Although it continues to attract millions of tourists every year, there are few places in Los Angeles that locals avoid as deliberately as Downtown Hollywood‘s Walk of Fame. To put it bluntly, most Angelenos that I know would rather jostle with the crowded sidewalks along Alvarado in Westlake or spend a night on Skid Row than go anywhere near Hollywood and Highland. However, just as I explored those two neighborhoods and found much to enjoy, I decided to have a crack at seeing the Walk of Fame with similarly fresh eyes (and closed nose and ears). The results were mixed… which given the subject, feels like a success.
It’s easy to be negative about the Walk of Fame and Downtown Hollywood; in fact, it’s almost impossible not to. Online searches for “Walk of Fame” not surprisingly turn up listicles with titles like “14 Overrated Tourist Attractions Around The World,” “America’s 10 worst tourist traps,” “10 Worst Tourist Traps in America,” “The 13 worst tourism traps in the world,” and my favorite, “Crap Tourist Traps of America.” I remember fairly vividly my first underwhelming visit to the Walk of Fame in 1998, where I was surprised at the sheer number of shops lining Hollywood Boulevard selling such hot items as cell phone cases, postcards, weed bowls, and cheap suits held together with glue. I was even less excited by the sight of mostly unfamiliar names writ in brass and terrazzo.
On the day that I willingly returned to the Walk of Fame, I heard a tourist say to another, “Imagine, back in the day…” Back in the day, though, Los Angeles somehow existed without a Walk of Fame. In fact, that Walk of Fame-less golden age lasted for 177 years of Los Angeles’s existence. In the 1920s Hollywood was the center of the American filmmaking industry. Although “Hollywood” became a metonym for the US’s entire, commercial film industry, by the 1950s “Hollywood” films were more likely to be made on the Westside or in the San Fernando Valley. By the 1960s, Hollywood was no longer a hotbed of popular culture, and movie stars and their worshippers were less common although the CIM Group, crackheads, gangbangers, crack slingers, Hare Krishnas, hippies, lowriders, Night People, Pentecostals, punks, Scientologists, Screamers, and others moved in.
Nothing, however, could lure back the film industry — but the Walk of Fame was created in 1958 to at least give tourists a reason, however flimsy a one, to make a destination of the neighborhood. It is surely one of the most half-assed attempts to revive a neighborhood and yet today some 10 million visitors annually come to the Walk of Fame where they take pictures of the memorial sidewalk, taking selfies and having their picture taken with shakedown artists unconvincingly dressed as comic book superheroes. Along the way, they’re accosted by aggressive, self-medicated panhandlers — including the homeless, millenarians, and guys selling shiny aluminum objects known as compact discs, or “CDs.” It feels like a literal tourist trap.
Even the stars are for sale. For the low, low price of $30,000 — and assuming that your contribution to pop culture includes more than appearing in a widely-seen sex tape — you too might get your name stamped on the sidewalk. The stars used to be cheaper. In 1980, stars were put on sale for $2,500 ($7,193.90 adjusted for inflation). If it still seemed special then, it was perhaps because it was maybe a one-of-a-kind attraction.
Nowadays you can see names memorialized on sidewalks elsewhere, including Anaheim (Anaheim Walk of Stars), East Los Angeles (Latino Walk of Fame), Huntington Beach (Surfing Walk of Fame), Lancaster (Aerospace Walk of Honor), and Palm Springs (Palm Springs Walk of Stars), or anywhere someone with a little vanity discovered some not-yet-dry concrete and wrote their name in it.
The Walk of Fame wasn’t especially popular at first. From its beginning through 1961, the initial 1,500 stars were placed. Eight years passed before producer Richard D. Zanuck received a star in December 1968 in recognition of his producer role on films including Compulsion (1959), Sanctuary (1961), The Chapman Report (1962), and The Sound of Music (1965). His next production, SSSSSSS, would concern an emotionally disturbed man-snake hybrid.
In my opinion, most of what’s interesting about the Walk of Fame is what is above it. Not everything, mind you; there’s a lot of crap. However, there’s interesting architecture and design, charming bars, living history, a few good restaurants, and some of the world’s great cinemas and theaters. Rather than being an attraction, that famous sidewalk is a distraction — so stop filming the sidewalk with your phone and look up — you may find that there’s more to Hollywood than star tours, a sign, and sidewalks.
THE RISE OF DOWNTOWN HOLLYWOOD
Hollywood was founded as a religious colony in the 1880s. When it was annexed by Los Angeles in 1910, movie theaters and nickelodeons were actually banned. Soon after its annexation, Prospect Avenue was renamed Hollywood Boulevard and the film industry began to make its mark.
The first feature film shot in Hollywood, D.W. Griffith‘s In Old California was filmed near Hollywood and Vine for William Kennedy Dickson‘s New Jersey-based Biograph Company in 1910. The first film studio in Hollywood was the Nestor Motion Picture Company which began operation in 1911 at the corner of Gower and Sunset — an area that soon after came to be known as Gower Gulch. By 1915, Hollywood had overtaken New York City as the US’s capital of film production.
With the rise of Hollywood’s importance came a dramatic rise in its skyline. Before 1922, the tallest building in Hollywood was the four-story Hillview Apartment building. By the end of the decade, the multi-story Broadway Hollywood Building, Christie Hotel, Equitable Building, First National Bank of Hollywood, Hollywood Guaranty Building, Hollywood Plaza Hotel, Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel, Hollywood Storage Building, Knickerbocker Hotel, Yucca Vine Tower, and the Taft Building had all risen in a flurry of development and Hollywood thus acquired its own proper downtown, distinct from Downtown Los Angeles and separated by nine kilometers.
Downtown Los Angeles had (and has) the largest concentration of cinemas in the world. Around the same time, efforts were made to create a theater district in Hollywood to rival that of the Broadway Theater District. Joining two earlier, more modest theaters, the spectacular Egyptian, El Capitan, Grauman’s Chinese, Warner Bros Hollywood, and Pantages theaters all opened along a walkable, 1.5-kilometer stretch of Hollywood Boulevard between 1922 and 1930. Three of them were co-opened by Charles E. Toberman, one of at least two men nicknamed the “Father of Hollywood.” The Vogue, Admiral, and other modest but beautiful cinemas followed in the 1930s. Now, sadly, many are underappreciated and misused.
THE FONDA THEATRE (CARTER DEHAVEN MUSIC BOX)
At the far east end of the Walk of Fame is the Fonda Theatre (6126 Hollywood Blvd). It opened on 18 October 1926 as the Carter DeHaven Music Box. The original, Spanish Colonial Revival façade was designed by Morgan, Walls and Clements but it was given a Streamline Moderne makeover in 1945 after it was purchased by Fox West Coast. During its spell as a movie theater, it was known as the Guild Theatre, the Fox Theatre, and ultimately, the Pix Theatre, which it remained until it closed in 1977. It reopened in 1985 and was renamed in honor of actor Henry Fonda. A concert venue once again, it’s hosted several bands I’ve been lucky enough to see perform there including Crime & the City Solution, Interpol, Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark, and Tindersticks.
THE HOLLYWOOD PANTAGES THEATRE
The Hollywood Pantages Theatre (6233 W Hollywood Boulevard) opened in 1930 and was the last theater built by Alexander Pantages. Its Art Deco design was created by architect B. Marcus Priteca. In 1932, Pantages sold the theater to Fox West Coast and in 1949, Howard Hughes acquired it for his RKO Theatre Circuit, renaming it the RKO Pantages Theatre. From 1949 through 1959 it hosted the annual Academy Awards. It was sold to Pacific Theaters in 1965 and it remained a movie theater until 1977 when it became a live theater. Judging from the exterior, entrance, and photos it looks like it has a beautiful interior. Sadly, though, I’ve never been inside, I suppose because I’m not interested in big-budget mainstream theater productions (e.g. Cats, The Phantom of the Opera, Wicked, Zoo Animals On Wheels, The Lion King, &c)
THE FROLIC ROOM
Attached to the Pantages is the Frolic Room. Legend has it that the Frolic Room opened in 1930 as a private lounge of the then-still-Vaudeville Pantages. It was supposedly run by a man with the unlikely name of Freddy Frolic. Prohibition ended in 1933 and in 1934 it opened as a proper bar. It’s one of several locations that people commonly claim was the last place Elizabeth Short (the Black Dahlia) was seen in public, before her grisly murder. In actuality, the Frolic Room’s space was home to the Fountain Cafe until at least 1939. “Frolic room” was a slang term that appeared in American English in the mid-1940s. The Frolic Roomlikely opened around 1946, as a licensed bar — but it’s still one of the oldest bars in operation in Los Angeles.
Hollywood/Vine Station is a subway station on Metro‘s Red Line that opened in 1999. The station was designed by artist Gilbert Luján (aka Magu), whose art takes the form of numerous illustrated tiles that appear throughout the station. It has connections to Metro’s 180, 181, 210, 212, 217, 222, and Rapid 780; FlyAway Bus; LADOT DASH’s Beachwood Canyon, Hollywood, and Hollywood/Wilshire lines; and BoltBus. With all of those options, there are zero valid reasons for driving a car in Downtown Hollywood… and yet people do (although on this day only one driver on her phone very nearly ran over me in a crosswalk). In all seriousness, cars should be permanently banned from this stretch of Hollywood Boulevard.
THE TAFT BUILDING
The twelve-story, Neoclassical style Taft Building (6280 W Hollywood Blvd and 1680 North Vine St) was built in 1923 for rancher Alfred Z. Taft, Jr and designed by architects Percy A. Eisen and Albert R. Walker (Walker & Eisen — the firm that also designed the Fine Arts Building, the James Oviatt Building, the Hotel Normandie, the Beverly Wilshire Hotel, and the Commercial Exchange Building). At one time it housed offices of Charlie Chaplin, Will Rogers, and the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. At another, it housed the offices of my friends at Arcanum Entertainment. In its heyday, it was home to many dentists’ offices and Clark Gable‘s dentures were manufactured there.
EQUITABLE BUILDING (HOLLYWOOD AND VINE)
Construction of the handsome Gothic-Deco Equitable Building (6253 Hollywood Blvd) began in 1929 and was completed in 1930. The thirteen-story building’s architect was Aleck Curlett and its construction was financed by Sam Kress. In 1949, Belasco’s Restaurant moved into the ground floor and there remained until the 1980s. In 2008, the former office building was converted into a residential complex.
CAPITOL RECORDS BUILDING
By the late 1940s, most of the film studios had left Hollywood (Paramount remains today) but the district remained important in the world of pop music production. The iconic, thirteen-story Capitol Records Building, designed by Welton Becket and Associates, was built from 1955 to 1956. The blinking light atop the tower spells out the word “Hollywood” in Morse Code. It might just as well have spelled out SOS because whereas Capitol Records’ stable of be-sweatered crooners and folk-poppers like Nat King Cole, The Kingston Trio, and The Four Freshmen might have represented the cream of the Capitol crop in the pre-rock era, with the rise of rock ‘n’ roll, they all were seen as hopelessly square. It was largely because of them that the Hollywood Walk of Fame was created, one of the rock era’s first nostalgic acts. Although I’m personally not a fan, it’s worth pointing out that along the building’s south wall is a mural by Richard Wyatt Jr entitled Hollywood Jazz: 1945-1972. I am a fan of the building itself, though, and Welton Becket — a major architectural talent whose Los Angeles Memorial Sports Arena is soon to be demolished.
YUCCA VINE TOWER
Cater-corner the Capitol Records building is the Yucca Vine Tower (6305 Yucca Street), which somehow manages to be both striking and low-key. I worked in that area for fourteen years, often lunching around the corner at Village Pizzeria, but it wasn’t until my exploration that I really noticed this signage-lacking but attractive Art Deco building. The eight-story structure was built in 1929 and designed by H.L. Gogerty and Carl Jules Weyl. It’s currently the main building on the campus of American Musical and Dramatic Academy, a college conservatory for the performing arts.
THE AVALON (HOLLYWOOD PLAYHOUSE)
The Avalon (1735 N. Vine St) is an historic nightclub that opened as The Hollywood Playhouse on 24 January 1927. The Spanish Baroque-style venue was designed by the architectural team of Henry L. Gogerty and Carl Jules Weyl. It was later known as The WPA Federal Theatre, The El Capitan Theatre (not to be confused with the nearby movie theatre of the same name and age), The Jerry Lewis Theatre, The Hollywood Palace, The Palace, and now, The Avalon.
BROADWAY HOLLYWOOD BUILDING
The ten-story, Neoclassical–style Broadway Hollywood Building (6300 Hollywood Blvd and 1645 Vine St) was designed by Frederick Rice Dorn and built as the B. H. Dyas Building in 1927. It was first a B. H. Dyas Company Department Store but was sold and renamed the Broadway Hollywood Building in 1931. The department store was featured in Charlie Chaplin’s 1933 film, Modern Times. The annex, designed by John Parkinson and Donald B. Parkinson, was added in 1939. In the 1980s it was converted into offices that remained until it was completely abandoned in 1987. In 2005 it was renovated and converted to residences.
HOLLYWOOD PLAZA HOTEL
The ten-story, Renaissance Revival style Hollywood Plaza Hotel (1633–37 North Vine St) was designed by Walker & Eisen and built for Joseph Stern as a 200-room hotel that opened on 15 October 1925. In 1937, the hotel’s nightclub, Russian Eagle, was renamed the It Café. It was operated by It girl Clara Bow and her husband, Rex Bell, until 1943. It was converted into a retirement home in the 1970s.
THE HERMAN BUILDING
The Spanish Colonial Revival Herman Building, designed by Carl Jules Weyl, was built in 1928. In the 1940s and ‘50s, it was home to a restaurant, the Ham & Egger. When developers sought attempted to demolish it and built the W Hotel & Residences, the owner refused to sell. The city attempted to acquire it through eminent domain and ultimately the W incorporated it into its design — albeit not exactly in a manner that anyone would consider either elegant or seamless.
RICARDO MONTALBAN THEATRE (WILKES BROTHERS VINE STREET THEATRE)
The Ricardo Montalban Theatre was designed by Myron Hunt and built in 1926. It opened in 1927 as The Wilkes Brothers Vine Street Theatre. It was converted into a cinema in the 1930s by Howard Hughes who sold it in 1935 to the Columbia Broadcasting System (CBS). It became a playhouse again in the 1950s — the Huntington Hartford Theatre. It was later purchased by UCLA and, most recently, the Ricardo Montalbán Foundation, which gave it its current moniker.
ABC WEST COAST
A Streamline Moderne building (1533-41 N Vine St) built in 1937 went on the become the West Coast home of the American Broadcasting Company (ABC). In the 1970s it became the TAV Celebrity Theatre. A fire in 1996 left the building gutted and vacant and for years afterward the block was surprisingly blighted. In 2005 the façade was incorporated into the Sunset+Vine mixed-use complex, complete with a Schwab’s sign designed to conjure up nostalgia for the famed Schwab’s Pharmacy — although that drugstore was located 3.5 kilometers west.
CHASE BANK, HOLLYWOOD (HOME SAVINGS AND LOAN)
The New Formalist style Chase Bank, Hollywood (1500 Vine St) was one of several such banks memorably designed by Millard Sheets for Home Savings and Loan. This particular location was built by Howard Ahmanson, Sr in 1968. The fountain in front features a Paul Manship sculpture of Europa riding Zeus in bull form from the 1920s. The stained glass windows of the façade were designed by Susan Hertel. The mosaic depicts several movie stars from Hollywood’s Golden Age — as well as non-actor Allakariallak, credited as Nanook, whom he played in the quasi-documentary feature, Nanook of the North.
SUNSET VINE TOWER
International style, Sunset Vine Tower (1480 Vine St) was built in 1963, designed by Douglas Honnold, and is currently Hollywood’s tallest building. The building was featured prominently in 1974’s Earthquake. There was a rooftop lounge, the 360, which used to host a night called Beige if memory serves. An electrical fire in 2001 was followed by a long vacancy although heavily tagged windows indicated continued human presence and it earned the affectionate nickname of “the world’s biggest crack house.” Renovation under new ownership began in 2002. There was another fire in 2005 and it was wrapped in plastic as all of the asbestos was removed and it was stripped back to its structural frame. It finally re-opened as luxury residences in 2009. At 22 stories, it’s currently the tallest building in Hollywood.
DEJA VU SHOWGIRLS (SARDI’S)
The Deja Vu Showgirls strip club (6315 Hollywood Blvd) originally opened as a restaurant called Sardi’s in 1933, mentioned in the lyrics of Steve Allen‘s 1956 composition, “This Could Be the Start of Something.” After a fire, it reopened as a proto-Goth nightclub known as the Haunted House in which patrons had to pass by a series of crude, animatronic monsters to make their way to the main room where they’d be entertained by musical performers and go-go dancers. Later, retaining some of the interiors, it was The Cave Theatre, a pornographic film theater, and an adult book store. It later became the Hollywood Cabaret and in 2013, the Deja Vu Showgirls strip club. Although completely lacking any obvious architectural charm today, it was designed by none other than Rudolph Schindler.
VINE THEATRE (ADMIRAL THEATRE)
The modest, single-screen, 600-seat, Streamline Moderne Vine Theatre opened as the Admiral Theatre in 1937. Films were no longer regularly shown there in 2007 at which point it began being used for private functions. In 2009 it was briefly a Lazerium. It apparently re-opened in 2015 as a “top-secret, state-of-the-art prototype” Dolby showcase theater.
HOLLYWOOD GUARANTY BUILDING
The twelve-story, Beaux Arts-style Guaranty Building (6331 Hollywood Blvd), designed by John C. Austin, was constructed in 1923. It was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1979. In 1988 it was purchased by the Church of Scientology who, whatever else can be said of them, sure like to take over old buildings and make them gleam.
REGAL SHOES BUILDING
The Art Deco/Streamline Moderne Regal Shoe Building (6349 Hollywood Blvd) was designed by Walker & Eisen and built in 1939. It’s currently used as a cafeteria for Scientologists. Its vaguely ship-like appearance must have been irresistible and they’ve added the logo of their Sea Org to the second floor.
The Leeds Building (6352 Hollywood Blvd) was designed by S. Charles Lee and opened as Leeds Shoe Store in 1935.
iO WEST opened as the ImprovOlympic West in 1997, a west coast sibling to Chicago’s The ImprovOlympic. In 2001 the International Olympic Committee rather ridiculously took issue with the company’s name and it was changed to iO. Few things fill me with as much unease as the prospect of improvisation. Whether improvisational comedy or freestyle rapping I’ve never thought to myself that it couldn’t be improved by some premeditation. That being said, I did once go to iO West in 2010 to see Andy Richter host The Armando Show and it was pretty good, actually.
JULIAN MEDICAL BUILDING
The Julian Medical Building (6380-6384 Hollywood Blvd) is a fine example of Art Deco/Streamline Moderne Architecture and was built in 1930. When it opened the ground flower was occupied by Owl Drug and the second story housed medical offices. Today it’s home to a Popeye’s, although forgettable ground floor tenants tend to come and go.
SECURITY PACIFIC NATIONAL BANK BUILDING
The seven-story Security Pacific National Bank Building (6381-6385 Hollywood Blvd) was designed by the prolific John and Donald B. Parkinson in 1921. In 1983 it was added to the National Register of Historic Places. Raymond Chandler‘s fictional detective, Philip Marlowe, rented his office on the building’s sixth floor. (See A look at The New Adventures of Philip Marlowe on the anniversary of its debut). In the 1980s it was taken over by the Night People (who also squatted in the Garden Court Apartments, since demolished and replaced by Hollywood & Highland).
The Creque Building (6400-6408 Hollywood Blvd) was built to house a general store in 1912, replacing an earlier wooden store built in 1888. It was enlarged and given its current, Art Deco brick-and-tile redesign in 1933.
HOLLYWOOD PACIFIC THEATRE (WARNER BROS. THEATRE)
The Beaux Arts (with elements of Moorish, Rococo, and Renaissance revival) Hollywood Pacific Theatre (6433 Hollywood Blvd) opened on 26 April 1928 as the Warner Bros. Theatre. It was designed by architect G. Albert Lansburgh. The radio transmitter tower for Warner Bros’ KFWB remains (although that station recently became Desi 980, “Hollywood’s Bollywood Station”). It was renovated in 1953 and reopened as the Warner Cinerama. In 1968 the theater was purchased by Pacific Theatres, who renamed it the Hollywood Pacific. The balcony was converted into two small theaters in 1978 before it stopped regularly showing films in 1994. The theater was occupied by Ecclesia Hollywood Church until 2013.
6436-6440 HOLLYWOOD BOULEVARD
The retail building at 6436-6440 Hollywood Blvd, though small, is a pretty richly ornamented Art Deco beauty.
Los Angeles Contemporary Exhibitions (LACE) (6522 Hollywood Blvd) is an experimental art institution that began in 1978. It is free and open to the public. It has operated at its current location in Hollywood since 1993.
JANES HOUSE & JANES SQUARE
Janes House (6541 Hollywood Blvd) is a Queen Anne and Dutch Colonial Revival-style cottage built in 1902, designed by Oliver Dennis and Lyman Farwell for H.J. Whitley, yet another man known as the “Father of Hollywood.” In 1903 it was purchased by Herman Nelson and Mary Ruth Janes of Aurora, Illinois. In 1911 it was home to a school, Misses Janes Kindergarten, which closed in 1926. A shopping center, Janes Square Landmark Shopping Center, was built in 1985 and the home was moved to the back of the lot. From 2006-2009 the Janes House was home to a restaurant called Memphis. From 2009-2013 it was a lounge known as Janes House. Today it’s the last remaining house on the Walk of Fame but sadly, it’s fenced off and hard to get a look at.
J.J. NEWBERRY BUILDING
The J. J. Newberry Building (6600-6604 Hollywood Blvd) was given a striking Art Deco remake in 1928 by the Newberry Company. Its blue and gold design reminds me a bit of the Eastern Columbia Building, built two years later.
S. H. KRESS & CO. BUILDING
The Art Deco S. H. Kress & Co. Building (6608 Hollywood Blvd) was built in 1934, part of a chain of 5-10-25-Cent variety stores, owned by Sam Kress. It was designed by S.H. Kress & Co. chief architect Edward F. Sibbert. From 1949 to 2005 it was home to the flagship Frederick’s of Hollywood store, including the Frederick’s of Hollywood Lingerie Museum, which housed in its collection famous undergarments worn by celebrities. S.H. Kress & Co. went bankrupt in 1981 but in 2008, a nightclub opened there called The Kress Hollywood. It seems to have closed in 2012.
The Spanish Colonial Revival & Churrigueresque Baine Building (6601-6609 Hollywood Blvd) was built in 1927. Designed by Gogerty & Weyl, its first tenant was Merchants Title. It was built for Colonel Harry Baine, who lived on the third story and boasted of being the first person to “live in a penthouse on Hollywood Boulevard” which, technically was true.
The website of Boardner’s (1652 Cherokee Ave) makes the claim that the bar is “A Hollywood Legend & Best Kept Secret Since 1942.” I’m not exactly clear how something can be both legend and secret, which seems to me a bit like saying that someone is both famous and unknown. Anyway, the Moorish-inspired building which houses it was designed by Norman W. Alpaugh and constructed in 1927 — originally to be a theater although the first tenant ended up being the Morris Beauty Parlor. In the 1930s, it became Gene Austin‘s club, My Blue Heaven, after his 1928 hit song. After Austin sold it, it became Padres, the Cherokee House, and Club 52 before Steve Boardner bought it in 1944. Boardner sold it in 1980 and retired. It remains a fixture, popular for its club nights, even after an image-changing overhaul it was given in 2006.
THE SHANE BUILDING
The Art Deco Shane Building (6652-6654 Hollywood Blvd) was built in 1930, and designed by C. Horton and F. Wallis. It was formerly home to the Writers Guild of America. Next door, occupying part of the old RJZ Theatre, was Skooby’s, a hot dog restaurant founded in 2002 at which I used to often grab a bite and enjoy the soundtrack of riot grrrl and punk which they used to play. Sadly, it closed shop on the day before I returned (although there’s now a food truck). Surprisingly, I haven’t been able to find any information on the old theater.
HUDSON APARTMENTS (HILLVIEW APARTMENTS)
Construction of the Mediterranean Revival Hillview Apartments (6533 Hollywood Blvd) was commissioned by movie moguls Jesse Lasky and Samuel Goldwyn for the specific purpose of housing film actors. Actors who purportedly lived there include Clara Bow, Mary Astor, Stan Laurel, Mae Busch, Jack La Rue, Barbara La Marr, Joan Blondell, Jack Dougherty, and others — although I have no idea whether or not any of them actually did. The building was completed in 1917. It closed in 1994 after being declared structurally unsound. It was further damaged by a fire in 2002. It was restored and re-opened in 2005 but the new owners declared bankruptcy in 2009 and the lounge, restaurant, and gym remained closed after it was again purchased in 2010, by owners, the CIM Group, who renamed it the Hudson and then sold the property in 2015.
MUSSO & FRANK GRILL
The building associated with Musso & Frank Grill (6667 Hollywood Blvd) was built in 1917 and designed by L. A. Smith. It was altered in 1937 and given a Hollywood Regency makeover. The restaurant, which began as Frank’s French Café in 1919, actually opened next door before moving to its current location. It was renamed Musso & Frank Grill in 1923. With Stanley Rose‘s bookstore, Satyr Bookshop, around the corner and the Writers Guild across the street, Musso & Frank was not surprisingly a popular spot with writers fond of drink. Literary figures who liked to get lit there include Carey McWilliams, James M. Cain, Raymond Chandler, Dorothy Parker, F. Scott Fitzgerald, William Faulkner, and many others. I’ve only been there once, for a friend’s birthday, because I’m a vegetarian and the menu seems as old fashioned as an Old Fashioned. I see “roast” on a menu and I’m not even sure what it is — but I assume it’s not a roast potato or squash. Still, I remember the ambiance being pleasant and the cocktails great.
The single-screen, 897-seat Vogue Theatre was designed by the great S. Charles Lee and opened on 16 July 1935. It was operated by Fox West Coast Theaters until Mann Theaters assumed control in the early 1990s. Films stopped being projected around 1995, when they instead became some sort of venue for psychics. It was stripped of most of its film fittings in 2001 and in 2009 it re-opened as a live performance space called Supper Club, which permanently closed in 2015.
6679 HOLLYWOOD BOULEVARD
The Beaux-Arts 6679 Hollywood Blvd isn’t a particularly striking or attractive building but it’s notable for being one of the oldest commercial buildings in Hollywood, having been designed by F.L. Paulson and built in 1914. I didn’t take a picture because it’s currently home to the Rusty Mullet and Jameson’s Irish Pub. Jameson’s is inoffensive enough. Like most so-called Irish Pubs in the US, it’s a sports bar with a bit of green trim. Mullets were a hairstyle which was associated with an ironic “white trash” hipster aesthetic that completely played itself out around 2001. It’s not clear to me whether the proprietors of this establishment are 15 years behind the times or 5 years ahead of the inevitable early 2000s revival. All I know is that as a working-class person from the Upper South I can’t wait for this minstrel show to go out of business.
Miceli’s, established in 1949, is the second oldest restaurant in Hollywood, and perhaps the oldest Italian restaurant in all of Los Angeles. It was Hollywood’s first pizzeria and today Hollywood is the most pizzeria-dense area of Los Angeles — although most of it is shockingly bad (Stefano’s – Two Guys from Italy isn’t bad and Village Pizzeria is great). I’ve only eaten at Miceli’s once, and I got pasta which I enjoyed. My main reason for coming, though, was that I’d seen a flyer promising a night of bebop and beat music — and I was completely burned out on ‘60s/Mod/Garage/Psych nights. I shouldn’t have been surprised that exactly zero be-bop or beat songs were played and instead, it was just more of the usual ‘60s/Mod/Garage/Psych.
The Spanish Colonial Revival Outpost Building (6701-6723 Hollywood Blvd) was built in 1920. Aesthetically it’s not that interesting to me, but it is interesting to note how it was originally two buildings and an arcaded passageway was added to the second stories, connecting them. The courtyard has been filled in too. The original building was designed by Ellet Parcher. The 1927 renovation was designed by B. B. Homer.
GRAUMAN’S EGYPTIAN THEATER
The Egyptian (6712 Hollywood Blvd) was built by showman Sid Grauman, who’d previously built the Million Dollar Theater on Broadway in 1918. It was designed by Meyer & Holler but has been extensively redesigned. Its Spanish-tiled roof is a holdover from its original Spanish Colonial Revival design, which like the Vista Theater in Los Feliz, was given an Egyptian rethink after construction had begun when the discovery of Tutankhamun‘s tomb ignited a craze for all things ancient Egypt. It was purchased by the American Cinematheque, one of the city’s premier film exhibitors, in 1996. The complex also includes the small, 77-seat theatre named the Steven Spielberg Theatre, one of the main venues of the peerless Los Angeles Film Forum.
PIG ‘N WHISTLE
The Churrigueresque Pig ‘N Whistle (6712-6718 Hollywood Blvd) first opened on 22 July 1927, part of a family-friendly chain whose mascot was a porcine flautist. The chain set up franchises next to theaters such as the Egyptian and sold sweets. Eventually, theater owners got the bright idea of installing concession stands inside the lobbies of their theaters.
The building housing the Pig ‘N Whistle was constructed in 1919 from designs by H.J. Knauer as a store for C.D.Robertson. It was remodeled by Morgan, Walls and Clements and subsequently taken over by a Pig ‘N Whistle. The Pig ‘N Whistle closed around 1949, and its booths were purchased by the then-new Miceli’s, located around the corner. The chain went out of business in 1968. In 1999, the space was renovated and it re-opened as the Pig ‘N Whistle although now a bar, it shares little more than a space and name with its predecessor.
THE CHRISTIE HOTEL
The eight-story Georgian Revival-style Christie Hotel (6724 Hollywood Blvd) was designed by Arthur R. Kellv and built in 1922 for owner Haldane H. Christie. It was the first local hotel with private bathrooms in each room, now a standard feature of American hotels which leads foreigners used to shared bathrooms to make jokes about American lodgers being unable to sleep comfortably without toilets near their beds. In 1945 it became the Drake Hotel. It was a Holiday Inn when it was purchased by the Church of Scientology.
6743 HOLLYWOOD BOULEVARD
6743 Hollywood Boulevard was built in 1917, in the Churrigueresque style, and designed by Morgan, Walls and Clements for C. E. Toberman. The exterior was later extensively remodeled, however. The adjacent building (6745), constructed in 1925, was originally in the Beaux-Arts style, designed by Ellet Parcher and Edward Sting. It was given an Art Deco remodel by the duo of Zimmerman and Elaman. Pickwick Bookstore was founded in the older building in 1931 by L. Epstein and expanded into the neighboring building in 1958. It closed in 1995. My device died during my exploration so I popped into Starbucks for the reason I thought most people do — to charge it. To my surprise, I could find no outlets and a huge crowd was gathered inside, apparently for the purpose of purchasing beverages!
C.E. TOBERMAN COMPANY BUILDING
The façade of the C. E. Toberman Company Building (6753-6763 Hollywood Boulevard) was inspired by that of the Palace at Versailles. The building’s architects were Meyer & Holler, then working as the Milwaukee Building Company. It was completed in 1922. It was soon after the home to the Café Montmartre, which Adolph “Eddie” Brandstatter opened in 1923 on the building’s second floor. Brandstatter declared bankruptcy in 1932 and the space was afterward utilized by the Lee Strasberg Institute before it became the Club Day After. The ground floor was later home to Bennett’s Book Store, since closed, and more recently City Breads, also closed (although their awning remains).
The Hollywood Theatre (6764 Hollywood Blvd) was designed by Kremple and Erkes for H. L. Lewis in 1913 (in the Romanesque style) when it was only the second theater in Hollywood. It was remodeled in 1933 by Claude A. Balch in the Art Deco style. It’s now home to the Guinness World Record Museum, which is not a museum in any accepted sense.
6765-6773 HOLLYWOOD BOULEVARD
The Spanish Colonial Revival and Churrigueresque building at 6765-73 Hollywood Boulevard was designed by Carl Jules Weyl and built in 1928 as an office building. It’s home to the Snow White Cafe, the Hollywood Wax Museum, and the Stella Adler Academy and Theatre.
The Snow White Cafe is a strangely charming tourist bar decorated with a Snow White motif. Walt Disney being famously litigious, it’s natural to wonder why this place is allowed to feature a host of Disney characters. Several explanations exist. One story has it that it was here that Walt Disney wrote the screenplay for Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs here — never mind that Disney didn’t write Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs — rather it was adapted from a Grimms’ Fairy Tale by Ted Sears, Richard Creedon, Otto Englander, Dick Rickard, Earl Hurd, Merrill De Maris, Dorothy Ann Blank, and Webb Smith. Another story has to do with it being the supposed location of an after-party for the film, at which point it was painted by the animators — but any story connecting the bar’s existence to the creation of the film is dubious since the film opened in 1937 and the building was constructed in 1946 and was home to the Snow White Waffle Shop until at least 1953, when owner Milton M. Feldstein mortgaged it.
The Hollywood Wax Museum was created by Spoony Singh on 25 February 1965. The nearby intersection of Hollywood and Highland is now home not just to the Hollywood Wax Museum but the Hollywood Ripley’s Odditorium (established 1992) and Madame Tussauds Hollywood (established in 2009) — which (although I’ve never patronized any) is why I feel that the intersection should be designated either “Waxen Celebrity Square” or perhaps “Graven Image Square.” It’s officially designated Gene Autry Square. The city has designated (but done nothing else) about 100 such intersections memorial squares. But whereas numerous people have made it their mission to film every star on the Walk of Fame, it’s almost impossible to even find a directory of the memorial squares and no one takes selfies with them.
The Stella Adler Academy and Theatre, was opened in 1985 by Joanne Linville and Irene Gilbert. Originally located at Argyle and Hollywood, it moved to its current location (the former location of the private Embassy Club — accessible through a passageway from Christie Brothers Realty) in 1994 after a fire necessitated the closure of the old school. Stella Adler died in 1992.
FIRST NATIONAL BANK OF HOLLYWOOD
The twelve-story, Gothic Revival First National Bank of Hollywood (6777 Hollywood Blvd) was built in 1927 as Los Angeles First Federal and designed by Meyer & Holler. It was the tallest building in Los Angeles until it was surpassed by Los Angeles City Hall. Los Angeles repealed its height limit in 1956 and many much taller buildings followed. Sadly, it’s sat abandoned for years and in a city cursed with a severe housing shortage, it seems to me like an ideal candidate for conversion to a residential building.
THE BANK OF AMERICA BUILDING (THE C.E. TOBERMAN BUILDING)
The Beaux-Arts Bank of America (6780 Hollywood) was built for the C.E. Toberman Investment Company in 1914 and designed by Ellet Parcher in 1911. It was originally used as a mixed-use building with retail on the ground floor, offices on the second, and apartments on the third and fourth. Morgan, Walls & Clements added the current façade in 1924 and that year Federal Trust and Savings Bank became the ground floor tenant. In 1935, when Highland Avenue was widened in the mistaken belief that it would improve rather than worsen traffic. The building was thus deconstructed and reconstructed a few meters back by Morgan, Walls & Clement, who rebuilt only the ground floor. In the 1990s it was taken over by the Hollywood Ripley’s Odditorium.
THE MAX FACTOR BUILDING
The Hollywood Regency-style Max Factor Building (1660 N. Highland) was designed by S. Charles Lee and built in 1928. The Max Factor Cosmetics Company finally opened in 1935. Subsequent tenants include the Norton Simon Foundation, Revlon, Playtex, Beatrice Foods, and Proctor & Gamble. It became the Hollywood Museum in 1994, founded by Donelle Dadigan.
EL CAPITAN THEATRE (HOLLYWOOD MASONIC TEMPLE)
The Hollywood Masonic Temple (6838 Hollywood Blvd), now known as the El Capitan Entertainment Center, was built in 1922 and designed by John C. Austin. After extensive renovations, it re-opened as The El Capitan Theatre in 1926, “Hollywood’s First Home of Spoken Drama.” The new, Spanish Colonial Revival exterior was designed by Stiles O. Clements. The new Indian-inspired interior was designed by G. Albert Lansburgh. It is currently the television studio for the television series Jimmy Kimmel Live show. It’s also where I attended a taping of the pilot of the undeveloped Chris Elliot series, Chrissy: Plain & Simple, in 2007.
THE SEVEN SEAS BUILDING
The Seven Seas Building (6904 Hollywood Blvd) was built in 1921. It acquired its name in the 1930s when it was home to a popular proto-Tiki nightclub called the Seven Seas in which artificial tropical storms would regularly deluge patrons with rain and there were Polynesian entertainers. By the 1970s it was a supper club where cocktails were often replaced by cocaine. In the 1980s, owner Eddie Nash was implicated in the Wonderland murders and in 2000 he was arrested and indicted on federal charges including drug trafficking, money laundering, conspiracy to commit murder, and jury tampering. In 2007 he sold the building to CIM and it’s now home to a Hollywood location of the Spanish retail chain Zara.
HOLLYWOOD AND HIGHLAND
Although a tremendously popular location with tourists, there’s almost nothing obviously of interest about the Hollywood & Highland Center mall aside from the massive courtyard, the design of which is modeled after a Babylonian set piece in the D.W. Griffith film Intolerance. I can almost guarantee the not one visitor to the mall has ever watched the silent epic, made in 1916 in part as a response to Griffith’s Ku Klux Klan-glorifying racist hit, Birth of a Nation. The elephants are dramatic, though, and the original set-piece was a popular attraction located at the present site of the Vista Theater until 1919 when it was declared a fire hazard and demolished. That it is a replica apparently matters little, and many visitors like to use to take pictures of another recreation, the distant Hollywood sign, created in 1978 to replace the earlier real estate advertisement.
Hollywood and Highland seems like an odd place for Muji (無印良品), the Japanese retailer which opened its Los Angeles location here, of all places. Their philosophy of minimal waste and no logos seems distinctly at odds with the throngs of adwear-loving tourists, branded with names like Abercrombie & Fitch or Aeropostale — or worse than words — those gauche “Big Pony” tennis shirts whose wearers often echo the shirt’s ridiculous polo players by holding selfie sticks aloft like mallets. After squeezing through the crowd and holding my breath in front of a Subway (the restaurant, not the Red Line), I ducked inside Muji where I was immediately calmed by the pleasant scent of lemongrass. The barely audible music was acoustic classical guitar. A couple instinctively spoke to one another in whispers. Although by this time I’d gotten pretty good and blocked out the noise and smells of Downtown Hollywood, Muji reminded me what real peace feels like and I didn’t want to leave.
Nevertheless, I had to soldier on and when I exited the shop I was thrust back into the reality of Hollywood and Highland. A man screamed about Jesus which is unpleasant enough but of course, he felt the need to do so into a megaphone. An ambulance barreled through Gene Autry Square, sirens wailing but by far the most unpleasant contributor to the din was a recording of the sort of Top 40 pop song that parents with young children somehow convince themselves that they enjoy. I imagine it takes a similar kind of defiance to get joy out of laying on the grubby ground next to a star to have one’s picture taken, or posing with a grubby superhero but I have to admit, everyone seems to be smiling except me!
The quickest way out of Hollywood & Highland, other than jumping from the roof, is taking the subway out of Hollywood/Highland Station, another subway station on Metro’s Red Line. It opened in 2000. It has connections to Metro’s 156, 210, 212, 217, 222, 312, 656, and Rapid 780 lines as well as LA DOT DASH’s Hollywood and Hollywood/West Hollywood lines. The station’s interior design was a collaboration between Dworsky Associates, Architects and artist Sheila Klein (Vermonica). The station also features art by Harry Gamboa Jr., co-founder of the art group Asco. His piece is titled Vidrio (2014).
TV GUIDE HOLLYWOOD CENTER
Another of the Corporate International buildings at the western extreme of the Walk of Fame, the twelve-story TV Guide Hollywood Center (6914-6936 Hollywood Blvd) was built in 1967. It’s currently the headquarters for the CIM Group, Inc. — one of several powerful, shady, and secretive cults associated with real estate in Hollywood.
THE CHINESE THEATRE
The Chinese Theatre (6925 Hollywood Blvd) opened in May 1927. The principal architect was Raymond M. Kennedy of Meyer & Holler. It really is a stunning building although its current tenants are more than obscure its stunning exterior with tacky, vinyl signs one associates with Metro PCS or the grand openings of a threading place more than glorious architecture. It’s famous for its 175 or so sets of hand and footprints left by famous actors, including Marcello Mastroianni. It hosted three Academy Awards ceremonies and countless film premieres and yet I’ve still never seen a film there and probably won’t unless Hollywood resumes producing films that aren’t children’s CGI cartoons based on comic books… which is unlikely.
HOLLYWOOD ROOSEVELT HOTEL
The Spanish Colonial Revival Roosevelt Hotel (7000 Hollywood Blvd) opened in 1927. The hotel was designed by Fisher, Lake & Traver. It hosted the first-ever Academy Awards ceremony, on 19 May 1929, inside its Blossom Ballroom. I’d never been inside before so was pleased to find another site of refuge from the noise and smells outside. Billy Strayhorn quietly piped from small speakers, pleasantly mingling in the vast lobby with the smells wafting from the Public Kitchen and Bar and 25 Degrees but after using their CR, I soldiered on.
HOLLYWOOD CHAMBER OF COMMERCE
The Hollywood Chamber of Commerce building at 7018 Hollywood, built by Frank L. Meline in 1920, seems to have been designed as a garage for J.E. Ransford. The Hollywood Chamber of Commerce was formed in 1921, though, and at least as early as 1923 was headquartered in the building in which they remain today. An early issue of Hollywood magazine mentions that it had/has a private dining room called the Little Club. From the outside, it almost appears vacant, unadorned as it is with signage.
SEVENTY46 IN HOLLYWOOD (HOLLYWOOD PROFESSIONAL BUILDING)
The eight-story, Gothic Revival Hollywood Professional Building (7046 Hollywood Blvd) was built in 1925. Early on it was home of the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences. Later it was home to the Screen Actor’s Guild. Now it’s home to lofts, rebranded in instantly dated fashion as Seventy46 in Hollywood. According to Seventy46 in Hollywood’s website, the building was designed by John Lautner. It certainly doesn’t look like anything else Lautner designed and the architect, though immensely talented, wasn’t a working architect when he was eleven years old. The actual architect was Richard King, who was a less-mind-blowing 45 at the time of its design. When constructed for Herman P. Rehbein it was originally just five stories tall. After Rehbein sold the building to Charles Toberman, the new owner had three more stories added to it (see the seam?).
GALAXY PRESS (HOLLYWOOD SAVINGS AND LOAN)
The Beaux-Arts Hollywood Savings and Loan (7051 Hollywood Blvd) building was constructed in 1928. It was purchased by the Church of Scientology in 1995, who operated it as Galaxy Press, a showcase of L. Ron Hubbard‘s pre-Scientological pulp fiction.
ASSOCIATION FOR BETTER LIVING AND EDUCATION (HOLLYWOOD CONGREGATIONAL CHURCH)
The Hollywood Congregational Church (7065 Hollywood Blvd) was built in 1928. It went on the be repurposed as the headquarters of the Screen Actors Guild which it remained until it was purchased by The Church of Scientology in 1995. It was then rechristened the Association for Better Living and Education (ABLE).
MUIR MEDICAL CENTER
The Muir Medical Center (7080 and 7060 Hollywood Blvd) consists of an eleven-story and twelve-story tower, both in the Corporate International style, completed in 1967 and ’71 respectively. I don’t know who the architects were but I wouldn’t be surprised if William Pereira was involved. From the 1990s until 2011, the ground floor was home to a club called The Ruby, which hosted such popular, much-missed club nights as Perversion, Clockwork Orange, and Bang! It’s since become a Buffalo Wild Wings. Who’s afraid of gentrification?
THE STEPHEN J. CANNELL BUILDING
The six-story Stephen J. Cannell Building (7083 Hollywood Blvd) is a fairly anonymous glass low-rise but it stands out on the Walk of Fame for belonging to a different era than all of its mid-rise neighbors, 1985 to be exact. Stephen J. Cannell, who created Cannell Entertainment, was the producer of shows which were just as unmistakably products of the ’80s, including The Greatest American Hero, Hardcastle and McCormick, Hunter, Riptide, and The A-Team. The current tenants are WeWork.
HOLLYWOOD AND LA BREA GATEWAY
The Hollywood and La Brea Gateway is a sculptural gazebo that marks the western edge of the Walk of Fame, created by Harl West. It was commissioned in 1993 by the now defunct CRA and filmmaker Catherine Hardwicke as a “tribute to the multi-ethnic women of Hollywood.”The actresses chosen to celebrate Hollywood’s imagined racial diversity are Anna May Wong (née Wong Liu Tsong), Dolores del Río (née María de los Dolores Asúnsolo López-Negrete), Dorothy Dandridge, and Mae West (née Mary Jane West). As commentary, I find it a bit dishonest. Dandridge often found herself limited to stereotype-reinforcing, sexually-charged interracial romances like Island in the Sun (1957), Tamango (1959), and Malaga (1960). Wong was rejected for a starring role in The Good Earth for being “too Chinese” and quit Hollywood to work in Europe. As public art, it doesn’t work for me either although if there was a bench underneath it would make an interesting bus stop for Metro’s 212/312 and 217 buses.
So there you have it, my attempt to find things of interest in the heart of Hollywood. To be honest, there turned out to be a lot more than I expected, even after having worked in the neighborhood for about a decade. If you’re an architecture and/or history fan, there’s plenty of not although I do wish a bit less of it was private and off-limits. I remain especially hopeful, however, that Los Angeles and Hollywood will see the value in preserving and restoring the many cinemas along Hollywood Boulevard which in its heyday made it rival Broadway’s theater district as an entertainment center.
FURTHER READING (AND LISTENING)
Scientology Hollywood Boulevard by Angry Gay Pope
Hollywood Walk Of Fame Historic Buildings by Danny E. Zale
The Story of Hollywood: An Illustrated History by Gregory Paul Williams