On the heels of our successful walk down Santa Monica Boulevard
from start to end, we decided to reprise our trek, but on a different street: Melrose Avenue. While we didn't see Jake, Jo, Michael, Jane, Billy, Alison, Matt, or even Amanda on our journey (and no, I wasn't crazy about that show!), we certainly saw quite a bit. Melrose isn't as long as or as much of an artery as Santa Monica Boulevard (it's only about six or so miles), but it still wends through some interesting neighborhoods.
Again, we took the 304 down Santa Monica, as if to re-enact our original walk, but this time we merely headed a few blocks south on Hoover to the very beginning of Melrose, just east of Hoover. The area around the eastern terminus of Melrose isn't as gritty as the first couple of dozen of blocks of Santa Monica, but it's still a rather mixed area. The first interesting sight we saw was a Russian Orthodox Church, complete with its unique dome. It was kind of a nice-looking church. Soon after, we spotted a panaderia, and decided to break for a quick mid-morning snack. The pan dulce here was delicious, not to mention cheap. I also bought some agua fresa, and my walking partner got some coffee. She was hoping for champurrado, but they were out of it that morning.
After sating our appetite, we continued our walk, soon entering the southern portion of Thai Town, not all that far from the church we encountered at the beginning. This is one thing I like about large cities like Los Angeles and New York: within just a handful of blocks, you see the ethnic, architectural, and cultural aspects of a neighborhood change. From storefronts to building styles to street signs, there is enough diversity to make it an enjoyable optical experience. No cookie-cutter surburbs, thank you!
Our next stop was an entertaining diversion: Chic-A-Boom (6817 Melrose, for you locals), a vintage toy store full of old magazines, collectibles, pin buttons with political and social messages (as well as tons of old campaign buttons!), elvis memorabilia, old school lunchboxes, vintage and campy movie posters (think 1950s "B" movies), and all sorts of esoterica. I looked around for a while, and then engaged the store owner. She was a friendly, rather good-looking middle-aged woman. I discovered that she originally had two stores: the one we were standing in now, and one devoted solely to rock-and-roll materials, among other forms of music. She closed that store, but still retained an entire warehouse full of goodies from the previous store as well as tons of other materials. I asked whether I could bring a few things in for trade or sale, and was told "no"-- too much stuff as it was! She'd been in business for 27 years and seemed to be doing pretty well.
Some stores I just go in, glance around, politely acknowledge the salesperson or counter help, and leave once my curiosity is sated. But in other places such as this, it really is interesting to talk with people and learn a bit more about the place, where we were, etc. Fortunately for me, the owner was fairly easy to lipread. There's a few things I might be interested in adding to the clutter around here, so at some point I plan to return.
Before long, we were in the thick of Hollywood, and we passed the main gates for Paramount Studios, the last major studio still in Hollywood (just about everything else is now in the Valley, clustered around Studio City and Burbank, or off closer to the beach). It's a well-kept piece of property, and screams "studio!" in the way a studio should. It's currently under a new CEO, Brad Grey, who is going to try to take the studio out of its doldrums and into the post-Sherry Lansing era. I wish him luck...
On the other side of Paramount, flush against its back boundaries, is Hollywood Forever Cemetery, which I detailed in the entry on Santa Monica Boulevard. Right across from Paramount, on the corner of Melrose and Gower, is another Astro Burger. This one apparently attracts a healthy amount of lunchtime business from the studio, but in my opinion the Astro Burger on Santa Monica has better food (both are Astro Burgers, yes, but they're under different ownership/management). What this particular branch has is Greek dishes alongside the burgers and sandwiches. I tried a spanakopita here once, and it was quite good, considering it was primarily a burger place.
We continued down the street, on the northern edges of Hancock Park, which is and always has been, a rather tony area. It was developed in the 1920s by the Hancock family, of La Brea Tar Pits fame. It's not a westside community, but its wealth makes it feel like it is. A lot of studio folks used to live in the area, and even today it attracts those with rather stratospheric incomes.
Because of Hancock Park, the area was generally middle-class, and not as sketchy as earlier in our journey. Before long, we got to the corner of Melrose and La Brea, and looking up the street, realized we were right by Pink's. We decided to break for lunch, as it's a rather cheap place to grab a meal. For the uninitiated, Pink's
has been around since 1939, and is one of *the* places to grab a hot dog. They have several versions, all centered around an all-beef Hoffy wiener in a bun, with a variety of toppings depending on what you're ordering. They have quite a few chili dog versions, as well as more classic dogs, such as Chicago-style (which happens to be one of my favorites!). The queue at the counter can take a while, but once you order, they prepare your food VERY quickly. I've never been impressed by their fries, but they have decent onion rings. Oh, and did I mention the hot dogs? It's a rather tiny stand, with miserable parking, but it *always* has a line, no matter the time of day. It's also open fairly late at night, so it attracts a rather diverse crowd.
After ensuring we didn't need to stop for a bite again (we'd already enjoyed the panaderia and now Pink's), we continued our sojourn. After passing La Brea, we soon encountered the trendy section of Melrose, the part that most people think of when you mention Melrose. It seems like it's part of West Hollywood (although, to be fair, it's directly south of the eastern part of WeHo) or an area farther to the west, but it's really in Los Angeles.. In the past, there's been a good mix of restaurants, speciality shops, and clothing boutiques, but right now it seems every third store is all about clothes and shoes. There's quite a few vintage clothing stores, mixed in with more upscale offerings. Nevertheless, it's where many beautiful people and wannabes come to stock up, and it's definitely tres chic in the evenings, especially on the weekends.
One store we decided to check out is Necromance, which is definitely Goth heaven. It's full of things like badger claws, shark teeth, mink penis bones, coyote skulls, victorian mourning jewelry, lotus shoes, macabre postcards and pictures, black tees, medical tools, glass eyes, and the like. Definitely not everyone's cup of tea, but it's certainly worth taking a look at, if only once. One thing I did salivate at was a sign from Disneyland for the Haunted Mansion that was an oval "stone" piece that said "Haunted Mansion" on it; it was up for grabs at $300. Unfortunately, before I could decide what to sacrifice at home for the opportunity to own this, it got snatched up while we were there.
There were quite a few boutiques and the like that we passed fairly quickly, including one with the amusing moniker of Blue Balls (go ahead and give the obligatory titter; we did!). Near the end of this section of Melrose, we came upon a kind of cool shop: The World of Vintage T-Shirts (7701 Melrose). It's a second-hand shop with all kinds of t-shirts, mostly of 1980s and 1990s vintage, although there were some earlier examples (Black Oak Arkansas, anyone?). Most were the kind that were rather personal or weren't the kind you'd neccessarily want (Johnson County Country Fair, 1983), but there were a few cool ones. One essentially 80's piece of clothing was a black tuxedo t-shirt (anyone remember those?? *Definitely* so 80's!). I didn't see anything that jumped out at me or that I *had* to have, but it was kind of a fun place. On the south wall were scribbled autographs of famous people and wannabes and has-beens who had come in and perused the merchandise, from Tom Hanks to members of rock bands. We didn't see anyone remotely recognizable, but then it's been my curse to just be surrounded by the ordinary.
Just a couple doors down, is Golden Apple Comics
. While (IMHO!) I prefer Hi De Ho Comics in Santa Monica, it definitely is a Holy Grail of sorts for the comics collector, and we went in to see what the latest was in graphic novels and the like. There's everything from posters to sculptures and busts of superheroes and comic characters, to paper- and hardback anthologies and graphic novels, to the latest issues of comics. There's also a section with back-issue bins and the requisite glass counters with valuable copies encased in mylar and supported by cardboard backs. There's an alternative comics section, including adult comix. It's definitely a large store compared with the average strip-mall comics store, which today seems to offer copies of the latest books, some back issues, and a healthy side business in gaming cards and equipment, which is pretty much how comic book store owners survive nowadays.
As we reached Melrose and Fairfax, we exited trendy Melrose and entered the West Hollywood portion of the street, which is the final stretch. Here, most of the businesses were furniture stores, upscale art galleries (read: *not* avant garde material, but more of the pretentious stuff), and the sort of chi-chi businesses you expect to be near such pricey places. A scattering of restaurants here and there, but nothing that we would have come back to later. There was one furniture store I liked quite a bit though; it had Art Deco or Art Deco-themed furniture. I'm rather old-fashioned when it comes to furniture, architecture, etc.; I personally think the world went to hell after 1945, with some exceptions. Obviously right now I can't pick up anything to cart home, but it's definitely a store I wouldn't mind shopping at eventually.
At this point, it was late afternoon, and we were in an area full of nicely-kept warehouses, storefronts, and the like that were still full of furniture, art, and the lot. The biggest "attraction" near the west end of Melrose is the Pacific Design Center
, where professionals get a chance to show off and sell furniture, fabrics, and other interior design goodies. It's a huge blue building, with rather nice landscaping outside, and is hard to miss. Finally, we passed the Napster offices and just a block away, Melrose ended, at the intersection of Melrose, Santa Monica, and Doheny, right where Santa Monica passes from the Boystown called West Hollywood into the snooty environs called Beverly Hills.
We decided to walk a bit farther, as we were in the mood for gelato, and wanted to see if our favorite gelateria was open. So we walked down Little Santa Monica, only to find out that the store only takes cash, which was something I'd ran out of at Pink's. At this point, we were a bit beat, so we went up to Santa Monica Boulevard proper and took the bus home.
All in all, it was an enjoyable walk, though not as long or as diverse as Santa Monica Boulevard. But it definitely got us out of the house, gave us a chance to exercise, and the opportunity to explore more of the town we call home. I'd say that's pretty good for one day, don't you?