The Paths of Greatness
Tourists visiting Los Angeles last week for the academy shindig were frequently spotted hanging their heads. But not because they were upset . . . they were sightseeing. Throughout Southern California, there are more than two dozen tourist-attracting “walks of fame” and assorted sidewalk tributes paying homage not only to thespians, but to musicians, athletes, and even cats and dogs.
It all started in 1927 when Sid Grauman hit upon a means of cementing Hollywood’s ethereal glamour into place in his Chinese Theatre’s Forecourt of the Stars on Hollywood Boulevard. Beginning with the footprints of Douglas Fairbanks, 213 celebrities are enshrined at the theater.
In 1958, the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce borrowed the idea and founded the Walk of Fame on Hollywood Boulevard, metaphorically dispersing those footprints onto the sidewalks of the city where the stars once worked. Pretty soon other towns began to suffer from Walk of Fame envy. And that’s when things got out of hand . . .
The 11 sets of prints in front of the Vista Theater on Sunset Drive in Los Feliz are an odd lot, including handprints by not-exacly-a-
household-name Ray Harryhausen, a stop-motion animator. “We mainly put people there who would never see the cement of the Chinese,” says Vista spokesman Lance Alspaugh.
Those who are honored in front of West Hollywood’s Tomkat Theater, one of two local porn Walks of Fame, are more familiar--Linda Lovelace, John Holmes, Marilyn Chambers and Harry Reems.
A more upscale porn walk of fame can be found on the Sunset Strip outside the sex superstore Hustler Hollywood. Handprints of several erotic stars are on display, as are those of publishers Al Goldstein and (naturally) Larry Flynt.
Even before porn stars got into the act, four-legged actors were making impressions in the wet stuff as part of the American Humane Society’s PATSY (Performing Animal Star of the Year) ceremonials. What’s left of the PATSY Walk of Fame is now scattered around the kennels of Burbank City Animal Control. The 30 or so slabs, primarily from the ‘50s, display the hoof and paw prints of luminaries such as Lassie, Benji and Francis the Talking Mule.
While movie horses vie for the PATSY, those who ride them are honored on the Western Walk of Stars in Old Town Newhall. The 42 bronze plaques, depicting saddles, are installed in the sidewalk along San Fernando Road and commemorate cowboy stars such as Gene Autry and William S. Hart, who owned ranches in the area, as well as some who’ve just moseyed through.
It’s not just actors who’ve squished their hands, feet, paws or hooves into Southern California cement.
Hollywood RockWalk, created in front of Guitar Center in 1985, honors 54 rock ‘n’ roll greats. And not all those hands bear guitar-string calluses; some honorees, such as Robert Moog and Leo Fender, pioneered innovations in musical instrumentation. (Fender will soon have a place on the guitar manufacturers’ Walk of Fame being planned in Corona.)
In 1994, Kenneth Cole added a twist to the phenomenon when he created Steps to the Cure in a courtyard at his Sunset Strip boutique. Here, half a dozen celebrities, including Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Gere, have planted footprints in a show of support for the fight against AIDS. On their birthdays, a percentage of the day’s sales are donated to AIDS research.
The Latino Walk of Fame is one of a couple of politically inspired attractions. On Whittier Boulevard in East L.A., its red granite slabs with an Aztec sun motif honor activists such as Cesar E. Chavez and Edward James Olmos (and has room for 281 more). The Promenade of Prominence in Watts commemorates activists and role models with 60 plaques decorated with heart-shaped photographic portraits set within gold sunbursts. And it hasn’t been without controversy: Then-Dodger Darryl Strawberry was arrested on suspicion of wife abuse two days after he was enshrined. And President Clinton’s induction took place on the same day his grand jury testimony in the Paula Jones sexual harassment case was broadcast on national TV.
Civic pride and a desire to highlight its supporting role as a Hollywood retreat gave birth to the Palm Springs Walk of Stars in 1992. Its 180 granite stars on Palm Canyon Drive honor the obvious (Sonny Bono, Bob Hope, Liberace) as well as more obscure civic boosters, humanitarians and pioneers.
Near Los Angeles International Airport, Westchester’s Flight Path along Sepulveda Boulevard displays 30 plaques dedicated to Southland aerospace giants such as Jack Northrop and Howard Hughes, as well as famous pilots, and even proto-feminist Rosie the Riveter.
A space version of the Grauman’s forecourt can be found at the Richard Nixon Library and Birthplace in Yorba Linda, where Buzz Aldrin, the second man to set foot on the moon, became the first to muss his space boots with cement.
Orange County is also the home of two competing Surfing Walks of Fame, both on the same block in Huntington Beach. Meanwhile, upstarts in Hermosa Beach are discussing proposals for one of their own.
Manhattan Beach, on the other hand, proudly proclaims itself the birthplace of beach volleyball with a Volleyball Walk of Fame that runs the length of its pier.
Echo Park’s Avenue of Athletes, installed for the 1984 Olympics with seed money from former Dodger owner Peter O’Malley, offers a similarly generalized tribute to all-time athletic greats. “The biggest problem with it now,” said Echo Park Chamber of Commerce President Bonnie Scanlan, “is keeping the street clean.” But grime and blobs of chewing gum are not the worst that befalls these street-side tributes.
The 150 sets of high-profile handprints that once adorned the outside wall of Santa Ana’s Planet Hollywood--closed when the company restructured--now sit in a Florida warehouse, awaiting shipment to a new Planet Hollywood in Saudi Arabia. Gone too is Hollywood’s Walk of Flame, an infernal tribute to notorious locals such as Charles Manson and the Hillside Strangler in a Goth boutique at 666 Hollywood Blvd.
The collection of prints left by “Sanford and Son” alumni in front of the former Redd Foxx building at 933 N. La Brea Ave. has languished in obscurity ever since the bankrupt star lost the building in 1989.
Somehow the walks of fame that survive have overcome the paradoxical idea of honoring people by encouraging others to tread on their names. While sidewalks elsewhere may be regarded as better places for discarded cigarette butts than everlasting tributes, here they occupy a peculiar status.
As inveterate automobile addicts, perhaps we Southern Californians just don’t know what else to do with all that pedestrian space.
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Walk the Walks 1. Vista Theater, 4473 Sunset Drive, Los Feliz.
2. Tomkat Porn Walk of Fame, Tomkat Theater, 7734 Santa Monica Blvd., L.A.
3. Hustler Porn Walk of Fame, Hustler Hollywood, 8920 Sunset Blvd., West Hollywood.
4. PATSY Walk of Fame, 1150 Victory Place, Burbank.
5. Walk of Western Stars, 24151 N. San Fernando Road, Newhall.
6. RockWalk at Guitar Center, 7425 West Sunset Blvd., L.A.
7. Latino Walk of Fame, on Whittier Boulevard, between Eastern Avenue and Atlantic Boulevard, in East Los Angeles
8. Promenade of Prominence, Ted Watkins Park, 1335 E. 103rd St., Watts.
9. Palm Springs Walk of Stars, along Palm Canyon Drive, south from Alejo Street.
10. “Flight Path,” Sepulveda Boulevard between 88th and 89th streets, Westchester.
11. Surfing Walks of Fame, both in Huntington Beach. One is in front of Jack’s Surfboards, 101 Main St.; the other is inside Huntington Surf and Sport, 301 Pacific Coast Highway.
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