Amber Benson has quite the supernatural street cred. On top of playing a beloved Wiccan on T.V. (Buffy the Vampire Slayer superfans know her as Tara Maclay), the actor has also authored fantasy book series about covens in Echo Park and the saga of Death's daughter. Another thing that's got Benson spellbound: Los Angeles' magical architecture — which is why she recently whipped up the Witch House Trail, a Halloween-ready tour of L.A.'s whimsical Storybook homes for Fort: LA, a local organization dedicated to increasing access to the city's culturally significant abodes.
Benson's self-guided itinerary for the architectural preservation nonprofit begins in Culver City, where the 1922-built, Disney artist-designed Hobbit Houses reside. Other stops include the Los Feliz abode that inspired L.A.'s iconic Tam O'Shanter pub and a starry haven nestled under the Hollywood sign, said to have been the home of Humphrey Bogart while he dated the ill-fated actress, Peg Entwistle.
There are five stops total, and Fort: LA's accompanying digital guide dishes even more details on the architectural styles, how much each house cost to build, historic newspaper clippings, documents from city archives, and more. As with any natural and urban trail, there are rules: Don't bother the occupants, and leave no trace.
We recently sat down with Benson to learn more about how she teamed up with Fort: LA, how L.A. has inspired her own fantasy fiction, one of her most haunted experiences in the city, and (of course) where she imagines Buffy's Tara and Willow would have settled in L.A. had they lived happily ever after. Read on below, and explore the Witch House Trail and more at FORT: LA.
We know you relocated to L.A. during childhood — what are some of your fondest memories of discovering LA's unique treasures, either as a kid or an adult?
When I was writing The Witches of Echo Park, I started digging into the rich history of Echo Park and Angelino Heights. Discovering things like the semi-tropics spiritualists camp (they held seances in Elysian Heights!), exploring the abandoned theater district downtown, going out and walking the magical stair streets on the Eastside — things like these made me realize how much history and culture there has always been in LA. We think of the East coast as the keeper of America's architectural history, but California has just as much to offer and I think FORT: LA is working hard to spread the word and get Angelenos (and visitors) out exploring this magical city.
How did you connect with FORT:LA?
Through Russell Brown — we worked together on his first feature film, Race You To The Bottom. He said with FORT: LA, he wanted to do for L.A. architecture what Jonathan Gold did for the L.A. food scene, and I said, "Sign me up!"
What are some of the spookiest experiences you've had in L.A.?
I once house-sat for a friend in the Fairfax district, and the whole weekend I was there, the locks on the front door kept mysteriously unlocking. I would put up the chain, go make dinner…and when I came back into the living room: the chain was off again. I think the house didn't like me and was telling me it wanted its real family back and that I should take a hike. I never house-sat for them again!
Of course, in the spirit of Halloween, we have to ask about your years as Tara on Buffy! If she were still "alive" today, where would she live in L.A.?
Oh, Tara and Willow would definitely have a cozy little Storybook witchy cottage in Laurel Canyon — oh, wait, I think that's Amber's secret dream, too!
What are some of your other favorite magical places in LA for finding inspiration?
There's an old tree swing in an empty plot of land at the very top of Echo Park Avenue that looks out over the whole Elysian Valley. It's one of the most magical spots in L.A. [Editor's Note: We'll see you there, Amber!]