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.
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.
Officially, the structure lies on a floodplain that prevented permits from going through, halting construction indefinitely. But urban legend gives us a more supernatural explanation: It is said the untimely death of a member of the “27 club” haunts the area to this day.
The house belonged to Bob “The Bear” Hite of the blues-rock band Canned Heat. The band practiced at the house often. Alan Wilson, the band’s co-founder, and guitarist died of a drug overdose just behind the house on Sept. 3, 1970. It’s still up to debate whether the overdose was an accident or suicide.
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.
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.
There are conflicting stories on whether the alleged suicide of Alan Wilson happened on the property so often attributed to it. Some believe Wilson’s death occurred behind another house further up the canyon. However, his death certificate does state that his death occurred at the same address. Nevertheless, visitors to the crumbling concrete house continue to honor Wilson’s memory.
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.
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.
The skeletal remains of a staircase spiral upward to the second story.
Much of the floor and ceiling have collapsed, making it somewhat difficult to move around safely.
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.
The cinder block walls appear to peel away from one another in what must have been an intentional aesthetic choice of the architect.
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.
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.