns Canyon. The locals put up official looking signs saying private property, but the end of the road is considered a regional park:

    https://www.google.com/maps/@34.312091,-118.6086873,840m/data=!3m1!1e3

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    1. Looks like a really interesting place! Thanks for the suggestion. I've added it to my map of places I need to check out.

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  5. Fascinating story and excellent photos; Thanks for posting the pictures and background research. Love your work!

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    1. Thank you, Tom. I'm glad you're enjoying the site. I've got plenty more articles in the pipeline, so feel free to come back for more when you have a chance.

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  6. Hello from Chicago.
    Retired municipal attorney with extensive background in real estate law from every conceivable angle. I don't know California law specifically but I can make an educated guess about the situation of this property. You mentioned flood. If the property is in a defined flood area then it might be legally undevelopable land. The recognized propensity to flood makes it financially undevelopable land as no lender coukd risk financing construction. Sure seems like construction was suspended. That usually indicates suspension of financing, or legal stoppage for want of permits, or something similar. An appraisal of the land on which the unfinished structure sits probably would determine a negative value as any acquisition would require immediate demolition of the structure (for insurance reasons not least because somebody's gonna get hurt, or worse, in there).

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    1. Thank you for the information. It's great to hear from someone with expert knowledge on the subject. When I first moved to LA over a decade ago, a mudslide destroyed a mansion in Laurel Canyon. The foundation has sat undisturbed ever since, and I always wondered why. It makes sense now; there is probably little that can be done to prevent a catastrophic mudslide from happening there again.

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    2. Marc Gaynes presents a likely the scenario. I checked the FEMA flood plain map (06037C1551F) and it's located in a Zone AE floodplain (Base Flood Elevations Determined). The Base flood elevation is 818 feet. Though, I should note the whole property is not in the flood plain, but it does run through the middle of the property. Though, I will add a caveat that whether or not you can build in a floodplain depends on the state.

      Also, property records are open to the public. You can do a parcel search from the Los Angeles County Recorder's office for information on this particular parcel (No. 4444023017). Their tax records are down until July 15th because of the end-fiscal year update. The recorder's office also has plat maps and assessors maps which are also public record (free).

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    3. Right on! Thanks for the info. You've really done your research on this place. I certainly wouldn't want to build my house in a floodplain. I checked out the LA County Recorder's office. It's a shame the records aren't available online. That would make things a lot easier.

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  7. Super interesting read! I had stumbled upon this house a few months ago and have been trying to gather more information on it since then. As someone frequently exploring such places, I'm super thankful to have found your blog! Do you plan on posting anymore about your adventures in the LA area? I saw you mentioned an abandoned mansion in Laurel Canyon and would love to know more about that.

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    1. Thank you, Kylie! I do plan on posting more articles about places I've explored around LA, but it will probably be a while before I get to them. I'm currently writing about the places I visited on a road trip to the Rust Belt and will post more LA content afterwards. The mansion I mentioned was near Mulholland and Laurel Canyon. The foundation is all that remains.

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