Thursday, November 18th, 2010

Historic Hollywood – 6 Landmarks you can still visit

Hollywood Blvd 03.04.2007

Los Angeles’s world famous district of Hollywood can be difficult for tourists unless they know what to expect and where to look. The name itself tends to conjure up a land teaming with movie stars and luxury hotels, but the reality is that Hollywood continues to be a working town, and almost all of that work goes on behind closed doors, so the city itself can look unremarkable to the casual observer.

Still, there’s plenty to see, including many world famous landmarks that date back to Hollywood’s earliest days. Here are six of the most famous and most interesting, all of which can be appreciated on any Hollywood visit today.

Hollywood Sign

For those of us who grew up in Los Angeles, the HOLLYWOOD sign is an unlikely landmark, but sure enough, everyone visiting from any distance away seems to put it at the top of their list of things they insist on seeing. And while most are delighted to actually see the thing in person, in real life it’s not quite what people are usually expecting.

Sitting near the top of Mount Lee, the sign is often obscured by haze or smog, so it’s usually necessary to get pretty close to really admire the thing. Also, it overlooks a portion of eastern Hollywood that has no hotels or entertainment companies, and it’s mostly impossible to see from the famous parts of town.

Of course, the sign itself originally read HOLLYWOODLAND, and was erected in 1923 to advertise a real estate subdivision up in Beachwood Canyon. In 1945 the LAND was removed to instead promote the movie capital itself, and by the 1970s much of what was left had crumbled, but since then it’s been totally restored and now looks lovely in photographs on clear days.

Getting there: When in the main part of Hollywood just go east on Hollywood Blvd. across the 101 Freeway to Beachwood, and then turn left for a great view regardless of air quality. Keep driving a bit for a few places to pull over and get a photo, but not too far since you’ll stop seeing it behind a hill and also you can’t actually reach it from the road itself.

Paramount Studios

Paramount Gates
While far more tourists head to Universal Studios for their famous tour, that one has long been mostly an expensive theme park that is only loosely related with historic Hollywood, including its location on the complete opposite side of the mountains from the real thing. Paramount Studios, on the other hand, is the real deal, and is America’s oldest working film studio.

At only 65 acres, Paramount Studios is tiny compared to several others, but it’s still used daily for many of the world’s most popular films and TV shows. Many famous shows, like the original “Star Trek” were shot inside the many sound stages, but many other shows have used the permanent sets, including “Seinfeld” often shooting on the studio’s busy New York Street.

The sign out front makes for one of the city’s best and most iconic photographs, but those wanting to see more can take a 2-hour VIP tour in a small group by calling the studio at the number on the Paramount Studios website. You aren’t guaranteed to see a star yourself, but you’ll definitely see the sets and streets where hundreds of the biggest have worked over the years.

Getting there: Paramount Studios is famously located at 5555 Melrose Avenue, a short drive southeast of the heart of historic Hollywood.

Grauman’s Chinese Theater

Grauman's Chinese Theater

There may be nothing more fitting as a tribute to Hollywood history than to attend a movie at Grauman’s Chinese Theater, which continues to dominate the heart of downtown Hollywood after all these decades. While the place is most famous for the famous footprints of old stars in its large forecourt, the theater itself is huge and beautiful inside, and definitely worth a look for film buffs.

Open since 1926, the theater has changed hands (and even names) a few times since, but it still remains the city’s largest and most historic theater complex. Hundreds of the biggest films of all times have had their world premieres at the facility, and new star foot prints continue to be added, including those of Johnny Depp, Hugh Jackman, Will Smith, and Robert Downey Jr. in recent years.

The Hollywood Walk of Fame and its famous gold stars built into the sidewalk runs for 15 blocks of Hollywood Boulevard, and its busiest and most famous segment is the section just outside Grauman’s Chinese Theater, so the landmarks will follow you right down the street.

Getting there: The theater is located at 6931 Hollywood Boulevard, very near the new Hollywood-Highland shopping complex.

Musso and Frank Grill

Musso & Frank Grill

It would be wonderful if Hollywood was still filled with historic restaurants where the stars ate and were occasionally discovered, but they’ve all be long gone, except one. Musso and Frank Grill opened in 1919 and has been open ever since in its hard-to-miss spot along Hollywood Boulevard.

The waiters still wear red jackets and black ties, and in spite of the crowds that are often mostly tourists, some celebrities continue to eat at the classic restaurant with a grilled-meat-heavy menu. In its earlier years it was a favorite of Charlie Chaplin and nearly every other star of that era, but later it was more known as a place to see famous writers including F Scott Fitgerald and Ernest Hemingway all the way through to Thomas Wolfe and Charles Bukowski.

Getting there: Musso and Frank Grill is still located at 6667 Hollywood Blvd, just west of Vine Street, in the heart of old Hollywood.

Hollywood Bowl

Hollywood Bowl

This outdoor amphitheater has been open since 1923 in the hills just behind the heart of Hollywood, and it continues as a popular summer music venue for Angelenos as well as tourists.

It’s been used for every imaginable entertainment purpose over the years, so the list of performers who’ve worked its famous stage is almost endless. Some of the biggest names include Mickey Rooney, Abbott and Costello, Nat “King” Cole, Ella Fitzgerald, Billie Holiday, Elton John, Al Jolson, Simon and Garfunkel, and of course the Beatles, who recorded a live album at the venue during performances in 1964 and 1965.

While the Hollywood Bowl’s famous clamshell stage cover was replaced with a more modern one in 2004, the place continues to play a big part in the Hollywood entertainment scene, and big-name concerts are held all summer every year.

Getting there: The Hollywood Bowl is located at 2301 North Highland Avenue, a few blocks north of Hollywood Blvd on the left side. If you want to visit it’s best to buy tickets in advance since most shows do sell out.

Whisky A Go-Go

Whisky a Go-Go
Since Hollywood is more than just films, it’s great to know that its most famous rock ‘n roll nightclub is still up and running and definitely worth a visit. The Whisky A Go-Go first opened in 1958 and was considered the first American Discothecque as it relied on recorded music and go-go dancers in its early days, but when rock music exploded the Whisky switched primarily to live music, and it hasn’t changed since.

Located in the absolute heart of the Sunset Strip, which is actually in nearby West Hollywood, the Whisky A Go-Go is partly famous as where The Doors were the house band before they became big stars, but the list of famous acts who’ve performed in the small 300-capacity club is a mile long, including The Byrds, Alice Cooper, The Kinks, The Who, Cream, Led Zeppelin, Roxy Music, The Police, M√∂tley Cr√ºe, Van Halen and Oasis, just to name a few.

These days the club is more known for hard rock acts that are up and coming, but the bill can be mixed throughout the week. Even for just a drink or two to soak in the history, the Whisky can be a worthwhile visit in the heart of the nightlife district.

Getting there: The Whisky is located at 8901 Sunset Blvd. in West Hollywood.

Photo credits: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6

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