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To many of us, Hollywood represents the ultimate enviable life—full of glitz, glamor, global attention, and the very best that life has to offer. The playground of superstars and starmakers, it is the entertainment capital of the world—a place where make-believe is reality. So, with the 83rd Academy Awards still fresh on my mind, I embarked on a day trip to see and experience modern Hollywood and relive the ultimate walk of fame.
On the northern part of Hollywood Boulevard on Vine Street stands the famous Capitol Records Building. Designed to be earthquake-proof, and unintentionally built like a stack of seven-inch vinyl long-play records by architect Welton Becket, this was the world’s first circular building, which houses executive offices and recording studios. Today, most of the label’s music ends up in Amoeba Records, a mecca for music-lovers of all kinds on Sunset Boulevard.
Arriving at the intersection of Hollywood and Highland, H&H as they now call it, groups of tourists that seemed to have come from all over the world were walking down the Boulevard with cameras dangling, gazing down the sidewalk at the names of the stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. For many, this is the closest they will ever get to stars such as Paula Abdul, Reese Witherspoon, Matt Damon, or Tom Cruise, while for others, this is where they pay tribute to the superstars of old, from Clark Gable and Zsa Zsa Gabor to recording greats such as Frank Sinatra and Duke Ellington. One star, in particular, caught my eye because of the number of people taking turns to pose next to it. It was Michael Jackson’s.
The Hollywood & Highland entertainment complex is huge, covering a full city block. It houses world-class shops such as Louis Vuitton, Guess, American Apparel, ALDO, and H&M; fine dining restaurants; a movie theater; clubs named The Highlands and Level 3; a bowling alley called Lucky Strike Lanes; and a number of bars including the recently opened Rolling Stones Bar. Also within it is the Grand Ballroom, the usual venue for the Oscars Governors Ball, and nearby is the Kodak Theatre, the modern-day home of the Oscar Awards.
It is not hard to imagine the feel of the red carpet along the entrance to the Kodak Theatre, called the “Awards Walk”, a long stretch of art deco-inspired hallway which opens out onto Hollywood Boulevard. This is where the movie stars walk thru during the Oscar Awards, and for a brief moment, it is easy to get caught up in a Tinseltown fantasy and find yourself walking slower, imagining that you are decked out in red carpet fashion.
The reverie soon ends, and we find ourselves in Grauman’s Chinese Theater, a favorite site for movie world premieres and is always packed with visitors. If the saying goes that “You have not really been to China without visiting the Great Wall”, then, here, you have not really been to Hollywood without seeing the Chinese Theater. Around 200 celebrity handprints, footprints, and authographs dot the cemented courtyard, including those of George Burns, Bob Hope, John Wayne and Johnny Depp. A tour guide leads an excited group of tourist around the cement blocks of handprints and footprints of the famous.
As I continue my easy walk westbound on Hollywood, I see tourists waiting in turn to have their photos taken with celebrity look-alikes who will oblige with a tip of a few dollars. Here, I find Spongebob Squarepants happily waving at me, while Elvis seems to be immortal and belts out a song. Spiderman is also here, and—well—there seems to be three Spidermen today. And I think I just saw Michael Jackson come back to life, too.
If you really want to see movie stars up close, then just nearby is the famous Madame Tussauds Hollywood Wax Museum. This is where you can encounter famous celebrities without the barrier of the velvet rope nor the hassle of security. Immortalized on wax are the life-sized and almost lifelike wax figures of such stars as Robin Williams, Jamie Foxx, Nicole Kidman, Beyonce, Lady Gaga, Salma Hayek, and the late greats, James Dean and Elizabeth Taylor.
But since I am still caught up in Oscar fever, I decide to head to the site of the first-ever Oscar Awards, way back in 1929. I quickly cross the street down the block to the Spanish-style hotel named after U.S. President Theodore Roosevelt, a 12-story hotel that holds secrets of Hollywood’s colorful past. Marilyn Monroe once stayed in Suite 229 overlooking the pool. Montgomery Clift lived at Room 928 for three months while filming the movie From Here to Eternity (1953).
The Roosevelt Hotel’s elegant hotel lobby gives one the feeling of stepping onto a time capsule of old Hollywood glamor. Moorish windows surround the high ceiling and the hotel’s original giant wrought-iron chandelier, while a bubbling fountain proudly stands in the middle of the lobby, surrounded by plush armchairs and sofas. The hotel recently became a hotspot again, with celebrities like Bruce Willis, Paris Hilton, and Eva Longoria spotted partying here. Not too long ago, the red carpet press conference of the Manny Pacquiao-Ricky Hatton fight was held at the “Blossom Room”, where the first Oscars were held in 1929. I stepped out from the subdued lighting of the Roosevelt Hotel and back into the sunshine of Hollywood Boulevard. One block away and opposite the Kodak Theatre is another treasure of old Hollywood, the El Capitan Theatre.
The El Capitan, known as “Hollywood’s first home of spoken drama”, was built in 1926 by real estate developer Charles Toberman. The Spanish Colonial revival theater once presented live plays—including more than 120 live plays from 1926 to 1936!—such as those of legendary stars Clark Gable, Joan Fontaine, and Will Rogers. Today, the theater marquee bathed in modern colored lights displays titles of current movies that are being screened in the theater.
Within walking distance from Hollywood and Highland are other attractions that include the Ripley’s Believe It Or Not! Museum and the Hollywood Wax Museum. Meanwhile, a quick drive and a right turn on Vine Street and Sunset Boulevard leads to Ivan Kane’s Café Was.
From the outside, Café Was is unpretentiously modern. However, the interior of the café is a seamless continuation of the Hollywood feel. Ivan Kane, who played Tony in the 1986 Oliver Stone movie Platoon, owns the sexy, bohemian French/American bistro. The bar is accessible and elevated from the sunken main dining area, which by this time is already full of guests. A rotating grand piano sits right in the middle.
A red velvet couch, artwork slipping from the creases between the ceiling and walls, the Bukowski Room plastered with pages from the author’s books, huge curtains, framed art, and the stairway to nowhere add to the café’s theatrical feel. A couple of bestsellers, the Slider Brunch Trio and Crab Cake, are excellent, paired with Café Was’s bottomless Screwdriver. It is a perfect spot for visitors on the run. The dress code is casual and the décor and music are as spectacular as Hollywood should be.
A Hollywood experience would not be complete without coming up-close and personal with the most iconic landmark of all: the Hollywood sign. Driving up Beachwood Canyon Drive to Mulholland Drive, one gets as close as possible to the 45-foot tall, 350-foot long icon. Here, I encounter a group of tourists who wanted to pose in front of the Hollywood sign. They were from Ukraine.
Indeed, people from all over the world troop to Hollywood year in and year out to walk the steps of stars and to feel the air of glamor for even just a few hours or days. It is a place where stars are born, the ultimate place where dreams come true. For those of us who have, at one time or another, harbored dreams of superstardom, this is the place to see and experience it all. As Harrison Ford aptly declared, “Hollywood’s got its own particular environment.” The next time you visit Los Angeles, take a walk with the stars and have your very own Hollywood experience.