Considering that we won't have another opportunity to do this til December at the earliest, we decided yesterday to take yet another urban exploration trek in this town of ours. Our target yesterday was to complete all of Hollywood Boulevard, from its east end in Silverlake to its western terminus near WeHo and the Sunset Strip. It's a much shorter walk than our marathon-training crawl along Santa Monica Boulevard, but about comparable to our stroll down Melrose Avenue.
We set off once again on the 4 (a handy bus line!), this time debarking at the intersection of Santa Monica and Crescent Heights; this is a T-intersection, and the small triangular patch of green in the center is officially called the Matthew Shepard
Memorial Triangle. We walked north on Crescent Heights, turned right on Sunset (a future walk!), and a few blocks down to the Griddle Cafe
, a favorite breakfast spot of ours. It's right next to the Director's Guild building, so sometimes enterprising (or desperate) screenwriters and other industry hopefuls will hang out and have coffee, breakfast, or the like in hopes of ensuring their future by meeting some established soul from the DGA offices.
After ensuring our carb intake for the day, we boarded the #2, heading down Sunset towards downtown. We got off near the Sunset/Hollywood split, and walked back to the intersection.
Hollywood Boulevard splinters off of Sunset in Silverlake, and right across the street at this particular junction is the Vista Theatre
, on Sunset. It's a cool-looking theatre, dating from the early years of Hollywood's glory, and the Golden Age of movie palaces. It's either been nicely kept up or splendiferously restored (click on that link back there to see what it looks like!); either way, it still shows first-run movies. Too bad there aren't more neighborhood joints like this still operating. I suspect it's part of why Hollywood profits are down.
Silverlake is one of those neighborhoods that are spread out, and thus contain everything from the run-down to the trendy to the funky. We crossed Sunset, went up to the next part of the intersection, and turned left onto Hollywood Boulevard. From here, the famed Hollywood sign is visible. But just down the street is the Cheetah strip joint-- a reminder of the area's (ahem) diversity.
Just a block or so past that, we made a lengthy detour at the Soap Plant
, one of our favorite places to window-shop. This is really three businesses in one: Wacko, Soap Plant, and La Luz de Jesus art gallery. It's a kitschy, off-beat store that offers just about anything you can think of. Some of its merchandise includes retro-style lunchboxes, kitschy dishes, funky cookie jars, candle holders, bamboo curtains (Frida Kahlo, anyone?), cups (Betty Boop, Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, an eyeball, aliens), and an assortment of oddball items such as voodoo kits (I should buy a couple-- one for Smirk, one for Scowl, one for Rove, etc.).
A children's book section has some offerings that will keep your kids occupied for a short time while you peruse the (*ahem*) more adult sections. There's a wide variety of other books as well, ranging from anatmoy, American Western culture, cigarette matchbook art, fashion, tiki culture, nostalgia, collectibles of all kinds, tattoo art, film, television, sex/erotica, counterculture writers (Burroughs, Kerouac, Hunter Thompson, Bukowski, etc.), true crime, death (poetically on the very next shelf to sex/erotica-- no need for goths to stray very far in the book section!), some manga, graphic novels, astrology, religion, and new age. Their art section is rather extensive: art in general, mexican art, books on Dia de Los Muertos, voodoo art, movie poster art, surrealism, religious art, architecture, and design. Other books cover topics such as music, travel, automobiles, magic and deviancy in general.
Beyond the books are candles, religious art, picture frames, shot glasses, tiki mugs, bobblehead dolls (a lot of pop culture childhood memories here! This section includes Quick Draw McGraw, H.R. Pufnstuf, Mr. Peabody, and the animated Funny Face drink characters, to name a few, with more current ones including Arnie's "Terminator," Andre the Giant, and "The Nightmare Before Christmas" characters), pirate action figures (think Blackbeard and Jean LaFitte), and 8 balls of all kinds.
Wait! There's more! card decks, lotions and creams, light sets (from the ubiquituous chili peppers to the Pillsbury Doughboy, hula girls, cows, and even "pecker party lights" (guaranteed to "light up" your sex life *grin)), stickers, postcards. At this point you reach the rear, with the La Luz de Jesus gallery, a revolving display of art by unknowns and possible future household names. Beyond that is a third section, with Simpsons tchotkes, ouija boards, model cars, paper lanterns, lamp/shades, and Chinese Cultural Revolution memorabilia (Mao's Little Red Book, guaranteed to be a hit at parties everywhere). There's racks of "action figures" (the masculine name for dolls for boys): Hellraiser, Family Guy, Simpsons, Futurama, Ren & Stimpy, Munsters, Quisp (bonus points if you even know what Quisp is; even more bonus points if you've partaken of Quisp!), Sandman (if you're a fan, stand up proudly; Neil Gaiman is our latter-day mythologist!), Astro Boy, and historical action figures (think Cleopatra, Alexander the Great, Benjamin Franklin, Freud, Shakespeare, Bach, and Pope Innocent III; in grad school, someone made a parody (thank you Photoshop!) of Foucault). Among the more, shall we say, unusual offerings in this section are something called "Homies"-- little plastic figures of barrio characters with names like "Masta Blasta"; the new set of "Homies" is called "Mijos", which seem to be Homies-in-training. There's also a number of, um, "adult action figures," featuring the likes of Jenna Jameson. Something to send to that obscene phone caller next time he dials you up, I guess...
*whew* That's practically an advertisement in itself. One thing I like about this place is that while they have an eclectic selection (not to mention a diverse staff!), they are insistent on certain graces: a sign by the cash register says, "We will help you when you get off your cell phone." Amen.
After we finally dragged ourselves away from all of this stuff and out the door, we made another unscheduled stop a few doors down, at American Apparel
. My wife had heard of this place before, but I hadn't. This is a clothing shop where everything on sale is made right here in the ol' U.S. of A. It's has some pretty good shirts and pants, actually, and I'll come back eventually when I'm ready to get some new clothes. There's apparently a store in Westwood and another in Beverly Hills, so not too far from us...
At this point, we realized we were doing less walking and too much "shopping," so we resolved to move a little quicker down the street. We walked through present-day east Hollywood (decades ago, the Los Feliz neighborhood was sometimes referred to as "East Hollywood"), into "Little Armenia." It wasn't the spiffiest part of town, but definitely culturally interesting. After passing several shops and groceries with signs in Cyrillic, we'd pass a store with all its signage in Spanish. This ethnic mixture continued a few blocks down, as we entered "Thai Town," with a large number of Thai restaurants and some groceries. But still the storefronts continued to be punctuated with business names and ads in Cyrillic or Spanish. We passed by one of our favorite Thai restaurants so far: Sanamluang Cafe. It's a hole-in-the-wall in a strip mall with terrible parking, but the food is outstanding (not to mention fairly cheap!). It's also open til the wee hours, although we haven't availed ourselves of a 2 a.m. feeding yet.
Just down the street is Thailand Plaza; the top part has a spacious restaurant; we've eaten there before. The food is good, and the waitresses/hostesses are dressed in traditional Thai costumes, and there's Thai music, but if you want the best, go to Sanamluang. It was still a nice evening out for us. On the ground floor, though, is Silom supermarket. I always enjoy exploring ethnic markets, so we decided to go in for a few minutes. If you're Thai or love Thai food and want to make it at home, this is the store for you. Inside was all sorts of Thai culinary items: coconut, taro, frog's legs, squid, thai cakes and pastries, grass jelly juice, mango juice, more tea than you've ever seen in your life, and all kinds of fresh produce. They even had whole, uncut durian
, which delighted my spouse. I promised we'd buy some eventually. Inside was one aisle devoted to "American" foods, which I found amusing. Outside Silom is a Thai spirit house on the sidewalk. Definitely a good place to visit if you want to get a sense of Thailand here in the States.
Despite the presence of Little Armenia, Thai Town, and the promise of Hollywood proper ahead, the area is still sketchy enough that the old Harvard House motel, despite its neon and old-time feel, offers waterbed and adult movies. There's also signs of cultural adaptation and mixing as well; on the corner at one intersection was a Thai fast-food joint in an old hot-dog stand, with a huge hot dog still perched on the roof. This business is right next door to an adult bookstore.
A few blocks away from the heart of Thai Town is the Hollywood Freeway. This is an often-congested spur through the Cahuenga Pass to downtown, and even on Saturday, was no exception; while the northbound traffic was smooth, the lanes leading towards downtown were approaching bumper-to-bumper status.
We continued our march down Hollywood Boulevard, past Tommy's (a local hamburger joint that has a reputation; apparently aficionados like the original site, at Beverly and Rampart) and the Los Angeles Free Clinic-Hollywood branch. We also passed a number of car lots.
But before long, we arrived at the corner of Hollywood and Gower. This is the start of the famed Hollywood Walk of Fame, with all of its stars. Our mission from this point on would be to see all of the "stars". We definitely assumed our tourist persona at this point, alternately walking ahead and looking down at the names of stars past and present, known and half-forgotten. There are over 2,000 names, so that's quite a bit of reading!
Just before the fabled intersection of Hollywood & Vine is the Pantages Theater. Once a glamourous movie palace that hosted the Oscar ceremonies during the 1950s, it has since been spruced up back to its old glory and now offers first-run plays. A recent offering was "Wicked", based on the book of the same name (and I predict will eventually be filmed and playing at a multiplex near you). I have yet to see a play inside, but judging from the elaborateness of the exterior and the ticket booth area, it's definitely a top-notch place to enjoy a few hours of entertainment.
Right after you pass the Pantages, there's a narrow alley between the theatre and the next building, and straight ahead you can see the Capitol Records
building. It's actually located just up the block on Vine, but can be seen at a distance from some locations, including the Hollywood Freeway. It's in the shape of a stack of 45s on a turntable (for those of you who are saying, "what's a stack of 45s?? A turntable?", here's a link
for you. Now, go away. You're making me feel old). For my hearing readers, the building probably needs no introduction; Capitol Records was the first West coast label, and recorded or produced for such notables as the Beatles, the Beach Boys, Frank Sinatra, Peggy Lee, the Kingston Trio, Jimi Hendrix, Pink Floyd, Linda Ronstadt, Blondie, and Red Hot Chili Peppers, among many, many more. The "needle" on the top of the building spells out "Hollywood" in Morse code (not that I would have recognized that).
At Hollywood & Vine today, there's not a whole lot to see, although there are quite a few old buildings here and along this section of Hollywood (but not a lot of stars or talent agents hanging around either, contrary to myth). We walked up Vine, since the Hollywood Walk of Fame is also on Vine, between Sunset and Yucca. The stars are on both sides of the street on both Hollywood and Vine, so we walked up to Capitol Records (where, appropriately enough, John Lennon's star is on the sidewalk just outside), then across the street and back to Hollywood Boulevard.
A lot of the buildings we saw were a mix of old and new, with some buildings hosting their original businesses or being used for the original purpose, while others have been converted to other uses, or replaced entirely by something much more modern (and not always as attractive!). Among the buildings we saw were old hotels and apartment houses, such as the Knickerbocker, and departed businesses, such as the Broadway (once a department store). At the corner of Hollywood and Ivar is the Guaranty Building, which once housed offices for luminaries such as Charlie Chaplin. Gossip columnist Hedda Hopper hung her shingle here for years. Now the building houses the L. Ron Hubbard Life Exhibition Museum-- no Tom Cruise around, and needless to say, we passed on the opportunity to learn more than we ever needed to know about Hubbard.
Just up the block on Ivar is the Knickerbocker; it is still a very attractive building, and has a rather interesting history. Seminal film director D.W. Griffith died there in 1948, and Harry Houdini's widow, Bess, held yearly seances there, hoping to make contact with the Great Beyond and reunite with her husband.
As we continued down Hollywood Boulevard's north side, we saw little evidence of its heyday and a lot of its present-day life as a living neighborhood-- albeit one that was a bit sketchy at times. We passed a lot of little shops, tobacco stores, tons of gift/souvenir shops, but nothing particularly trendy. The stars on the sidewalk continued to draw our attention.
One particularly glitzy-looking shopping development, though, was centered around Hollywood Boulevard's last remaining Victorian, the Janes House
. Once a private home, then a school, and finally the Hollywood Visitor's Center, it now houses offices, as I understand it. It's a nice Queen Anne-style home, the kind of house I wouldn't mind living in (although at a different location, thank you).
We made another quick stop, this time at a used bookstore, Book City, which is now a departed business. After we had scanned the shelves for possible new reads, we left and continued on our journey. Before long, we arrived at the busiest part of the avenue: the Hollywood and Highland area. We sauntered past Musso & Frank Grill, a longtime fixture where stars used to come in for meals. We passed it up this time, but we'll probably come back sometime for a bite, if just to soak up the atmosphere. Just down the street is the Erotic Museum
, a newcomer to Hollywood. No time for that this trip, either. It was already well into the day, and since we endeavored to see the entire Hollywood Walk of Fame, we needed to keep moving.
The next couple of blocks has a plethora of sights, including the Hollywood Wax Museum, the Guiness World Records Museum, Ripley's Believe It or Not! Odditorium, the Hollywood & Highland shopping complex, and a pair of well-known theaters. We decided to really be tourists in our adopted hometown, and paid for entrance to the Hollywood Wax Museum
. It was passable; a lot of the wax dummies weren't as lifelike as they could be, although the "Chamber of Horrors" was kind of cool. I prefer Madame Tussaud's, though.
The intersection of Hollywood and Highland is one of the busiest in Los Angeles; it's not for the faint of heart. Not only is there an abundance of vehicular traffic, but the mass of humanity swarming around is at its zenith at this point on Hollywood Boulevard. We crossed the street and wormed our way through the crowds. The Hollywood & Highland Center is an oversize shopping mall full of stores that you can find in dozens of malls elsewhere. Gap, Banana Republic, and Brookstone are examples of stores that aren't any more special just because of the location. The developers took what could have been a fantastic opportunity given the site and instead turned out yet. another. mall. The redeeming feature is the outdoor courtyard; here, the exterior is designed to look like the set from the D.W. Griffith film "Intolerance", complete with Babylonian-style carved elephants and the like. It's worth a quick look-see, then you can dash right back out. If you enjoy wandering through 75 stores, be my guest.
The only other unique thing is the building attached to the shops: the Kodak Theatre. This is the current site of the Academy Awards, so if you're an Oscarphile, you'll want to take a gander. Otherwise, the real attraction is right outside on the sidewalk and down the block.
That's because a variety of street performers, from old-fashioned mimes to spray-painted "statues" that walk to costumed characters ready to have their picture taken with Junior for a "donation," hang out daily on this block. Due to the "entertainment" there's always a throng, so clearly seeing the stars in this stretch can be difficult. Yesterday we passed Superman, Batman, "Johnny Depp" from "Pirates of the Carribean," "Johnny Depp" as Willy Wonka, Spider-Man, Spongebob Squarepants, Zorro, Marilyn Monroe, Darth Vader, and a host of other pop culture icons. These photogenic entrepeneurs especially like to cluster in front of the building next to the Kodak Theatre: Mann's Chinese Theatre.
The historical name is Grauman's Chinese Theatre, and the exterior is always worth gazing at. It's also fun to wander among the hand and footprints and signatures of stars of yesteryear and today, and compare shoe sizes. We had already paid homage to the forecourt on previous visits, and this is one of the most-requested stops our guests want to make, so we merely glanced at the theatre and skedaddled.
Another sightseeing opportunity for another time is the Hollywood Entertainment Museum, which was near closing time when we passed by. A block or two more, and we reached the end of the Hollywood Walk of Fame, right by where it officially starts. We crossed Hollywood at La Brea and paused to view the Silver Four Ladies of Hollywood Gazebo, a quartet of statues of four women who influenced film: Anna May Wong
, Dolores del Rio
, Mae West
, and Dorothy Dandridge
. I don't know much about the history of this set of statues, or why Mae West might have been chosen, but it really is a wonderful way to recognize the contributions these particular women, and all women by extension, have made to Hollywood and the industry.
We doubled back on Hollywood, this time on the south side, continuing to follow the starry road to its conclusion. Within a couple of blocks, we were outside the Roosevelt Hotel
, which unlike other hostels in Hollywood has remained a hotel. Johnny Grant, the "Mayor" of Hollywood, lives in the building's penthouse, and the poolside area is now a VERY trendy hotspot for hipsters, stars, and the club crowd to hang out. This is yet another site where Oscars used to be handed out, and has hosted many notables over the decades. It also reputedly is haunted by Marilyn Monroe's ghost; she spent quite a bit of time here, whether getting a bite to eat, staying in one of its 300+ rooms, or posing for publicity shots (she did her very first ad here). On the way, we passed by Hooters, Baja Fresh, Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf, and a number of other chains. No matter where we go, corporate America is never very far...
The very next block is opposite Grauman's, the Kodak Theatre, and Shopping Mall Extravaganza. Here we encountered the El Capitan Theatre
, which is now owned by Disney and is where its movies premiere these days. I've been inside the restored theatre, and it really is worth a trip there (I went to see "Sleeping Beauty," which is one of my all-time favorite Disney flicks). Next door to the movie house is a Disney gift shop (surprise, surprise); what was nice though is that Disney recognized an opportunity and converted part of the rows and rows of Mickey Mouse and Buzz Lightyear dolls into a soda fountain. After indulging in a snack, we ventured back outside and on our merry way.
Just south on Highland from Hollywood Boulevard is the former Max Factor Studio, where the makeup mogul used to turn Hollywood's stars into beauties and studs. Today the art deco building now houses the Hollywood History Museum
-- another stop we decided to take a rain-check on (those admission fees do add up... we're not at the Smithsonian, you know...).
Back around the corner were Ripley's and Guinness. Since we'd already done Ripley's, we too a pass, but our pricey tickets for the wax museum across the street entitled us admission to Guinness
, so we went in. it was definitely a fascinating set of displays, and a lot larger than I'd imagined. It's housed in the former Hollywood Theatre, one of the avenue's first movie palaces.
In the next block is yet another old-time movie house, the Egyptian
, which today has been restored and shows movies, thanks to American Cinematheque
, which often offers revivals, retrospectives, and the like. I attended the Egyptian years ago, when I first saw "Star Wars" there in 1977. It really is a neat building to look at, and has a long forecourt done up as an entrance to an Egyptian tomb. Ushers of yesteryear actually dressed the part; today, I doubt the ushers are garbed in loincloth. The Pig & Whistle, another in the list of old-time Hollywood eateries, is right next door to the Egyptian.
From here, we returned from the shadows of Hollywood glamour of yesteryear to the Hollywood of today, passing by an army surplus store called Supply Sergeant (with a large neon sign of a sergeant), and numerous tattoo parlors. Before Victoria's Secret, there was Frederick's. Our next stop was Frederick's of Hollywood
, housed in the former Kress Department store. Unfortunately, Frederick's is leaving its longtime Hollywood Boulevard home, and its Lingerie Museum was temporarily closed, pending the move. We entered anyway, mulled purchasing a marked-down piece of boudoir ware, decided not to, and exited-- probably just as well for me, as I was nearly the only man in sight.
Next door was another equally interesting business: Hollywood Toys & Costume
, which is definitely the place to go at Halloween time, or if you're a big costume freak. Tons of costumes, wigs, masks, make-up kits, Halloween decorations, and the like. It was a fun place to just wander around and admire the various costumes.
By now we'd spent most of the day, mixing a workout with exploration and sightseeing, so we decided to wrap up and finish the Walk of Fame. We marched down the street to Vine, went down the southern portion to Sunset Boulevard, crossed the street and walked back up to Hollywood Boulevard. We finally arrived again at Gower, and concluded our vista of stars.
Once we'd satisfied this objective, we headed west again, this time moving much more quickly, since we'd already played tourist, and now we were once again urban hikers. Once safely past La Brea, Hollywood Boulevard becomes solely residential, mostly comprised of apartments and condos on the south side, with nicer homes on the north side (which makes sense; Nichols Canyon and Laurel Canyon's southern reaches were within walking distance). A dozen or so blocks further, and we reached a T-intersection: Hollywood Boulevard at Laurel Canyon Boulevard.
We walked down Laurel Canyon to Sunset, at which point the street becomes Crescent Heights. We crossed over, continued down the hill, and back to Santa Monica, where we boarded the trusty #4 and tiredly made our way home.
Hopefully this winter, or maybe in the spring, I'll be able to bring you yet another Sandbox Urban Exploration™ account.