Classic Flashbacks From Tinseltown’s Boulevards : History: Walking tours help preservation efforts and show visitors where Hollywood got its glamorous image.
Hollywood. It may not have the glittering reputation it once had, but thar’s gold beneath that grime.
Remodeling over the years changed the face of Hollywood as it evolved from the center of film industry activity to a quick-stop for T-shirt-shopping tourists. Fortunately, changes were done “on the cheap"--sometimes by using chicken wire to cover up the ornate Art Deco, Classic Revival, Spanish Revival and French Normandy architecture, says Richard Adkins, chairman of the Preservation Issues Committee at Hollywood Heritage.
That’s good news, Adkins says, because it means many of the buildings “are returnable” to their original appearance.
Preserving Hollywood is a mega-mission for Hollywood Heritage, and one the members believe they can accomplish by baring their soles with 1-mile walking tours down Hollywood and Sunset boulevards to show how much of the old Hollywood lies just beneath the surface.
On the Hollywood Boulevard tour, the first stop is the Pantages Theatre, the last of the grand movie palaces built here and site of the Academy Awards ceremony in the 1950s. It was, Adkins says, the first Art Deco theater built in the United States. It was intended to be a skyscraper when construction began in 1929, but the stock market turmoil thwarted that plan.
In the 1920s and ‘30s, Hollywood and Vine was “truly the center of town,” Adkins says. Paramount Studios was on Selma and Vine, Fox on Sunset and Western, Columbia on Gower and Sunset, Warner Bros. on Sunset, and radio stations ABC and CBS were nearby. Live theater shored up the night life--at the Music Box (now the Henry Fonda Theatre), the Palace, Doolittle and El Capitan--along with the Brown Derby restaurant.
“That’s why Hollywood and Vine became famous,” Adkins says. “So many stars were working and spending their free time here.”
The tour gets sidetracked briefly down Hudson Avenue to see a group of bungalows, “to get some idea of how Hollywood appeared at the turn of the century” when it was all residential, Adkins says.
Movie-making poured in from Edendale (now south Glendale) to the more-spacious Hollywood when a deserted roadhouse and tavern at Sunset and Gower became Nestor Studios in 1911. The Hollywood Hills and Forest Lawn areas were popular film locations then--and everything in town was fair game for filmmakers.
“There was no such thing as a filming permit,” Adkins says. “Buildings, property, whatever, they just set up in people’s front yards and started filming.”
Janes House, purchased by Herman and Mary Janes in 1903, is an attractive example--the only example--of the early homes that lined Hollywood Boulevard. It survived--though it was moved behind a commercial courtyard--Adkins says, because one of the Janes’ daughters lived in the house until 1986. Preservation groups saved the Queen Anne-style house from demolition and established it as a landmark. After restoration in 1987, it was turned into a visitors’ center.
Other samples of the old architecture and landmarks pepper the boulevard--and those that still draw the tourists include Musso and Frank Grill, begun in 1919 and operated today by the founders’ daughters; the Egyptian Theatre and the Roosevelt Hotel, built by a syndicate that included Joseph Schenck (Norma Talmadge’s husband), Mary Pickford and Douglas Fairbanks, and was the original home of the Academy of Motion Pictures and the first Academy Awards ceremony. Like El Capitan movie theater, which reopened this summer, the Roosevelt was restored after original detail was discovered behind fake walls and drop ceilings. Inside the Roosevelt, there are early photographs and film equipment in an exhibit dedicated to the early movie industry.
Across the street is Mann’s Chinese Theater (originally Grauman’s). Adkins says the idea for the footprints, still a major attraction, came in 1927 when Sid Grauman invited his pals Pickford and Fairbanks over to the new theater as it was under construction--and they stepped in wet cement. It was an accident that made a lasting impression.
The Sunset Boulevard tour, created by author and Hollywood Heritage docent Laurie Jacobson, is less architectural and more notorious.
The night life in Hollywood was centered on Sunset Boulevard, on a 1.7-mile unincorporated stretch between Los Angeles and Beverly Hills that was a haven during Prohibition.
“You could often see Judy Garland and Al Jolson walking along here,” Jacobson says. “The stars don’t walk today. Now you see a lot of flashy cars.
“Back in the ‘40s,” she adds, “the clubs were all so close, if it wasn’t happening at Ciro’s, you could walk to the Trocadero.”
The tour includes the site of Schwab’s Drug Store, where Lana Turner was not discovered, but F. Scott Fitzgerald did have a heart attack while buying cigarettes; the places James Dean partied, Greta Garbo slept (Chateau Marmont hotel), Paul Newman met Joanne Woodward, and John Belushi died.
The docents also point out the locations of famous scandals--tourists stare quietly at the site of the Cafe Trocadero, a glamorous ‘30s nightclub that was the last place many of Thelma Todd’s friends saw her alive.
* The next Hollywood Boulevard tour is today at noon. Meet at Capitol Records, 1750 N. Vine St. Cost: $6. The next Sunset Boulevard tour is Oct. 13. For information call (213) 874-4005.