Deeeeeep in the far west Valley, there’s a low knoll where there is a large estate all built of stone. It’s the home of silent picture star Francis Lederer, now deceased, and his wife Marianne, whom I believe is still alive and kicking.
At the bottom of the hill the road Platt curves around the edge of the property (that’s how you know the locations of the old property lines in the Valley–the straight road will curve all the sudden, transcribing the old boundaries and survey marks, violating the rigid grid of 1950s Valley subdevelopments), and that’s where the Lederers had their barn. Built of stone like the house, in the style of the old missions, it was sold off and now houses the “Hidden Chateau,” a beautiful grotto of antiques and bric-a-brac, and currently blooming with wisteria. I believe they also host receptions and such.
In the gravel-paved parking lot for the Hidden Chateau is a small fruit stand, Sierra Farms. I always know when Spring has officially begun: forget the vernal equinox. It’s when Sierra Farms unshutters its front window and starts selling the most vibrantly-colored, juiciest fruits and vegetables ever. From fresas (I can’t resist lapsing into Spanish for strawberries, it’s such a better-suited word when you see how rich and red they are, as bright as a candy-apple diamond-finish retro racecar) to white peaches to heirloom tomatoes, apricots and pluots, all manner of root vegetables and nuts, Mel sells them all; a step inside the little shack finds the air thick, nectar-heavy, laced with the honey scent of ripe fruit and the sharp, green tang of tomatoes just cut from the vine.
A perfect Saturday would be coming out to old town Canoga Park for a stroll down the two-block stretch of unplundered antique shops and thrift stores (being so far out in the Valley, there’s still amazing finds to be discovered, from gorgeous vintage frocks at Aardvarks to bizarre, one-of-a-kind weirdities and moderne design in the antique shops), lunch at Follow Your Heart, and then following Sherman Way up to where it bends at the Lederer house, transforming into Platt Avenue, and picking up dessert: a fragrant, brilliant box or three of berries.