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A Stroll Through Hollywood's Gaudy Early Era

October 25, 1986|ROBERT PIERSON | Pierson is a native Angeleno and author of "The Beach Towns: A Walker's Guide to L.A.'s Beach Communities" (Chronicle Books, 1985).

Hollywood, like Halloween, is a festival of masks--celluloid images that portray eras and souls gone by. So Halloween, with its annual ritual of impersonation and disguise, seems a fitting time to explore this rich urban landscape.

Perhaps no other place so epitomizes the spirit and lore of Hollywood as the areas around Melrose Avenue and Gower Street. Long-established institutions like Paramount and Western Costume provide windows into the film industry's nostalgic past and workaday present. Nearly hidden behind walls north of Paramount sits Hollywood Memorial Park, one of the world's most-visited cemeteries. Many of the founders of Hollywood--the district and the industry--rest beneath its soaring palms.

Walking Tour of the Past

The following self-guided walking tour will lead you through the settings of Hollywood's rich and traumatic past.

Begin the two-hour walk at the corner of Gower Street and Melrose Avenue. Because the Memorial Park closes at 4:30 p.m., you ought to begin the walk before 2 p.m. to allow time to meander amid its park-like grounds. Various cafes nearby on Melrose Avenue offer ideal settings for an early dinner afterward.

Melrose Avenue marks the southern boundary of Hollywood, an independent city from 1903 to 1910 but now a district of Los Angeles.

Los Angeles Times Wednesday October 29, 1986 Home Edition View Part 5 Page 12 Column 2 View Desk 2 inches; 51 words Type of Material: Correction
A self-guided walk in Saturday's View section, "A stroll Through Hollywood's Gaudy Early Era," directed walkers to enter Hollywood Memorial Park through the Beth Olam gateway off Gower Street. The Beth Olam gateway is closed on Saturdays. On that day, walkers may enter the park through the main gates, of the Santa Monica Boulevard, which are open seven days a week.

These small duplexes and bungalows around Melrose were built in the 1920s to accommodate Hollywood's burgeoning population. In 1910 the city was a quiet, reserved town of 5,000 settlers, mostly from the Midwest. Lemon groves surrounded large homes reminiscent of Indiana; pepper trees lined narrow lanes stretching into the hills.

But with the film industry's sudden growth, the population increased 720% in 10 years to 36,000. By 1930 more than 160,000 people resided in Hollywood, many of them hoping to hit it big in the movie industry.

Architecturally, this neighborhood remains nearly intact from those years of explosive growth. Its style attests to the 1920s' romantic infatuation with Mediterranean-style architecture.

As you stroll, enjoy the detail: Tile roofs shadow walls of plain stucco surfaces marked by arched doorways and windows. Decorative wrought-iron lanterns, balconies and window grilles combine with colorful tiles on stairways and steps. Walk south on Gower Street, left on Clinton Street, left on Beachwood Drive, right on Melrose, right on Plymouth Boulevard, left on Clinton, left on Windsor Boulevard, and right again on Melrose. On the way you will pass Lucy's El Adobe Cafe at 5536 Melrose, once Gov. Jerry Brown's favorite haunt with his former companion, singer Linda Ronstadt.

At the southeast corner of Windsor and Melrose stands an odd complex resembling a medieval abbey in Seville. Currently the Walter Allen Plant Rental, which rents vegetation to studios, it once housed Lucey's, one of Hollywood's swankest cafes in the 1920s and '30s. Besides the studio employees and stars, Louella Parsons frequented Lucey's to garner tidbits for her gossip column. In 1942, the cafe closed.

At Melrose and Bronson Avenue stands Raleigh Studios. In 1914, Adolph Zukor's Famous Players leased the horse barns that originally occupied the site to make "A Girl From Yesterday" with Mary Pickford. In 1915, theater owner William H. Clune purchased the property and built rental studios for lease to independent production companies. Here Douglas Fairbanks made "The Mark of Zorro" and "The Three Musketeers" in the 1920s, Walt Disney rented space in the '30s and the "Hopalong Cassidy" television series was filmed in the '50s--as were "Superman" episodes. Robert Aldrich shot "Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?" and Ronald Reagan hosted "Death Valley Days" at Raleigh.

World's Largest Costume Firm

Walk across the street and into the lobby of Western Costume Company--the world's largest costume house--at 5335 Melrose Avenue. Its founder, L. L. Burns, a trader with considerable knowledge of Indian dress and lore, arrived in Los Angeles in 1912. Shortly thereafter Burns met cowboy star William S. Hart and began designing Indian costumes for Hart's movies. Burns' business boomed with Hollywood and in 1932 he moved from downtown Los Angeles to this warehouse. Today, Western has more than 1 million costume pieces valued at more than $25 million. Western continues to rent to major studios and, as you can see from the Halloween frenzy, they rent to the public as well.

Walk up Bronson Avenue to the wrought-iron gates of Paramount Pictures. Many recognize this entrance from Billy Wilder's classic film "Sunset Boulevard," in which Gloria Swanson, as the aging silent film queen Norma Desmond, drives to the gate to see Cecil B. DeMille.

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