In this installment of the California Fool’s Gold, we visit Yucca Corridor.
The Yucca Corridor is a small, crowded neighborhood in central Hollywood, just northwest of downtown. Its borders are Franklin Ave on the north, Hollywood Blvd on the south, Highland on the west, and Vine on the east. Below is the southeast corner of what’s now Yucca Corridor as it was in 1907. Nowadays it is 42% Latino (mostly Mexican and Guatelmalteca), 41% white (mostly Armenian), 7% Asian and 5% black.
The Yucca Corridor
Yucca Corridor is a fairly dilapidated section of Hollywood, despite 100s of millions of dollars having been dumped into it since the death of Hollywood in the 1950s. Today, although much improved from its nadir, it’s still one of the most run-down areas of Los Angeles. Now, after decades of heralding its complete rejuvenation, the hype finally seems to be approaching reality — though tellingly, the predominant smell in the air is of sun-dried urine.
Hollywood was originally a dry, Methodist community founded of a few hundred residents located roughly ten miles northwest of Los Angeles. In those days, the film industry was then centered in Edendale. In 1910, D.W. Griffith‘s In Old California — shot at 1713 N Vine in what’s now the southeast corner of the Yucca Corridor in downtown Hollywood — was the first film made in Hollywood. Within five years, most American films were made in Los Angeles and several studios and stars called Hollywood home. By the ’20s, it was hopping, as a shot of the same intersection below shows.
By the 1940s, Hollywood was the center of film, radio and television production. In the 1950s, however, faced with rising property values and rents, the entire area experienced a mass exodus with most television and film production facitilies moving away.
For a time, buoyed by the 1954 construction of the nearby Capitol building, Hollywood retained some sense of glamor and was still known as a hub of the music industry. The Villa Capri at 6735 Yucca was a favorite Rat Pack hangout. However, despite its continuing glamorous reputation, Hollywood began a long decline from which it wouldn’t even begin to emerge for another forty years.
By 1958, the music industry had proved incapable of keeping Hollywood alive and it was, for all intents and purposes, dead. In the first of many efforts at restoring life to the necropolis, the neighborhood created the Hollywood Walk of Fame that year, placing eight stars in the sidewalk just west of the Yucca Corridor, which ultimately grew, passing along the entirety of the Corridor’s southern edge. Today, the grimy sidewalk of widely unrecognized names seems rather unimpressive. Most of the stores along it sell postcards, novelty license plates, tattoos, and clothing so tacky that most prostitutes have too much modesty to wear it.
In the 1960s, Hollywood undertook another effort to make the neighborhood attractive — destroying most of the Art Deco buildings in the area to make way for boxier, less stylized structures. Two Art Deco buildings that escaped the wrecking ball are the Fontenoy at 1811 Whitley (pictured above), constructed in 1928 and the Montecito, at 6650 Franklin (pictured below).
The oldest restaurant in Hollywood, Musso & Frank’s, opened in 1919. Suspecting it’s a tourist trap, Musso & Frank’s and a Chinese place on Highland are about the only Yucca Corridor restaurants I haven’t eaten at in the name of research. Only the Village Pizza and the Lotería Grill exceed mediocrity, which they both do by a healthy margin. Anyway, back in the 60s, the efforts to attract tourists largely failed and the void left by the departure of the entertainment industry was filled by hippies. The many head shops in Yucca Corridor have proven one of the neighborhood’s most enduring business successes.
By the ’70s, the Yucca Corridor slipped further into decline and most of the hotels in the area became flophouses. One, The Lido, inspired Frank Zappa’s “Willie the Pimp” and was featured in the album art for Hotel California. The Lido had a long history of notoriety, roughly paralleling the neighborhood’s decay. Back in the 1950s, Ed Wood did much of his drinking in its bar, which he lived above until he was evicted.
Wood’s upstairs neighbor pimped out her young daughter, beneath was a woman who pimped out her young daughter. A drag queen was stabbed to death in the hallway and it was also there that Victor Kilian, the Fernwood Flasher on Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman, was beaten to death. Crossing the street to buy booze at Playboy Liquor, Wood was routinely mugged in the intersection that was long considered the most dangerous in the neighborhood. As a result, neighborhood watch groups installed video cameras at the intersection later, but that didn’t stop the theft of the martini glass serving as the “Y” in the store’s name and now it goes as Pla-Boy.
The “Tortilla House,” a famous crash pad on Las Palmas, housed 100 transients at one time. But in the ’70s, many of the hippies were joined by working-class Latinos and the character of the neighborhood changed. On weekends, Hollywood Boulevard was choked with low-rider traffic. Around the same time, many of the sex stores, stripper-wear merchants and porn theaters moved in, followed by an influx of prostitution and drugs. At this point, the crime rate in the area was double the rest of the city — only topped by the areas around LAX. In the midst of it, the famous The Masque at 1655 N Cherokee was an L.A. Punk venue that hosted The Weirdos, X, The Go-Gos, The Germs, the Screamers and F-Word and was shut down in 1977, when cops began to crack down on the neighborhood.
By the early 1980s, the shadowy band of figures known as The Night People dominated Hollywood, based out of the vacant Security Pacific National Bank Building and Garden Court Apartments (aka Hotel Hell), both flanking but just outside the Yucca Corridor. In 1983, the Hollywood Branch Library at Ivar was broken into, vandalized, then set on fire, destroying about 68,000 books.
After much of Hollywood was declared a blighted slum, redevelopment began in earnest in the late 1980s, with efforts led by another shadowy group of glassy-eyed walking dead, the Scientologists. Strangely, they appeared on the scene roughly around the same time as the collapse of another cult, the 1970s’ The Center for Feeling Therapy (or The Screamers), who bought much of the property south of the neighborhood. In the 1980s, though a blighted hellscape, game shows still routinely offered winners a two-night stay in glamorous Hollywood, California to unsuspecting tourists, who can still be seen departing from airport shuttles with horrified and disbelieving looks in their eyes.
At the beginning of the ‘90s, the Yucca Corridor seemed little improved, beyond Scientologists’ having saved some of the neighborhood’s historic buildings from ruin. The crack problem was so bad that the stretch of Yucca between Whitely and Wilcox was known as Crack Alley, which was patrolled by the neighborhood watch groups: Ivar Hawks, Cherokee Condors, Las Palmas Lions, Wilcox Werewolves, Whitley Rangers and Hudson Howlers. Previously focused on individual streets, in 1991 they united as United Streets of Hollywood and Yucca Corridor was proposed as a name to bring attention to the most decrepit neighborhood in a bedraggled district. After two dozen people were killed between the 7-11 on Cahuenga and Ivar and La Iguerita Club, the police formed a special task force to target the area. La Iguerita Club was famous for its violence and drugs that spilled out into the streets. After a murder inside the bar, it was shut down for 45 days. After being closed again for serving alcohol to people who were already blind drunk, people in the Corridor organized to shut it down permanently.
In 1992, a block to the south, the LA riots spread to Yucca Corridor and Frederick’s of Hollywood was looted, Madonna’s famous pointy bra stolen in the process. The following year, the street was paved with glassphalt, a sparkly pavement designed to add a suggestion of glamour to the embattled, ramshackle neighborhood. When the Northridge earthquake hit the following year, several buildings were condemned. Violence peaked afterward, with Yucca averaging a murder a day. Blockades were erected along the street to reduce drug trafficking.
In the 2000s, the neighborhood grew noticeably less shady, with attention-whoring hipsters mostly replacing the more conventional sort at night. A landscaped median with a sign, the “Gateway to Hollywood” was recently completed by the Yucca Corridor Coalition at a cost of $658,000 in an effort to create yet another reason for visiting the neighborhood. So far, I haven’t been asked by anyone for directions to it, although as I took the picture, a guy asked me where the notorious 7-11 is.