A Hollywood Walking Tour

A walking tour of America's movie capital through the eyes of our Asia correspondent, Harold Stephens.

Mention Hollywood to anyone who lives in California and he will say, "Why do you want to go there? You won't see any movie stars."

They are right about the likelihood of not seeing a movie star, but as a tourist attraction it offers a lot to see, and a stroll through town will prove the point.

Historically, Hollywood is not very old. In fact, there wasn't anything there except empty fields a hundred years ago. Then from Kansas came Horace and Daeida Wilcox, a prohibitionist couple with a dream of creating a Christian utopia. Finding their place in the sun, they purchased 48 hectares. That was in 1887. They subdivided the property, laid out streets and planted trees, and offered free lots to any church community. Prohibited were gambling and billiard halls and saloons.

But things changed, rapidly. In 1910 Hollywood was annexed to Los Angeles and by 1937, 50 years after it was founded, its population had grown to more than 150,000. The founding Christian ethics were forgotten and its very name became synonymous with glamour, wealth and fame. Hollywood became the cinema capital of the world.

The best place to begin, of course, is at the junction of Hollywood and Vine, not far from the Chinese Theatre where the stars have implanted their foot and hand prints on the sidewalks for posterity. Or for as long as cement lasts.

Walk north on Vine Street and you pass the Palace Theatre, built in 1927, while across the street is the Capital Records Tower, one of Hollywood's most famous buildings.

When you cross Yucca Street you have to turn left and follow a zigzag course to reach Vine again, as it is broken by the Hollywood Freeway. It's an uphill walk, past the Yucca-Vine Towers, a high-rise built in 1928 that has been home to many budding stars.

Continue walking uphill to the AltoNido Apartments on Ivar Avenue where Gloria Swanson, the silent-movie queen, once lived.

Once you are on the other side of the freeway, you'll find yourself in one of Hollywood's most reclusive neighbourhoods--once the town's first film colony. Today, the Vedanta Society owns much of the property, including a temple, bookstore, convent and monastery. Nearby is the "Little Taj", the society's temple which features onion-shaped domes topped by golden spires.   When you reach Vine Street, turn left, and you come to one of the most interesting sections of the walk. Many of the houses here were built by Hollywood's first film idols.

Hopalong Cassidy resided in the walled Spanish colonial-revival hacienda at 2030; Jeanette MacDonald lived in the Italian villa at 2027, which now serves as the Vedanta convent; Charlie Chaplin supposedly lived for a while at the ''Monastery Garden" at 2,062. Nearby, Longview Avenue and Mound Street were home to Ronald Colman, Janet Gaynor, David Niven and Claudette Colbert.

Turn right on Vine Way to Vine Walk, a winding stairway to Alcyona Drive. It's an interesting promenade with a view of Hollywood below.

At Temple Hill Drive you come across a strange structure, a Moorish castle with crenellated turrets, keyhole windows, Moorish arches and Batchelder tiles. These courtyard apartments were built in 1914 as the Ternary Building by the Krotona Community, the Hollywood branch of the Adyar Theosophical Society.

From Primrose Avenue walk downhill. At Vista del Mar Avenue, set in a stone wall on the corner, stands a ceramic Madonna and child statue by Stewart Holmes, an actor, potter, sculptor and artist who lived here for many years. His wife, Blanche, the story goes, was an astrologer who wrote horoscopes for many celebrities, including Clark Gable, Marlene Dietrich, Louella Parsons and Hedda Hopper.

Further down Vista del Mar and right on Scenic Avenue stands a Rhine castle garage with a gabled roof and timbered sides. A bit further is a two-storey French chateau apartment house built in 1937 by Warner Brothers Studios for its New York executive.

At Carman Place turn right. Only six blocks from Hollywood and Vine is the Monastery of the Angels, a convent of cloistered Dominican nuns. If you wish to go inside, enter through the courtyard. The complex includes a chapel, residence halls, walled gardens and a gift shop that sells handicrafts and freshly baked bread.

A few more turns and you are back on Hollywood Boulevard, right where you began.

Harold Stephens is one of Southeast Asia's best known writers. Having lived in the area most of his adult life, he's authored 17 books and many thousand newspaper and magazine articles, with everything from travel to jungle exploring and searching for lost cities. This article originally appeared in the Bangkok Post

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