Poor old Hollywood. Movie stars buy homes in Beverly Hills, shoot films in Burbank, and accept their Oscars in downtown Los Angeles. But Hollywood itself, the balmy enclave where it all began, is routinely dismissed as the place to go if you want a lewd T-shirt or a cheap tattoo.
Which it is.
It's also a vibrant, bustling, diverse, and historically rich neighborhood—the only place to go if you want to gawk at Cyd Charisse's underclothes, hear jazz at one of Frank Capra's favorite clubs, and catch a glimpse of Jodie Foster exiting a premiere, all in the course of a day. It is a thrilling place to spend a weekend, especially if you resist the temptation to roam: A key to enjoying L.A. is avoiding its freeways, investigating one neighborhood at a time. Few are more rewarding than Hollywood.
Founded in 1887 by teetotaling Methodist apricot ranchers, Hollywood was in 1910 a village of only 5,000 or so residents. Who knows what would have happened if, between 1910 and 1913, maverick film directors D.W. Griffith, Mack Sennett, and Cecil B. DeMille had not arrived in search of warm weather and good lighting. By 1920 there were 50,000 people in Hollywood and dozens of studios.
Some wonderful relics of those early glory days of American cinema are still around. Consider basing yourself at the Spanish colonial Roosevelt Hotel, once patronized by Errol Flynn and John Barrymore. The first Oscars were presented here in 1929, and the hotel—with its ballroom-size lobby, tile floors, and stenciled ceilings—wears its age gracefully. Cinegrill, the Roosevelt's cozy nightclub, hosts live music nightly.
The Roosevelt is also located on Hollywood Boulevard, walking distance from the street's more noteworthy sights. Between La Brea and Gower Streets, some 2,500 celebrities, from Lassie to Eddie Murphy, have been commemorated with pink stars embedded in the sidewalk. Follow the stars and you will pass some utterly unique sights, like the sand-colored Egyptian Theatre, built in 1921 to resemble the temples of Ramses and Karnak.
Hollywood's most celebrated movie house is, of course, Mann's Chinese Theatre, also on the Boulevard. Since 1927, celebrities from Betty Grable to Harrison Ford have left prints of their hands, feet, and even cigars in its courtyard cement. The theater itself, with its baroque, green-roofed pagoda and 30-foot dragon, is ravishing. Seeing a movie here is a treat.
Four blocks east, you'll find Frederick's of Hollywood, once the purveyor of naughty lingerie. Today the art deco underwear emporium seems a bit quaint, selling padded bras so dowdy they would be laughed out of Victoria's Secret. More intriguing is the free museum in back, displaying curios like a capacious Zsa Zsa Gabor twinset and one of Madonna's dominatrix-era bustiers.
Noting changes in lingerie is one way to mark the passage of time. So is standing at the corner of Hollywood and Vine, once the mythical heart of the movie industry. Though the intersection has gone to seed, it still offers a good view of Hollywood's more distinguished architecture. To the north lies the cylindrical Capitol Records Building, built in 1954 to resemble a stack of records. In the hills beyond looms the iconic Hollywood sign. The 50-foot letters originally spelled "Hollywoodland" (the name of a real estate development). "Land" fell off in 1949, and the entire sign fell into decay until a group of celebrities, including Hugh Hefner, Alice Cooper, and Gene Autry, paid to restore it. Today it represents all the dreams, despair, and glamour we associate with the movie business.
Before winding up your tour of the Boulevard, stop by the wood-paneled Musso & Frank Grill. Courtly male waiters bear plates of sauerbraten and Welsh rarebit to clubby red booths once occupied by William Faulkner and Dashiell Hammett. A bartender mixes gin fizzes and grasshoppers. It is wonderful and wonderfully antiquated.
In choosing a place to eat, you should also know that Hollywood is renowned for its Thai restaurants, like Chan Darae, a hip, bright storefront serving sensational spicy salads. The original Roscoe's House of Chicken 'n' Waffles specializes in the oddly terrific combination of waffles and fried chicken. For a more upscale meal, try Pinot Hollywood. The French-California food is superb, and even if you don't see a celebrity, this feels like the sort of place where you might.
Odds of spotting a famous face are even better at Paramount Studios, which has kept its production facilities in town. The walking tour of its 64-acre lot offers a serious look behind the scenes of a working studio: You will see racks of costumes, warehouses of props, and an eerily authentic New York streetscape. You may even see a sitcom, like Frasier, in rehearsal. The stars read from scripts and argue with the director. It actually looks like hard work.
Adjoining Paramount is the lush, sprawling Hollywood Forever Cemetery, full of pomegranate trees, palms, and celebrity grave sites, from Marion Davies's handsome mausoleum to the ostentatious Douglas Fairbanks memorial. It's one of the few quiet spots in town and an ideal place for a stroll.
For a walk on the wilder side, try a day of shopping in Hollywood's outlandish boutiques. An intriguing option is the tiny Heaven 27, owned by Sofia Coppola. Her Milk Fed line of apparel features whimsical beaded slippers and teensy tees in bubble gum pink. Equally trendy items can be found south of Hollywood proper along Melrose Avenue, where dozens of shops sell tarty women's dresses and big-soled shoes. Stop by Koan, a lofty store filled with chunky old Indian beds and Chinese bamboo couches. And don't miss Chic-A-Boom, a trove of popcultural memorabilia. It would take hours to sort through its Charlie's Angels artifacts alone.
But perhaps the loveliest way to spend a sultry evening is to pack a picnic and go to the Hollywood Bowl. Since 1922, every musical news-maker from Stravinsky to the Beatles has performed in this delightful open-air amphitheater surrounded by hibiscus and pine in the surprisingly serene Hollywood hills. If possible, visit the Hollywood Bowl Museum, where you can view old photos and hear stirring clips of Ella Fitzgerald singing "Too Close for Comfort," recorded here in 1956. Yet another reminder of Hollywood's dazzling past.
PLANNING YOUR TRIP
For information and maps, visit the Hollywood Visitor Information Center, 6541 Hollywood Blvd., or call (213) 689-8822. For a thoughtful, informative, and smartly written guide to the neighborhood, pick up Kim Weir's Los Angeles Handbook (Moon, $16.95).
WHERE TO STAY
The AAA California/Nevada TourBook lists AAA-approved lodging.
Best Western Hollywood Hills, 6141 Franklin Ave. 86 rooms. Rates $79-$129. (323) 464-5181.
Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel, 7000 Hollywood Blvd. 333 rooms. Rates $89-$159. (323) 466-7000.
Liberty Hotel, 1770 Orchid Ave. 20 rooms.
Rates $40-$65. (323) 962-1788.
WHERE TO EAT AND DRINK
Chan Darae, 1511 N. Cahuenga Blvd., (323) 464-8585
Musso & Frank Grill, 6667 Hollywood Blvd.
Open Tues.-Sat. (323) 467-7788.
Pinot Hollywood, 1448 N. Gower St.
Open Mon.-Sat. (323) 461- 8800.
Roscoe's House of Chicken 'n' Waffles,
1514 N. Gower St., (323) 466-7453.
WHAT TO SEE AND DO
Paramount Studios, 5555 Melrose Ave. Call (323) 956-5575 for tour information, (323) 956-1777 to arrange to see a TV taping.
Frederick's of Hollywood Lingerie Museum,
6608 Hollywood Blvd., (323) 466-8506.
Egyptian Theatre, 6712 Hollywood Blvd., (323) 466-3456.
Mann's Chinese Theatre, 6925 Hollywood Blvd., (323) 464-8111.
Hollywood Forever Cemetery,
6000 Santa Monica Blvd., (323) 469-1181.
Hollywood Bowl, 2301 N. Highland Ave. Concerts are held late June through September; Hollywood Bowl Museum is open year-round. For ticket information, call (323) 850-2000. For the Hollywood Bowl Museum, call (323) 850-2058.
Chic-A-Boom, 6817 Melrose Ave., (323) 931-7441.
Heaven 27, 6316 Yucca Blvd., (323) 871-9044.
Koan, 6109 Melrose Ave., (323) 464-3735.
Illustration by Kirk Caldwell
This article was first published in March 2000. Some facts may have aged gracelessly. Please call ahead to verify information.