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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).

Paramount, the last major studio remaining in Hollywood, traces its roots to "The Squaw Man," the first full-length feature made in Hollywood in 1913. Its makers, Jesse Lasky, Samuel Goldwyn and Cecil B. DeMille, collaborated on other films at their studio near Selma Avenue and Vine Street. In 1916 Lasky merged with Adolph Zukor, creating the Famous Players-Lasky Corp. To relieve its overcrowded Vine Street facilities, the studio moved to the present location in 1926 and renamed itself Paramount-Famous-Lasky, later shortened to Paramount Pictures.

Here legends were born. Claudette Colbert, Gary Cooper, Marlene Dietrich, Mae West, Veronica Lake and Betty Hutton were just a few of Paramount's stars. In the '40s, Bob Hope, Bing Crosby and Dorothy Lamour filmed the "Road" pictures here. Their directors included Cecil B. DeMille, Josef von Sternberg, Preston Sturges and Billy Wilder.

Across the street stands another landmark: Cafe Legends, a cafe frequented by studio people by day; a cabaret at night. For more than 50 years this was the site of Oblath's, once a private commissary for the stars and then a Mexican restaurant. Gloria Swanson reportedly persuaded Joseph Kennedy, the father of President John F. Kennedy and one of the founders of RKO, to bring Oblath's, then a popular lunch counter on Vine Street, to the present location in 1926. The present cafe honors Swanson with a charcoal portrait in the entrance.

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.

Walk west on Marathon Street to Valentino Place, named after the "world's greatest lover" and one of Paramount's early stars. A persistent claim in Hollywood is that Rudolph Valentino once lived in the Tudor-styled apartment building on the corner, where a tunnel, now sealed, allowed the actor unrestricted access to the studio. However, since the building was constructed in 1927, the Valentino stories are fanciful myths; he died in 1926.

Walk past Orza's, one of L.A.'s few Romanian restaurants. Studio workers frequent Orza's for its homemade specialties and its cozy, homey atmosphere.

Turn right on Melrose and walk past Paramount's new gates, designed in the 1920s style of the rest of the studio. Peer inside at the backdrop of the sky, noting also how expansive the lot is with its sound stages and roads.

Melrose, with its traffic, eateries, sound editing and film labs, portrays the "working" Hollywood. The commercial strip is noisy and gritty; the glamour associated with Hollywood escapes the eye.

Elegant Moderne

At 5505, however, stands the area's most elegant building. The Streamline Moderne-style structure, embellished with black, green and yellow tiles and porthole windows, houses film labs and agencies and Nickodell's Restaurant. Popular with studio folk since it was established in 1928, Nickodell's offers a huge menu.

KHJ radio and television studios are headquartered in a simpler Moderne building at 5515 Melrose. Continue walking to Gower.

Above you rises the trademark symbol--an enormous stucco globe--of RKO Studios. Hundreds of films once were produced on its sound stages. In 1925 Joseph P. Kennedy was the principal owner of FBO Studios, which occupied the site. Kennedy merged FBO in 1928 with Pathe Pictures and the Keith-Albee-Orpheum theater group to form Radio Keith Orpheum. At that time, RKO's logo was a radio tower flashing neon bolts of lightning atop the globe. Now only the globe remains. RKO produced the memorable "King Kong" (1933) and "Citizen Kane" (1941). Its megastars included Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers, Gary Cooper and the Marx Brothers. In 1948 Howard Hughes bought RKO and sold it in 1956 to Desilu Studios. Finally, in 1967, Paramount bought and merged the RKO lots with their studios.

Walk north on Gower along the stark walls of Paramount. Various entrances and setbacks offer glimpses into the film factory; if you time it right, huge sound-stage doors will open to reveal lights and sets, studio workers and actors.

At the Beth Olam gateway opposite Willoughby Avenue, enter Hollywood Memorial Park and come into another world. The park is the final resting place of more than 73,000.

Abbey of the Psalms

Follow the road to the left, walking north to the entrance court of the Abbey of the Psalms, a huge mausoleum. Its elaborate front, with lotus-blossom capitals atop columns, battered walls, cavetto cornice and vulture-and-sun-disk symbol, is reminiscent of the gateway into an Egyptian temple.

Inside are buried Norma and Constance Talmadge, two of the greatest silent-screen actresses; director Victor Fleming ("Gone With the Wind" and "The Wizard of Oz") ; pioneer film director Jesse Lasky, "Our Gang" star Darla Jean Hood and Hollywood promoter Charles Toberman, among others.

Continue walking north and turn right, walking past the statue of Cupid and Psyche, which, by the way, is for sale for $135,000.

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