Last fall I embarked on a plane to Los Angeles. We won’t go into my fear of flying. I had not been in a plane in 30 years. The experience has changed, to put it mildly. What passes for first class–oh, excuse me, “business class”–these days is tighter than the ordinary seats were back in the day. And the extra rows they’ve squeezed in? I’m not even five-foot-two and even I couldn’t stretch my legs out. The airlines may not have required masks anymore, but I was danged if I’d get Covid, so I donned my N-95, along with a face shield for this four-hour torment. I figured I made a good call when the woman next to me displayed symptoms of whooping cough throughout the entire flight. We arrived “only” about four hours late; there had been several delays getting started. Picked up a Lyft at the airport for the miles-long drive into town.
Heavens, it was hot. Temperatures were well over 100 during most of the visit. It was very late when we reached the hotel in Hollywood, which did not have a restaurant. Famed Hollywood Boulevard was four blocks away.
We walked to Mel’s, a legendary all-night diner, very pricey, as was everything here. The street was filthy, the air fetid. The shadows were filled with homeless whose dreams had failed them. The magic of Hollywood is clearly gone.
Except–even in the dark I could see gorgeous historic buildings, many empty, derelict (hmm, so many unhoused people, so many vacant structures. . . ). Massive palm trees loomed, shoving out of the pavement and straight up to the sky; exotic flowers trailed into the street. I felt like Dorothy in a dystopian Oz.
The next morning I headed off to see the Griffith Park Observatory. Did I mention it was hot? It felt as if the heat would melt me into a puddle on the pavement. The walk from the parking lot ($10!) to the observatory (free!) was almost too much to bear. Long had I wanted to visit this art deco masterpiece, funded in part by the New Deal’s Public Works Administration, location for numerous cheap science fiction movies as well as key scenes in James Dean’s Rebel Without a Cause.
The views from the site are spectacular, the iconic HOLLYWOOD sign in plain view. Inside the observatory was a vast array of astronomical exhibits, but the building itself was the greatest attraction, despite the crowds.
We headed back down the mountain and into Los Angeles proper–if there is such a thing; it seemed an endless jumble of new buildings crammed among parking lots and historic structures, with freeways ramming through from all directions. Had a quick glimpse of Frank Gehry’s Walt Disney Concert Hall, opened in 2003.
Stopped to see the Bradbury building, famous setting for many a movie and TV episode, but the guard refused to allow me to climb even to the second floor on the beautiful stairways within that surround a vast atrium.
The next day, still enveloped in murderous heat, we walked to Hollywood Boulevard. It was shabby and crass. The once-stunning Egyptian Theatre stood vacant. The trash-filled street was overrun with tourist shops of tacky souvenirs all along the “Walk of Fame.” The glitter rubs right off, and this is nowhere.
That evening, dancer/actor George Chakiris, most remembered for his Oscar-winning role in West Side Story over 60 years ago, was appearing at a film convention. He was soft-spoken and moved like a panther, belying the fact he was 90 years old. Never mind, I still went a little gaga.
The last full day there, we walked over to the Boulevard again and this time went northward. Still trashy, but better, if you squint to avoid all the tourist trappings. Saw the stunning Roosevelt Hotel (built 1927), site of the first Oscar ceremony and still redolent of old Hollywood glamor.
Nearby, the (formerly Grauman’s) Chinese Theatre, the one with all the footprints and handprints in the cement out front, still stood, very much a tourist attraction. I found 1930s bombshell Jean Harlow’s prints in remembrance of my mom, who was surely her biggest fan.
Sneaked a peek inside the restored El Capitan Theater, courtesy of the guard who happened to be from the tiny birthplace of my grandfather!
Toward the end of the day it became cooler–amazing how lovely 95 can feel! I took another walk up toward the Hollywood Bowl and discovered a museum (after hours, unfortunately) housed in a former barn from the old Lasky-Griffith studio. There are a few pieces left of those old golden days.
Over 40 years ago my mom and I traveled to California to see the sights. We drove all over LA in a rented car, visiting some of those same places–the Chinese Theatre, the Walk of Fame, and so much more. It was fun, exciting, no problems. The memories are bright; the city has faded.