Advertisement
YOU ARE HERE: LAT HomeCollections

Jack Smith

Looking for remnants of the old glory on a tour of Hollywood Boulevard

June 25, 1987|JACK SMITH

Hollywood and Vine is perhaps the most famous intersection in the world.

It's also surely one of the dullest. Sauke Centre, Minn., model for the Sinclair Lewis novel, "Main Street," is more exciting.

It's safe to say nothing ever happens at Hollywood and Vine, except that the traffic signals change, a few people cross the street and the newsie on the southeast corner sells a few papers.

The buildings are uninspiring. On the northeast corner the vaguely modern Gothic Hollywood Equitable Building rises 12 stories above a savings and loan, its offices occupied by such enterprises as Bad Boy Music, Beyond Sound, Eddie's Exotic Limousines, Star Cinema Productions and assorted attorneys and podiatrists.

On the southeast corner the Hollywood Taft building also climbs to 12 stories--the limit when it was built in 1923--its dingy brick facade relieved only by two ornamented bands around the upper and lower stories. When I looked the vacant spaces on the street were being remodeled.

On the southwest corner stands the abandoned nine-story Broadway building. Its corner windows, which once displayed mannequins attired in the store's smartest fashions, now look in on the New York Pizza Express.

On the northwest corner a building that was designed by the distinguished architect Richard Neutra has been "modernized" to suit the image of its present tenant, Howard Johnson's.

Most of the boulevard between Vine and Orange was built up in the 1920s and 1930s and an amazing number of those old structures still stand, although most have been altered to meet the tastes and merchandising necessities of the changing times.

But there is still a virtual museum of Art Deco and Spanish Colonial revival landmarks, even though some of them have been defaced by willful owners and fragmented into fast food joints and souvenir shops.

A few steps west of Vine the street livens up. Here we find the Cave--adult movies, live nude show, adult book store, peep show. It adjoins Le Sex Shoppe, which is next door to a tattoo parlor.

The star in the sidewalk directly in front of the Cave is that of W. C. Fields. I doubt that the old misanthrope would mind.

It's perhaps worth noting also that the structure in which now beats the dark heart of the Cave was once Sardi's restaurant--designed by the distinguished architect Rudolph Schindler.

There have been some changes since I last walked the boulevard. The old Victorian Janes house, which had stood its ground stubbornly at the dead end of Hudson in stately decay, has been prettied up. For decades it was occupied by the sisters Carrie, Mabel and Grace Janes, who ran the Misses Janes School for the children of such as Cecil B. DeMille, Jesse Lasky, Douglas Fairbanks and Charlie Chaplin. It's the last Queen Anne house in Hollywood.

It sits back behind a new gray tile court lined by mock Victorian shops. At center is a three-tiered fountain in a bed of flowers and a flower garden surrounds the house. I looked through the windows of the house into vacant rooms. A sign in one window said "For Lease."

Its rehabilitation, and the addition of the shops, is a monument to the Janes sisters for their resistance to change all those years. But I can't help remembering the poignancy of the moment when I happened to walk by one day just as the last of the Janes sisters came out the door of the rundown house to water her scrubby plants. She seemed quite unaware of the strangers passing by on the sidewalk.

I wanted to look into the lobby of the old Shane Building, at the southwest corner of Cherokee. It's said to be the finest Art Deco lobby left in Hollywood. Alas, the door was locked; but I peered through the glass to see the Art Deco lamps and the great slab of etched glass and the enormous glamour photographs, one on either side, of Greta Garbo and Gloria Swanson.

The boulevard has changed, like everything else; but there are many remnants of the old glory. In some details it is the same boulevard that Clara Bow used to drive down in her phaeton with two chow dogs dyed to match her hair.

Some people are frightened by the street life. I doubt that it's more dangerous than any other street, including Rodeo Drive. Walking from a parking lot I saw two men walking along across the street, jeering at a man they had passed. They wore cowboy hats, tank shirts, cutoff jeans and cowboy boots. I shaded my eyes to look at them. They shaded their eyes and looked back. I laughed. They laughed. That's the only confrontation I had.

On Tuesday evenings Ian Whitcomb and Dick Zimmerman entertain in the Cinegrill, at the Roosevelt Hotel. My wife and I stopped in to catch their act.

It's a combination of pop, jazz, rock, ragtime and music hall, and it evokes the memories of when the Cinegrill was frequented nightly by Hollywood's most glamorous. (Expect to pay a $10 cover charge.)

Whitcomb, a Britisher, sings such oldies as "There's a Tear for Every Smile in Hollywood," and "If I Couldn't Win Her with All the Gin I Put in Her, Good Night, Little Girl, Good Night," as well as such serious ditties as "That Ragtime Suffragette," accompanying himself variously on either the ukulele or the accordion. Zimmerman plays old-time rag so fast his hands blur.

It is intimate and nostalgic--and you wouldn't be surprised if Alla Nazimova swept in.

Advertisement
Los Angeles Times Articles
|
|
|