And put up a parking lot…
From "Big Yellow Taxi" by Joni Mitchell
The first year I moved to Los Angeles from my home in Sydney, Australia, I was a film student with stars in my eyes. I loved old movies, loved old Hollywood. In 1983, Los Angeles was a different time and place. A lot of the old Hollywood buildings were being torn down. The destruction had been going on for a long time by then but within the span of a few weeks, both the iconic Schwab's Drugstore and The Brown Derby, were set to be demolished.
My best friend Louise and I went to lunch at Schwab's on its last day. Oh how magnificent it was with its wooden, private telephone booths. The huge black phones took dimes. A couple of years later, calls went up to a quarter, but I digress.
We ordered salads, which I have to say were awful. Mine was a fruit salad, and everything was canned, except for the scoop of cottage cheese, which tasted sour. I guess on the drugstore's last day they didn't want to be bothered with fresh food items. Or had it always served sub-par food?
Louise and I stared at the soda fountain and its stools, famous for being the place where Lana Turner was discovered. My illusions were shattered that day to learn that this was not true. It was Hollywood lore.
I've had a lot of illusions shattered here over the years, but sometimes, small miracles occur.
My first Christmas here was the worst I ever had. I had no money and my roommates and I scraped enough funds together to buy vegetables. We had potatoes and turnips. And a single carrot. The turnip bake was so awful I still can't look at turnips to this day!
However, we were together, sort of, and had hopes for the future. The next day I scored a part-time job driving hearses for the now-defunct Graveline Tours. I could have a little extra money to supplement my income working nights in a video store (memba them?) and my film school education.
My job entailed my driving around town showing people where the dead stars were buried. Sometimes I got to branch out, especially when they asked for special requests. I often drove people to the steps, the only remaining piece of the famed Trocadero club, at 8610 Sunset Boulevard. The steps are still there on the side of Chin Chin's Chinese restaurant.
I often think of all the celebrities who took those stairs to dine and dance…sigh.
Hollywood's history is frequently whimsical - the fairy bridges Walt Disney started in east LA but never finished, for example - but more often tragic. I had a client who knew where many of the dead stars had died. He had a thing about silent screen star, Florence Lawrence, who is known as "The World's First Movie Star" though I had never heard of her before. She committed suicide eating ant paste in 1938.
We drove to the address he gave me, 532 Westbourne Drive in West Hollywood. The little green cottage still looks the same today, but I do wonder about the life expectancy of the neighborhood's ants…
The same client also had a passion to find The Aftonian, a 1920s apartment building in which silent screen star Marie Prevost drank herself to death. The story back then was that her dachshund, left alone with her dead body began to chew her limbs. I've since seen photos that prove it (eew!) but today the idea is disputed.
The building is still there at 6231 Afton Place. I find it ironic that its new owners are marketing the recently refurbished dogs as "Paradise" considering that the Hollywood I love, which really was a paradise, is gone.
One of my favorite places to take my clients back in the early 80s was a bank in the same stretch of Sunset Boulevard as Schwab's. Lytton Savings & Loan (now defunct) had a mini replica of the majestic and ethereal Garden of Allah, built by the silent screen star Nazimova. For those of us who've seen the gardens in photos (still available online) the replica was a godsend. We got a taste of how it looked, how it was. Hollywood's playground.
The bank, which stood on the old site of the gardens is now a Chase Bank and Schwab's is a McDonalds. But most of the massive lot on the southwest corner of Sunset and Crescent Heights is a parking lot.
Joni Mitchell lamented this sort of development in her wonderful song, "Big Yellow Taxi."
I wonder what she thinks about the destruction that began on December 19 on the former North Hollywood home of Marilyn Monroe. I talked to the wrecking crew as I took a snap of the little cottage posted above and none of them knew the place's history.
Nor did they care.
I met the former owner, Mrs. Affatata some years ago and she had a yellowed newspaper clipping that showed a photo of a young and gorgeous Marilyn outside the guest cottage. Marilyn lived there in 1947 during her time as an RKO starlet.
Mrs. Affatata remembered her former tenant as being giggly and often forgot to pay the rent, but, "She was nice. So nice."
Once again, they're taking down paradise and putting up a generic apartment block.
Way to go Hollywood!
I feel this year as Christmas approaches that I am coming full circle since my first Christmas here in LA. This year, I have family and friends, a wonderful life, and I am still building castles in the air.
This year, this Christmas, whatever you dream is, begin it. Do it. Don't let anyone pave over your idea of paradise. I think the fragility of dreams and wishes needs hope, now more than ever. I wish you all a very happy Christmas and very festive holiday season. I wish you love, happiness and big, beautiful accomplishments in 2014.