April 2, 2007

2 Teens Set Fire Close to Hollywood Sign!

Home for actors plays a role in blaze
The Oakwood Toluca Hills apartments, once home to Hilary Swank and other future stars, escapes damage in brush fire.
By Francisco Vara-Orta and Rong-Gong Lin II, Times Staff Writers
March 31, 2007

Perched along Barham Boulevard, close to movie and television studios in Burbank and Universal City, the sprawling Oakwood Toluca Hills apartment complex is well-known as a pleasant, if somewhat anonymous, perch for actors until their big role comes along. Or until waitressing becomes a way of life, or until they return to wherever their dreams of stardom dawned.

But on Friday, the 1,151-unit complex, which describes itself as "Home of the famous and almost famous," had a starring role of its own as a 160-acre brush fire was ignited by fireworks just yards behind its grounds.

The Oakwood's management mails brochures to talent agents nationwide advertising its furnished apartments — often rented for as short as a month or two to hundreds of child actors and their families during television casting season. Acting and singing lessons are offered on-site, and Hollywood survival tips are passed around poolside and on the tennis courts.

Dave Grove, 49, was enjoying a lunch break by the pool about 12:30 p.m. when he smelled something burning. "All of a sudden I saw the plume of smoke," said Grove, an Alaska native who has lived in Los Angeles for two years. His two children — Logan, 8, and Megan, 13 — are actors and were prepping to head to one of Logan's auditions. "They went ahead and left," Grove said. "But I've been here three hours watching it."

Dan Bozin, 29, and his nephew, Josh Bozin, 13, were running errands when they spotted the fire. The two went to the top of an Oakwood building to help film part of what is expected to be a fire safety video posted on the Internet.

Josh moved to Los Angeles from Cleveland a year ago to pursue acting and has landed work on the Disney Channel and in a Dunkin' Donuts commercial.

"You see a lot of kids around here at the Oakwood that you see at auditions," Josh said. "Some are nice, and some already have egos."

Actors Fred Savage and Neil Patrick Harris bunked at the three-story Oakwood when they were child stars. Among adults who have called it home are Kenneth Branagh and Emma Thompson, Ossie Davis and Ruby Dee, Dean Stockwell, Lou Gossett Jr., Hilary Swank and Kim Novak.

The complex, which was completed in 1973, is at near capacity this week because of television pilot casting season, said Rebecca Tann, vice president of marketing for Oakwood Worldwide, the parent chain.

But she stressed that the Toluca Hills location, where monthly rents for a furnished unit range from $2,640 for a studio to $4,860 for a two-bedroom, attracts more than actors. Businessmen negotiating a last-minute contract land there, she said, as do "people who want to move out here but just don't want to deal with having to furnish their apartment."

One of the 23 Oakwood buildings was evacuated for about an hour as the fire came within 50 feet of the parking lot. Residents and workers wet down the hillside, and management turned on roof sprinklers.

Resident Kyle Kablan, 16, was among those who decided to help film the fire for the Internet safety video. Kyle, who has appeared in shows for Nickelodeon, said speaking to the media about the fire was an unexpected form of publicity, though the occasion was an unhappy one.

"I'm kind of sad now that when I go by, all the greenery there is dead," he said of the scorched grass and trees.

francisco.varaorta@ latimes.com ron.lin@latimes.com Times staff writer Larry Gordon contributed to this report.