Monday, 31 May 2010

CITY OF ANGELS: Downtown, Part 1 - Introduction

Downtown LA is much more than just being LA's excuse for a city centre.

Although it may neither have the cachet nor the tranquillity of Beverly Hills, besides being the oldest part of Los Angeles it is, architecturally speaking, one of the most intriguing. And while Hollywood may be the hub of American movie making, downtown, too, does have some affiliation with the film industry, notably the grand movie palaces the film companies erected during the 1920s, some of which having been beautifully restored. Much like Hollywood, after many years of neglect and disregard, a lot of money has been pumped into the refurbishment and restoration of downtown's awe-inspiring cultural heritage.

Bounded by the Los Angeles River in the east, the 101 Freeway in the north, the 10 Freeway to the south and the Hollywood Freeway to the west, downtown is pivotally located, more or less smack in the middle of the "city of 100 suburbs in search of a centre", as someone once referred to Los Angeles. Using LA's efficient, albeit limited, subway network which allows bicycles off peak times, I got off at Pershing Square to explore LA's downtown, an area as diverse and stimulating as you want it to be.

One of the most striking differences to me between the US and Europe has always been the fact that American cities often change their character from one block to the next, whereas in their European counterparts changes tend to be smoother and more gradual. This is especially true for LA's downtown area which has almost as many facets and faces as the whole of LA itself. Once the city's commercial nucleus, in its heydey during the 1920s, downtown's Broadway rivalled its namesake in the east, with a lively, bustling, theatre scene which only started to slacken after WWII. And even though New York's highrises may be taller - a fact due to LA's perennial earthquake scare - many among them easily make up for the lack in height by their daring, unusual architecture.

The most famous of them is the Bradbury Building, built in 1893 by George Wyman, whose discreet exterior belies its extraordinary interior. It is best known for its cast-iron stairwell, which was prominently featured in Ridley Scott's Blade Runner. Another architectural gem is the Oviatt Building, an art-deco showcase that has also been in many a film and whose etched glass features were supplied by Rene Lalique. Other buildings of note that went up during downtown's boom years include Schultze & Weaver's Biltmore Hotel and the aforementioned movie palaces, the most beautiful among them being the Orpheum, the Palace, and the United Artists theatres.

The Bradbury Building

The Oviatt

The United Artists Theatre

When Hollywood was still in its infancy and, not yet in full possession of a complete infrastructure, downtown LA functioned as the parent city, living up to its role by providing the fledgling film community with attractions such as hotels, night clubs, restaurants, and theatres. Over the years, however, with Hollywood gradually coming into its own and other neighbourhoods slowly developing and evolving helped by the construction of freeways, the face of downtown began to change. Whole sections of it ended up being neglected and subsequently turned into run-down, no-go areas. Then again others were eventually developed into LA's financial district replete with sleek office buildings and futuristic highrises, making the US Bank Tower the tallest building west of the Mississippi River.

Luckily, unlike other parts of LA, downtown survived the years of neglect and disregard more or less unblemished, with almost no major architectural marvel falling prey to mutilation or worse, demolition. And with its resurgence about a decade ago, downtown started to change character once again. Many of the old buildings became registered Cultural Historical landmarks and with spacious, fashionable lofts in increasing demand, a lot of them were converted, turning downtown from a strictly financial into a cutting-edge, partly residential neighbourhood. Impressive cast-iron structures are being restored, hotels revamped and new ones opened, and derelict buildings received costly face-lifts.

One of the most talked about additions in recent years to downtown's blend of architecture is the Walt Disney Concert Hall. Built by Santa Monica-based architect Frank Gehry, it has been an instant crowd pleaser. Sponsored by the company of the same name, it sits amidst other Los Angeles landmarks such as the City Hall or the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion which, donated by the wife of former LA-Times owner, Harry Chandler, used to be Oscar's home for many years until the opening of the Kodak Theatre in Hollywood.

Downtown's revival does have its inevitable downside, though, as in order to convert the buildings previous tenants are being evicted, and with the area increasingly resembling New York's SoHo, rents are soaring, forcing them to relocate to cheaper pockets of town.It remains to be seen, however, if the yuppification of downtown will prove to be as successful and quick as its investors hope it to be. For the time being, it is still quintessentially Los Angeles: A blend of the wacky, the glamorous, the gigantic and the bizarre.

Wednesday, 26 May 2010

CITY OF ANGELS: Santa Monica, part 1 - Introduction

The history of Santa Monica goes back to the 18th century, when the Spaniard Gaspar de Portala ordered his soldiers to explore the coast north of San Diego, accompanied by a priest who, according to legend, is credited with giving Santa Moniva its name as the waters of the nearby springs reminded him of the tears shed by Santa Monica over her unruly son before his conversion.

Santa Monica: Palisades Park and Pacific Coast Highway

Santa Monica was officially founded in 1875 to be incorporated in 1886. By 1899, a mere 14 years after its foundation, Santa Monica was already a burgeoning suburb of Los Angeles, boasting a public library, three schools, connection to transcontinental railways, two public parks, a daily newspaper and, last but not least, three bathing establishments. The tremor and sparkle of the first film companies settling within the Los Angeles area by 1907 spilled over to Santa Monica, for film makers not only frequently used its coastline as a film set, Santa Monica also became one of the choice locations for the homes of the Hollywood crowd. The stretch between Santa Monica Pier and Santa Monica Canon, known as the Gold Coast, is where in the 1930s, Cary Grant, Louis B. Mayer, Irving G. Thalberg and, most famously, Marion Davies, erected their sprawling mansions. And, as always the case - where movie stars go, the rest of the world follows. Thus began Santa Monica ascent as the sophisticated seaside resort it still is today.

Los Angeles' wittiest chronicler, Raymond Chandler, was a Santa Monica resident during the 1930, the days when gambling on ships moored three miles off the coast was rampant in order to avoid clashes with California State Regulations which prohibited gambling on Santa Monica territory. These gambling ships offered fun and games to Los Angeles' demi-monde who were conveniently shuttled back and forth from ship to shore by water taxis. Dubbing it Bay City in his novels, a place "as quiet as it was because the entire police force was in the pocket of mobsters", Santa Monica was not Chandler's city of choice as his chief reason for living there was because after having lost his well-paid job as an oil executive he found himself on the skids and Santa Monica in those days still offered affordable housing. According to Chandler's biographer, Tom Hiney, he was appalled by "the way Santa Monica prided itself on being a community of old American vales, while allowing gambling ships to operate visibly off its beaches". Chandler had no time for this kind of hypocrisy, as evident in his novel, Farewell My Lovely, in which the showdown takes place on one of these very ships.

However, Santa Monica also became a haven for refugees from Nazi Germany, some of whom had previously settled in Sanary-sur-Mer, until the German invasion of France in June 1940 forced them to go elsewhere. Headed for Los Angeles, where a sizeable emigre community was already in existence, many of them opted to settle in Santa Monica or nearby Brentwood and Pacific Palisades as the climate and vegetation were reminiscent of Sanary. This trend may already have been set by Salka Viertel who arrived in Los Angeles as early as 1928 when her husband, Berthold Viertel, was offered a contract by William Fox, who previously had already lured Friedrich-Wilhelm Murnau away from Berlin to sunny Southern California. Shortly after their arrival, the Viertels bought a house on scenic Mabery Road in Santa Monica Canon which back then was considered out of the way and unfashionable. Salka didn't care. Eventually, Salka became one of the Los Angeles emigre community premier hostesses, entertaining writers and artists such as Bruno Frank, Franz Werfel, Emil Ludwig, Thomas and Heinrich Mann, Max Reinhard, Fritzi Massary and the Feuchtwangers, all of whom exiled in and around Santa Monica. In his biography on Billy Wilder, an emigre himself, Ed Sikov writes how the editor and screenwriter Robert Parrish recalled being a guest at Salka's house and found "Greta Garbo asleep on the couch, Arthur Rubinstein was playing the piano, and an unkempt guy in the backyard was busily grilling something on the barbecue". Salka wouldn't tell young Bob Parrish who it was and it wasn't until later that he realised it was none other than Bertolt Brecht.

As mentioned in my introduction to Los Angeles, after the war the population of Los Angeles and its surrounded communities exploded, Santa Monica included. Between 1940 and 1950 the number of its inhabitants jumped from 53,500 to 71,600. Consequently, the ravages of time also left their mark on Santa Monica, and during the 1950s a lot of the old had to make way for the new. All but a dim memory remains of the once secluded tranquillity of Gold Coast's Beach Palisades Road for it has since been turned into the Pacific Coast Highway, a busy thoroughfare connecting Santa Monica with Malibu. With that, the halcyon days when Chandler deemed Santa Monica an affordable place to live were gone as prices for houses have since sky-rocketed.

Villa Aurora: Marta and Lion Feuchtwanger's erstwhile home

Although Salka's - as well as the houses of many other emigres - are still standing, traces of its illustrious past as the Weimar on the Pacific are few and far between as the city's increasing appeal as an elegant seaside resort for the affluent has all but erased its former significance as a haven for emigres. In fact, by looking at Santa Monica today, it is almost unimaginable that for a brief moment in time, it should have been, as Salka Viertel once called it, the "Parnassus of German culture", however, remnants of it are most visible still at the Villa Aurora, which strictly speaking, is located in Pacific Palisades. It used to be the home of Lion and Marta Feuchtwanger who purchased it in 1943 after their arrival from Sanary. Designed in 1928 by architect Mark Daniels, whose other buildings include the legendary Bel-Air Hotel and the Bel-Air Gate, the Villa Aurora is nothing less than "a castle by the sea", as Thomas Mann referred to it. The grandness of Villa Aurora is testimony to the fact that Feuchtwanger, unlike many of his fellow writers who had fled Nazi Germany, was able to live - in comfort - on his proceeds from the US market. After Marta's death in 1988, it was purchased by the Federal Republic of Germany which - fittingly - has since turned it into an artists' retreat not dissimilar to the Villa Massimo in Rome. In commemoration of its previous owners, the Feuchtwangers, the Villa Aurora also offers one-year residence-ships to artists who are persecuted in their home countries.

Thursday, 20 May 2010

CITY OF ANGELS: Beverly Hills, part 2 - Sights And Landmarks

BEVERLY HILLS CITY HALL, 455 N. Rexford Drive, architect: William Gage, 1932

Arguably the grandest city hall in the world, this pretty Spanish Colonial Revival is nestled between the Beverly Hills Police Department (which is, predictably, huge) and the Civic Center. The building's most characteristic features are the mosaic tiled cupola and its - you guessed it! - gilded pinnacle.

GREYSTONE MANSION, 905 Loma Vista Drive, architect: Gordon Kaufmann, 1928

For all the movie star palaces that are dotted all across Beverly Hills, it wasn't a film mogul who erected the city's biggest mansion - but an oil tycoon. In 1928 oil millionnaire Edward Doheny built it for his son, who later was killed in a bizarre shoot-out, involving his lover, a mysterious unidentified young man.

Today, after careful restoration of the grounds, Greystone Mansion belongs to the City of Beverly Hills. The park surrounding the main building is open to the public and affords staggering views of Los Angeles. Greystone mansion has frequently been used as a film location, notably in Death Becomes Her, The Witches of Eastwick, Ghostbusters and recently in P.T. Anderson's brilliant There Will Be Blood, where it stands in as the home of Daniel Day Lewis who plays an oil tycoon whose fate in Anderson's film is not entirely dissimilar to Doheny's.

THE BEVERLY HILLS HOTEL, 9641 Sunset Boulevard, architect: Elmer Grey, 1912

A few years after the official founding of Beverly Hills in 1907, its founder, Burton Green, intending to attract vacationers, came up with the idea to erect a luxury hotel amidst the lush and sumptuous greenery. Hiring the manager of the then prospering Hollywood Hotel, Margaret Anderson, was a brilliant coup on Green's part which quickly paid off, turning The Beverly Hills Hotel into an overnight success.

Besides the glamour of the fabled bungalows, in one of which Marlene Dietrich is said to have had her own bed installed, it was the Polo Lounge with which the hotel is most identified. In there, deals were - and presumably still are - made, and names and scripts are passed around between the wheeler-dealers of Hollywood.

The Beverly Hills has changed ownership several times in its 100-year history, and despite having undergone various renovations, it has lost little of its allure and its original Mission Revival Style features have luckily been preserved from the ravages of time. The hotel's current owner, the Sultan of Brunei, has reportedly spent $ 170 million to purchase it and an additional $ 100 for its restoration. Quite aptly, it is this very hotel that is featured on the cover of the famous Eagles album, Hotel California.

WILL ROGERS MEMORIAL PARK, 9650 Sunset Boulevard

Right across the street from the Beverly Hills Hotel is this beautiful little retreat, named after the famous actor and comedian Will Rogers who, besides having been the mayor of Beverly Hills, was a 20th Century Fox contract player and one of America's most popular stars until his death in 1935.


This beautiful, stylish, art-deco affair, was Dietrich's first home upon her arrival in Los Angeles.

Dietrich's story, though often told, is quite exceptional, for not only was she one of the few German actors who made it in Hollywood, her accent notwithstanding, she also managed to embark on a highly successful second career as an entertainer once her career as an actress was one the wane.

Contrary to popular belief, Dietrich did not leave Germany because of Hitler. By the time he rose to power, she had already been in Hollywood for a full three years. However, when he, Hitler, later tried to lure her back to Germany by promising to turn her into a Third Reich film goddess , Dietrich steadfastly refused and by 1939 she had become a US citizen. Heavily opposed to Hitler's Germany, Dietrich played a crucial role in helping many German emigres to gain ground in Hollywood, and at no time made any bones over her opinion of the Nazi leader, rightly and famously supporting the US troops in the war against Nazi Germany.

Even after 1945, her attitude towards her native country remained shaky - and vice versa - and it was not until after the fall of the Berlin Wall that she began to warm again to her homeland and especially her home town, Berlin. Thus, shortly before her death, she expressed her desire to be buried in Berlin, in the very same cemetery as her mother. Her funeral, on 16 May, 1992, broadcast live on German television, was attended by thousands of fans, her grave bulging with flowers and wreaths from fans and admirers from all over the world. A wreath, given by Germany's Green Party, read, "You were the Other Germany", while another one, coming from the European Film Academy, wistfully declared, "Angels Never Die".

WITCH HOUSE, 516 Walden Drive, architect: Henry Oliver, 1921

Looking somewhat out of place amidst the grand mansions that surround this pretty architectural oddity and bonafide remnant of Hollywood's early days, this building's original location was in Culver City.

Built in 1921 by production designer Henry Oliver, the Witch House was part of the Irving Willat Studios. A year later, however, Willat, then in financial difficulties, was forced to close the studio. Subsequently, the Witch House was moved to its present location on Walden Drive in Beverly Hills and has been a private residence ever since.


Part of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (AMPAS), this beautiful Mission Revival building, built in the late 1920s, used to be the Beverly Hills Waterworks.

By the 1980s, it was falling to pieces until AMPAS - spending millions of dollars from private donations - saved it from crumbling.

On the building's first floor is the Margaret Herrick Library, named after a former AMPAS librarian, who, so the story goes, is said to have given Oscar its name since it reminded her of her uncle. The Margaret Herrick Library has a staggering collection of film scripts, documents, personal papers, production files, and film related books. It is open to the public and used by film students, writers, and researchers, or anybody whose interest in the history of Hollywood is more than just skin-deep.

Tuesday, 18 May 2010

CITY OF ANGELS: Beverly Hills, part 1 - Introduction

What is known today as the star clustered community of Beverly Hills was initially called El Rodeo de Las Aguas or, in English, Gathering of Waters. By contrast to its surrounding areas, here the Tongva - the native settlers - found fertile soil and, more importantly, water, which in Southern California was as much of a scarcity back then as it is now.

In 1838, the year the Mexican governor of California gave out land grants to populate the area which triggered the Rancho System, the widow Mario Rita valdez built a farm on what is now the intersection of Sunset and Alpine. Spurred by the discovery of oil wells within the Los Angeles area in 1892, the developer Burton Green and Amalgamated Oil Company purchased a patch of land in the - as it turned out - vain hope to strike oil. However, as the drilling proved unproductive, him and his wife christened the land Beverly Hills, named after their property in Massachusetts, Beverly Farm. In 1907, the Greens enlisted the help of landscape architect Wilbur D. Cook and commissioned a modest network of streets, consisting of Canon Drive, Carmelita Drive, Elevado Drive, and Lomitas Drive, and thus, the Beverly Hills, such as we know it today, slowly started to take shape. But Beverly Hills only came into its own with the construction of the Beverly Hills Hotel in 1912 which, once completed, attracted more developers and investors, notably those with a stake in nearby LA's s bountiful oilfields.

It wouldn't be until the early 1920s, though, that Hollywood's movie stars joined the oil tycoons, deciding to desert the refuges in the Hollywood Hills to flock westwards to what was still considered to be a somewhat off the beaten track area. As already said elsewhere on this blog, in 1922 Mary Pickford and Douglas Fairbanks set a trend when they erected their spectacular mansion, Pickfair, on the top of Summit Drive. As the reigning couple of Hollywood's film community, Pickford's and Fairbank's word was law, their every move was emulated by many of their colleagues, who swiftly abandoned the thick of Hollywood in exchange for the privacy and serenity of Beverly Hills. Charlie Chaplin, having gone into partnership with the famous couple, became their next-door neighbour. Equally Harold LLoyd, whose enormous, grand, chateau-style Greenacres was also nearby, its lavish gardens keeping him busy for the rest of his life.

Although Beverly Hills was incorporated in 1914, there was a proposal by a group of citizens some nine years later to annex the fledgling community to Los Angeles in order to facilitate its access to water supply. However, the proposal was nixed by a committee, headed by none other than Mary Pickford and Will Rogers, who very much wanted Beverly Hills to retain its independence. Unsurprisingly then, Will Rogers - then 20th Century Fox' hottest property - became the honorary mayor of Beverly Hills, a title he held until his untimely death in 1935 in a plane crash. It was also Rogers who pushed for the erection of a new city hall - inaugurated in 1932 - and the construction of a new post office, which opened in 1934 and is said to be the only one in the world offering valet parking to its customers.

Distinctly un-European, the name Beverly Hills - like Hollywood - is universally known, generally evoking images spotless, palm-lined streets, immaculately groomed lawns in front of stately mansions, hidden by lush shrubbery and heavy iron gates. The population of Beverly Hills hovers around 34,000, which does not seem much considering the city's vast expanse. However, it is rather a lot when bearing in mind that the majority of buildings consists of sprawling mansions, all inhabited by one household only, with each reportedly spending an average $ 25,000 annually on gardening alone!

It probably is not far off the mark to claim that most of Beverly Hills' houses were at one point home to a movie star or director. Sadly, no plaques or signs give evidence of their previous inhabitants. And while star maps are hawked for just a few bucks by street vendors, strategically stationed alongside Sunset Boulevard, these maps are far from being the world almanac, as addresses often vary from map to map.

A passionate bicycle-rider, I just revelled in randomly cruising around Beverly Hills, which is a bicycle-riders paradise if ever there was one: Wide streets with neither people nor cars around, nor anything to spoil the eye as all you are surrounded by are lush, subtropical vegetation exuding wonderfully fragrant smells, and foolishly extravagant mansions, all of which making you feel like you've been dropped into the Garden Eden itself ... or better yet: onto a film set!

>>> Note: This post will be followed up with a tour through Beverly Hills and some of its historic homes and buildings!

Thursday, 13 May 2010

CITY OF ANGELS: On Sunset, part 2 - Sights And Landmarks

Note: The following is a guided tour along Sunset Boulevard and its historic sights and landmarks. It starts at the CINERAMA DOME, on 6360 Sunset Boulevard, then going west along Sunset Boulevard, and concludes at THE COLONIAL, at 1416 Havenhurst Drive.

CINERAMA DOME, 6360 Sunset Boulevard, architect: Welton Becket, 1956

Constructed in 1956, its purpose was to accommodate the films made during the Cinerama craze which reached a peak in the mid-1950s. It was almost falling to pieces until a few years ago a group of concerned citizens saved it from being torn down. While its exterior has been restored to its former glory, the inside was converted into a large movie theatre complex.

HOLLYWOOD ATHLETIC CLUB, 6525 Sunset Boulevard, architect: Meyer & Holler, 1922

At the time of its opening, the Hollywood Athletic Club was a very exclusive affair. Literally all of Hollywood's male stars were members, including Charlie Chaplin. In 1949, the first televised Emmy Awards were held here. That they were held in such a relatively small venue says a lot about the (non-)significance of television in those days which, of course, would change very quickly.

CROSSROADS OF THE WORLD, 6671 Sunset Boulevard, architect: Robert Derrah, 1936

Resembling a steamer about to set sail for the seven seas, this art-deco gem was inaugurated in 1936 and has since been featured in a number of films, such as Curtis Hanson's brilliant LA Confidential.

CHATEAU MARMONT, 8221 Sunset Boulevard, architect: Arnold Weitzmann, 1926

Chateau-style hotels and apartments blocks abound in Hollywood, however, the Chateau Marmont undoubtedly is the most famous - and some would argue: also the most beautiful - one of them all. It towers high above the Sunset Strip, dominating its skyline. The people who have stayed at the Chateau Marmont over the years are equalled in fame and notoriety by the scandals that went on behind its walls. But so legendary was - and apparently still is - the Marmont's reputation for absolute discretion, that Columbia founder Harry Cohn is said to have advised a young actor on loan-out from Paramount - William Holden - that "if he has to get into trouble, he had better do it at the Chateau Marmont".

THE PLAYERS, 8225 Sunset Boulevard

What is now Miyagi's, a Japanese restaurant, used to be The Players - then one of Hollywood's hippest eateries - and was owned by the great Preston Sturges. Under contract to Paramount, Sturges was one of the earliest writers to make the transition to director. Sturges' urge to direct his own screenplays was prompted by similar motives as later Billy Wilder's - also a Paramount employee - which was their anger at seeing their scripts mutilated by other directors. Nevertheless, Sturges would always remain a writer first and director second and not surprisingly, the clientele of The Players was also largely made up of writers.

ARGYLE HOTEL, 8358 Sunset Boulevard, architect: Leland A. Bryant, 1929

This stunningly beautiful building - pure art-deco - was named Sunset Towers when it first opened in 1929 and with its twelve floors it was one of Sunset Boulevard's early high rises. Naturally, it quickly became one of Hollywood's top addresses and in the 1930s infamous screen goddess Mae West owned a nightclub in the basement. The Sunset Towers was included in the National Register of Historic Places in the 1980s, and some ten years later, after having been tastefully restored by a group of investors, it reopened as the Argyle Hotel.

THE COMEDY STORE, 8433 Sunset Boulevard

Colour aside, the exterior still bears a faint resemblance to the famous nightclub it once was, Ciro's. During the 1940s legendary artists performed here, including Lena Horne and Marlene Dietrich. Having changed ownership several times, in 1970 the new owner, Mitzi Shore, changed the name to The Comedy Store, and subsequently it went on to become a legend in its own right, offering a platform for countless actors who debuted here as a stand-up comedians, among them Richard Pryor, Roseanne Barr, Whoopi Goldberg and Robin Williams. In 1992, The Comedy Store aka Ciro's was famously featured in Warren Beatty's film Bugsy.

THE COLONIAL, 1416 Havenhurst Drive

A multitude of actresses lived here in this pretty Spanish Colonial Revival building, located around the corner from the Chateau Marmont. The Colonial was the last home of Bette Davis, who claimed that the building was haunted by Carole Lombard's ghost, Lombard having lived here in between marriages.

Tuesday, 11 May 2010

CITY OF ANGELS: On Sunset, part 1 - Introduction

Sunset Boulevard, one of the longest streets in the world, stretches all the way from the Silverlake neighbourhood of Los Angeles to Pacific Palisades.

The section between Laurel Canyon Boulevard and Doheny Drive is known as The Strip. During LA's early days, strip was term used for parcels of land which were not incorporated. In those days, what is now referred to as Sunset Strip - or simply The Strip - was merely a loose connection between Hollywood and Los Angeles.

In its humble beginnings nothing but a horse trail, the Strip, nowadays dubbed the billboard capital of the world, turned into Hollywood's playground in the early 1930s when the legendary nightclub, Trocadero, opened its doors on 8610 Sunset Boulevard on 17 September, 1934.

Then, as again today, the Strip is home to many of Hollywood's most popular hang-outs and eateries. During Hollywood's heyday, one could hear Eartha Kitt perform at Ciro's, wine and dine at La Rue, dance the night away at the Mocambo, or enjoy an evening at Earl Carroll's, who advertised his nightclub with the words, "thru these portals pass the most beautiful girls in the world", referring to the nightly performance of his Vanities. Another legendary haunt - also long gone - was Alla Nazimova's The Garden of Allah. Nazimova, a silent movie actress of Russian origin, launched her hostelry in 1921, turning it into the hub of Hollywood's social life during the 1930s and 40s. A multitude of Hollywood luminaries resided in the hotel's famous bungalows, which were scattered around a large-sized swimming-pool in the shape of the Black Sea.

8024 Sunset Boulevard was the home of Schwab's drugstore - also long gone - suitably located across the street from The Garden of Allah. Sadly, in the 1980s Schwab's was torn down to make room for a shopping mall. But thanks to Billy Wilder, Schwab's has been immortalised in his 1950s classic, Sunset Boulevard. Nazimova's Garden of Allah on the other hand was faced with an equally unfortunate fate, for what used to be the playground of the Bogarts and countless others, has since been converted into a parking lot. In that instance, it was singer Toni Mitchell who immortalised it in her song Big, Yellow Taxi, in which she laments that "where once was a dream there now is a parking lot".

Truth be told, while most buildings on Hollywood Boulevard escaped the march of progress inasmuch as they were merely mutilated, many of the historic buildings on Sunset fell victim to a relentless building boom and were razed for the sake of profit in the guise of shopping malls, parking lots and the like. The Trocadero is gone, and so is the Mocambo. And although the shell of Ciro's is still standing, it only bares a vague resemblance to what it used to be. The same goes for the Preston Sturges-owned The Players. Nonetheless, some of yesteryear's dinosaurs are still standing - and going strong, like the Chateau Marmont or the Argyle Hotel, then called Sunset Towers, and over the years new buildings and cutting-edge clubs and hotels such as The Mondrian, The Standard or The Viper Room have joined existing ones, and together they contribute to the Strip's inherent blend of of the hot, the hip, and the whacky.

To me - and I am aware that I may well be alone in this - one of the most exciting, invigorating things to do when in Los Angeles, is riding on my bicycle, westwards along Sunset Boulevard at - yes, you guessed it: sunset! - in early autumn. The light alone would be enough to make it memorable. But with all those palm trees that are lining both sides of the street, set against the evening, sapphire-blue California sky, those giant bill boards and neons perched high up atop of houses and hotels in addition to Sunset's unique hotchpotch of architecture, and zipping past all those landmarks into the serenity of Beverly Hills - it simply is an unparalleled experience!

>>> Note: This post will be followed up tomorrow with a guided tour along Sunset Boulevard and its historic buildings.

Monday, 10 May 2010

CITY OF ANGELS: Hollywood, part 3 - Sights And Landmarks (cont.)

Note: The following is the continuation of the guided tour through historic Hollywood, which starts at YAMASHIRO'S (see previous post), then goes east along Hollywood Boulevard, and concludes at the HOLLYWOOD TOWERS.


The Alto Nido is one of many apartment buildings in Hollywood whose architectural style can be best classified as 'theatrical', and as such it very much goes with its surroundings. However, the Alto Nido has the distinction that it was featured in two classic Hollywood films, both of them films noirs, The Blue Dahlia and, of course, Sunset Boulevard, where it is the home of struggling screenwriter Joe Gillis, played by William Holden. In real life, the Alto Nido once was the home of actress Claudette Colbert.

CAPITOL RECORDS BUILDING, 1750 Vine Street, architect: Welton Beckett Ass., 1956

Located just off Hollywood Boulevard, the Capitol Records Building may well be the most famous structure in all of Hollywood. It is meant to resemble a stack of 45rpm records. At the time it was built, it was the world's first circular office building, and it has been unrivalled in dominating the Hollywood skyline since. Among the artists who used the building's recording studio in the basement are Frank Sinatra and The Beatles.

THE KNICKERBOCKER HOTEL, 1714 N. Ivar Street, architect: E.M. Frasier, 1925

Originally built in Spanish Colonial Revival style, The Knickerbocker has since lost some of its erstwhile glamour. Nevertheless, at least it is still standing and has not been mutilated beyond recognition, for some pages of Hollywood history have been written inside its walls - in bold! Not only was The Knickebocker home to some of the biggest names of the day, it was here that drugged up actress Frances Farmer got picked by the LA police wearing nothing but a shower curtain, and dragged off to a mental home. Rumour has it that Marilyn Monroe used to sneak in every now and then to spend some quality time with her future husband, Joe DiMaggio, who had made The Knickerbocker his home. The most tragic story in connection with The Knickerbocker, however, involves once more film pioneer D.W. Griffith, who died here in 1948, all alone, penniless, and virtually forgotten.


During Hollywood's golden age, the intersection of Hollywood Boulevard and Vine Street was considered to be the most famous intersection in the world. It certainly must have been one of the busiest! Back then - as again today - the better part of Hollywood's major haunts such as Sardi's (in a building designed by Rudolf Schindler), The Brown Derby (now a parking lot), Clara Bow's It Club (in the Plaza Hotel), and the Ontra Cafe, were all conveniently located in close proximity. Nowadays, the famous art-deco clock outside the Equitable Building is the only remainder of the intersection's heyday, although there's hope that the revival of Hollywood Boulevard's will eventually rub off on Hollywood and Vine as well.

THE HOLLYWOOD PLAYHOUSE, 1735 N. Vine Street, architect: Gogerty & Weyl, 1927

Now known as The Palace, like most other historic buildings the Hollywood Playhouse, too, has gone through quite a few changes in its eighty year history. At first, this Spanish Colonial Revival building operated as a legitimate theatre, showing plays and acts that starred Fanny Brice and, later, Lucille Ball. During the 1940s it changed its name to El Capitan (while the El Capitan functioned as The Paramount), though still running as a live performance theatre. Later, with the advent of television, several TV shows were broadcast from here. It was during the 1960s that it finally changed its name to The Palace, operating as a venue for live music as well as for live TV shows when ABC broadcast its show, named The Palace, from here.

THE PLAZA HOTEL, 1633-37 N. Vine Street, architect: Walker & Eisen, 1927

Also built in 1927, together with The Christie, The Roosevelt and The Knickerbocker, it was one of several swanky hotels scattered around Hollywood Boulevard. It was the first home of Bette Davis after her arrival from New York in 1930. The Plaza's most famous feature was the It Club, owned by Clara Bow. The It Club opened its doors in 1937 and became an instant hit with the Hollywood crowd, conveniently located as it was across the road from The Brown Derby.


Located between Selma Street and Sunset Boulevard, this is the original site of the DeMille barn, where Hollywood's first feature film was shot in 1913. A mural on the facade pays homage to the site's erstwhile occupiers as it depicts various scenes from The Squaw Man.

HOLLYWOOD HIGH SCHOOL, 1521 N. Highland Ave. architect: Marsh, Smith & Powell, 1933

Originally built in 1904, it is one of the oldest high schools in Los Angeles. However, the building was almost completely remodelled in 1933. At the time it first opened, the school was surrounded by fields and groves and some of the students arrived by horse or carriage. Over the years, several former pupils have turned into stars - Lana Turner, Jason Robards, Fay Wray - and inside Hollywood High there is a small museum dedicated to their famous alumni with some of their memorabilia on display.

THE PANTAGES, 6233 Hollywood Boulevard, architect: B. Marcus Priteca, 1930

This fabulous art-deco gem opened in 1930 with the premiere of the Al Jolson/ Marion Davies starrer Floradora Girl. By the time of its opening, it was Hollywood's biggest movie palace, with a capacity of 2,815 people. The Pantages was the site of the Academy Awards between 1949 and 1959, though today, with its matchless interior restored, it operates as a musical theatre.

VILLA CARLOTTA APARTMENTS, 5959 Franklin Ave., architect: Arthur E. Harvey, 1926

Perhaps the most beautiful of all of Hollywood's historic apartment buildings, the Villa Carlotta was initially intended to become a hotel. Although its style is said to be Spanish Colonial Revival, its architecture - particularly its entrance - reminds me as much of Italy as it does of Spain. While the above photo dates back to the days when it was built, the Villa Carlotta has remained virtually untouched and it still looks like this today. George Cukor, Edward G. Robinson, and Adolphe Menjou all allegedly lived here at one stage during their career.


I somehow found out about the location of the house that stands in as Phyllis Dietrichson's home in Double Indemnity. With Billy Wilder's film noir masterpiece being one of my favourite films, I went to the trouble and schlepped all the way up into the Hollywood Hills - by bicycle! - where the house is located. To my utter surprise, the house still looks exactly as it does in the film, in which Walter Neff describes it as "one of those California Spanish houses everyone was nuts about ten or fifteen years ago. This one must have cost somebody around $30,000 ... That is, if he ever finished paying for it ...", a description which is classic Chandler who wrote the screenplay in conjunction with Wilder himself.

HOLLYWOOD TOWERS, 6200 Franklin Ave.

Another - and the last on the Hollywood part of this tour - example of the many swish apartments blocks that went up during Hollywood's boom years. This impressive, chateau-like structure was initially known as La Belle Tour, before receiving the no-frills name under which it is known today.

Note: the next instalment in the series CITY OF ANGELS is a guided tour along Sunset Boulevard, called ON SUNSET. Watch out for Film-Daily's next post!

Sunday, 9 May 2010

CITY OF ANGELS: Hollywood, part 2 - Sights And Landmarks

Note: The following is a guided tour through historic Hollywood, which starts at YAMASHIRO'S, then going east along Hollywood Boulevard, and concludes at the HOLLYWOOD TOWERS.

YAMASHIRO'S, 1999 N. Sycamore Ave.

Originally built as a Japanese-style home for Eugene and Adolphe Bernheimer, two brothers from New York settling in Hollywood in 1908, it has since been turned into a Japanese restaurant. While the food at Yamashiro's (which is Japanese for house on the hill) is admittedly excellent, the main reason to come here is for its spectacular location. Perched high up in the Hollywood Hills, it affords stunning views of Los Angeles stretching out below all the way to the Pacific Ocean.

THE MAGIC CASTLE, 7001 Franklin Ave.

Built in 1909 as a private residence for banker Rollin Lane who lived here until 1931, when the mansion was sole to actress Janet Gaynor. One of Hollywood's oldest existing building, it is genuine remnant of the dawn of tinseltown. In 1963, it was purchased by the Academy of Magical Arts, and it has since become a gathering for magicians and their followers from all around the world.


One of several apartment buildings with fancy names dating back to Hollywood's golden age. However, because of its gothic feel due, mainly, to its ivy clad walls, Villa Bonita, in my opinion, is one of the prettiest.

HIGH TOWER, 2178 Hightower Drive

High up, tucked away in the hills above Hollywood is where Raymond Chandler's alter ego, Philip Marlowe, is supposed to have lived, and it has been assumed that Chandler saw his hero living in one of the apartments connected to the High Tower. In fact, Robert Altman used it as Marlowe's home in his version of Chandler's The Long Goodbye, widely considered to be his best and most mature book. Resembling a campanile, an elevator inside the High Tower which works only by key, brings the lucky hill-top residents up to their homes and apartments.

THE NIRVANA, 1775 N. Orange Drive, Architect: E.M. Erdaly, 1925

The Nirvana also is intrinsically linked to the history of Hollywood. Built in 1925, it is located just across the street from the American Society of Cinematographers. With its mock-pagoda style, The Nirvana is another example of Hollywood's penchant - then as now - towards the fancy and the exotic.

GRAUMAN'S CHINESE THEATRE, 6925 Hollywood Boulevard, Architect: C.E. Toberman, 1927

Built by C.E. Toberman for showman Sid Grauman, Grauman's Chinese is doubtless one of the most famous and probably also one of the plushest cinemas in the world. Many of the blobkbusters - although that word had not yet come into existence - of the time had their premiere here, among them DeMille's religious 1927-extravaganza, King of Kings. Equally famous as the theatre are the foot and handprints of movie stars, located in the theatre's front yard. Like most of Hollywood's historic places, Grauman's, too, changed hands several times and consequently hasn't entirely remained unaltered over the course of its eighty year old history. Having recently undergone yet another costly and extensive renovation, much of the theatre's original splendour has been adequately restored.

THE ROOSEVELT HOTEL, 7000 Hollywood Boulevard, architect: C.E. Toberman, 1927

Named after Theodore Roosevelt, the 26th president of the United States and a relative of Franklin Delano, this legendary hostelry was originally owned by Mary Pickford, Douglas Fairbanks and Louis B. Mayer. It is one of Hollywood's most important buildings and landmarks. Not only is The Roosevelt an excellent example of the Spanish Colonial Revival architecture, so prevalent at the time of its inauguration, it was also here, in the Blossom Room of The Roosevelt that the first Academy Award ceremony was held on 16 May, 1929. A few years ago, The Roosevelt has had a major facelift, including its famous swimming pool, which in the 1950s was painted by British artist David Hockney.

MASONIC TEMPLE, 6840 Hollywood Boulevard, architect: Austin, Field & Frey, 1921

Austin, Field & Frey, who also designed LA's city hall and the Griffith Observatory, were given the assignment to build a Masonic Temple large enough to accommodate the rising number of Freemasons in early Hollywood. Today, the Neo-Classical Revival Temple is a registered landmark, used as a venue for concerts and receptions. In 1948, the funeral ceremony for the great director and film pioneer David Wark Griffith was held here.

EL CAPITAN THEATRE, 6834-38 Hollywood Boulevard, architect: Albert Lansburgh, 1926

The El Capitan opened as a stage theatre before being converted into a cinema in 1942, operating under the name Paramount. While it was still used as a legitimate theatre, the German theatre director Leopold Jessner, who, among many others, had fled Nazi Germany by emigrating to Los Angeles, staged a production of Schiller's Wilhelm Tell at the El Capitan. Financed by William and Charlotte Dieterle in order to give emigre actors a chance to work, the play was staged in English and turned out to be a colossal flop, allegedly due to the actors' limited command of their acquired language which resulted in what contemporary critics called an accent mess . Besides being an exceptionally beautiful building and its prime location on Hollywood Boulevard just opposite Grauman's, one of the many claims to fame of the El Capitan's is, for instance, the fact that the film which many believe to be the best American film ever made, Citizen Kane, had its premiere here. The El Capitan was purchased by the Disney Group in 1984, which subsequently restored it and reopened it in 1988.

HOLLYWOOD & HIGHLAND BUILDING/ KODAK THEATRE, 6801 Hollywood Boulevard, architect: Ehrenkrantz, Eckstut & Kuhn

Formerly the site of the legendary Hollywood Hotel which, built in 1903, was torn down in 1956, it is now a huge, sprawling shopping mall that also houses the Kodak Theatre, Oscar's first permanent home. A lot of money has gone into this controversial project, whose design might not be to everyone's liking. However, it is nevertheless an indicator of Hollywood's comeback as it encouraged other investors that Hollywood Boulevard has ceased to be the scruffy dive it had been for so many years. As a reference to Hollywood's rich and irretrievably lost past, the architecture includes replicas of D.W. Griffith's Babylonian set for his film Intolerance, which was shot just two miles east on the intersection of Sunset and Hollywood Boulevards. This fact, however, may be lost on the casual visitor who, unless they are familiar with Griffith's epochal film, are more likely to be startled by the fake elephants and references to ancient Egypt.

FIRST NATIONAL BUILDING, 6777 Hollywood Boulevard, architect: Meyer & Holler, 1927

Dominating Hollywood Boulevard with its gothic art-deco structure, for a brief period the First National was LA's tallest building until the construction of the city hall in 1928.

MAX FACTOR BUILDING, 1666 N. Highland Ave., architect: S. Charles Lee, 1934

Max Factor was the make-up artist to the stars during Hollywood's heyday. It was here, in this art-deco gem which operated on three floors, that the Max Factor clientele was attended to in special rooms assigned to different types of customers - blondes, brunettes, and red heads, with each room decorated accordingly. Today, the building, which is also listed as a Historical and Cultural Monument, has been bought by a private sponsor and is now home to the Hollywood History Museum, its highlight being Roddy Macdowell's powder room - such as it was!

LASKY & DEMILLE BARN, 2100 Highland Ave.

When Cecil B. DeMille and Jesse Lasky came out to Hollywood to turn the well known stage play, The Squaw Man, into a feature length film, they found this abandoned barn on the corner of Selma and Vine Streets, and deeming it ideal for their purposes, rented it from its owner, Jacob Stern, a German immigrant. One and two reelers, which had a length of about ten minutes and twenty minutes respectively, were still the order of the day. And even though Adolph Zukor, who at the time still operated from New York, had already started to turn stage plays into feature length films, DeMille's and Lasky's undertaking was a first in Hollywood. Today, the barn is listed as Historical Landmark and is owned by the Hollywood Heritage Organisation. After having been moved to its permanent location across from the Hollywood Bowl, it is now a museum that documents the history of early film making in Hollywood.

HOLLYWOOD BOWL, 3201 Highland Ave., architect: Hodgetts & Fung, 2004 (inspired by Frank Lloyd Wright Jr.'s shell, 1928)

One of Hollywood's most famous landmarks, the first shell was built in 1926 by Allied Architects. As it was only meant to be provisional, two shells followed, both built in two consecutive years, and both were designed by Frank Lloyd Wright Jr. Since acoustics and general construction were still not up to the mark, yet another shell was erected the following year, 1929, this time again built by Allied Architects who in turn took their cue from Lloyd Wright Jr's design of the year before. This shell lasted until recently, when construction of a new shell began and was completed in 2004. The architects, Hodgetts & Fung, again based their design on Frank Lloyd Wright Jr.'s shell of 1928. Leopold Stokowski was the Bowl's first Music Director, and when after his emigration to the US, the German conductor Otto Klemperer became the LA Philharmonic's Music Director, he frequently performed at the Bowl. One of the most memorable events in the history of the Hollywood Bowl was in 1935, when Max Reinhardt staged a production of Shakespeare's Midsummer Night's Dream, starring Olivia de Havilland, James Cagney, Joe E. Brown, and Mickey Rooney.

JOHN ANSON FORD THEATRE, 2580 Cahuenga Boulevard

Formerly known as the Pilgrimage Play Theatre, this relatively small, intimate venue, meant to resemble old Jerusalem, is renowned for its Shakespeare productions. However, in 1938, Max Reinhardt, who had settled in Hollywood a few years earlier to escape Nazi Germany, directed a successful production of Goethe's Urfaust here.

EGYPTIAN THEATRE, 6712 Hollywood Boulevard, architect: C.E. Toberman, 1922

Sid Grauman's first theatre was inspired by the Egyptian craze, triggered by Howard Carter's discovery of the tomb of King Tutankhamen. The site of Hollywood's first large scale movie premiere, Robin Hood in 1922, at the time of its opening the Egyptian Theatre had guards and ushers sporting ancient Egyptian costumes. The Egyptian changed ownership several times, and at one time belonged to Mike Todd, who besides being Liz Taylor's third husband, was also a tremendous showman and entrepreneur, allegedly installing an extra wide screen for the premiere for his larger than life extravaganza, Around The World in 80 Days. After severe damage caused by the 1994 Northridge earthquake, it was bought by the American Cinematheque, a non-profit organisation, which did a beautiful job in restoring it to its former splendour by trying to save as much of its original features as possible. Having made it their mission to offer more than the standard fare of films, the American Cinematheque frequently organises retrospectives dedicated to individual film makers as well as to film movements in American cinema.

MUSSO & FRANK, 6663-67 Hollywood Boulevard

Hollywood's oldest existing and arguably its most famous eaterie opened in 1919, and neither its interior nor its menu have changed much since. With its cosy atmosphere, its legendary booths, and its, what I choose to call, film noir interior, Musso & Frank managed to preserve its charm, and so it is as much of a hang-out for Hollywood luminaries today as it was then.

FONTENOY APARTMENTS, 1811 N. Whitley Avenue, architect: L.A. Bryant, 1928

Like so many others, this impressive, also a wee bit gothic looking apartment building went up during the boom years of the 1920s in order to accommodate the large number of hopefuls that flocked to Hollywood during its golden age.

WHITLEY HEIGHTS, top of N. Whitley Ave.

The brainchild of Canadian born H.J. Whitley, who had set his mind on recreating a typical Italian hillside retreat, Whitley made his fortune in fine jewellery before purchasing a large parcel of land north of Hollywood Boulevard and subsequently turned it into the first Beverly Hills. Whitley went to great lengths in order to achieve authenticity, including sending his architects to Italy to do research on villas, houses and landscaping. Bette Davis, Jean Harlow, Richard Barthelmes, Rudolph Valentino, Marie Dressler, Gloria Swanson, William Faulkner and Maurice Chevalier, at one stage all lived in this peaceful, beautiful, tucked away community which Greta Garbo once likened to a film set. Parts of Whitley Heights were destroyed in 1947 to make way for the Hollywood Freeway, razing the former homes of Bette Davis and Rudolph Valentino, among many others. Whitley Heights has since been listed in the National Register of Historic Places and is thus protected from further development.

WARNER PACIFIC THEATRE, 6423-45 Hollywood Boulevard, architect: Albert Landsburgh, 1928

This sprawling Italian Renaissance Revival building was meant to become the showcase of the Warner Bros. theatre chain, and being one of the first cinemas equipped to show talkies, the much anticipated premiere of The Jazz Singer was supposed to take place here. However, by the time The Jazz Singer was ready to be released, the Pacific was still under construction, which is why the Jazz Singer's premiere was held in New York instead where Warner's had a movie palace equal to the Pacific. In its heyday, the Pacific was one of several dramatic movie theatres that lined Hollywood Boulevard, others included the Egyptian, the Pantages, Grauman's Chinese and the El Capitan. With its capacity of 2,700 seats, for a short period of time the Pacific was also the largest until the Pantages opened its doors in 1930. Unfortunately, today the Pacific is no longer in operation, which means that its breathtakingly beautiful interior - a continuation of its mock Italian Renaissance facade - is not accessible to the public.

CAHUENGA BUILDING, 6381-85 Hollywood Boulevard, architect: John & Donald Parkinson, 1921

Cahuenga Building - this is how Raymond Chandler dubbed this office block, which in reality is the Security Trust and Savings building, in his novels, in which Philip Marlowe has his quarters on the building's sixth floor. To use Chandler's own words from his novel The High Window: "I had an office in the Cahuenga Building, sixth floor, two small rooms at the back. One I left open for a patient client to sit in, if I had a patient client. There was a buzzer at the door which I could switch on and off from my private thinking parlour". The building stands at the north-east corner of Cahuenga Avenue and Hollywood Boulevard. Today, the square next to it has been renamed Raymond Chandler in honour of LA's most famous chronicler.

>>> Note: This guided tour through historic Hollywood will continue in my next post!