Virtually everyone has heard of the legendary corner of Hollywood & Vine, and most of the 11 million tourists who visit Southern California each year eventually make the pilgrimage out to that fabled intersection.
They are inevitably disappointed.
Except for the Capitol Records Building (a block north of Hollywood Blvd.), and the nearby Pantages Theatre (half a block east), there is simply nothing much to see there. There are no notable landmarks at the corner of Hollywood & Vine. (Unless you look down at the sidewalk beneath your feet, of course, where you'll see the stars of the Hollywood Walk of Fame.)
And course, there are also usually no movie stars to be found on Hollywood Boulevard.
The problem is that people often confuse Hollywood with Beverly Hills.
Many people think of Hollywood as the place where the stars live, where they keep their million dollar homes and live their lifestyles of the rich & famous - where they shop at the luxurious boutiques of Rodeo Drive, and where you might glimpse flocks of celebrities at a trendy restaurant.
Sorry, folks, but that describes Beverly Hills, not Hollywood.
If you are looking for glamour, head west a few miles on Sunset Boulevard to Beverly Hills - and its adjacent neighborhoods of Bel-Air and Brentwood and Malibu).
Hollywood is an industrial town, where the industry just happens to be film-making - and it looks like it.
The few studios that remain within the borders of Hollywood present only blank walls and faceless sound stages to the outside world. To the casual passerby, they might just as well be factories. And in a sense they are - film factories, grinding out their unique product: celluloid.
And it never has been.
Hollywood started out life as a small rural town of church-goers nestled in the orange groves and the foothills. When actors first arrived on the scene, hotels wouldn't even rent rooms to them. Although the movie industry grew up around Hollywood, most of the Tinseltown glitz was reserved for the movie premieres and the parties. The city's actual downtown district remained fairly low-key.
Most Golden Age stars didn't live in Hollywood - and neither do most of today's stars. They live in Beverly Hills, Brentwood, Bel-Air, Malibu and other communities on the West Side. There has been a recent trend of younger stars moving back to Hollywood, but those who do settle in the hills above the town.
Oh, there were some well-known restaurants on the Boulevard back then (such as the long-departed Brown Derby), and more than your average number of fancy movie theatres, but basically the town looked then (and looks today) like many other small towns from that era - something that has always surprised tourists.
But it's very important to distinguish between Hollywood the town and "Hollywood" as a name for the entertainment industry in Southern California. There is far more to "Hollywood" than what you'll find on Hollywood Boulevard. The real Hollywood is spread out across the Los Angeles basin, and beyond. And visitors to Southern California need to realize that if they want to enjoy the full Hollywood experience.
If you want to see "Hollywood," for heaven's sake don't limit yourself to that one neighborhood around Hollywood Blvd.
Branch out, and you can tour
the movie studios,
attend a concert under the stars at the Hollywood Bowl,
watch your favorite TV shows
being taped live, window-shop along posh Rodeo Drive,
dine with the stars at Spago,
visit the graves of famous
celebrities like Marilyn Monroe & Bing Crosby, enjoy the rides at Disneyland
and Universal Studios,
take a tour of the stars' homes
along the beautiful residential streets of Beverly
Hills, or walk along the beach near the famous Malibu Colony.
The "Hollywood" experience isn't limited to Hollywood Boulevard by any means.
In fact, it isn't even limited by Los Angeles city boundaries; the real Hollywood - the movie-making business - spreads out across the Los Angeles basin, from Malibu in the northwest to the Crystal Cathedral in Orange County; from Universal Studios and the Paramount Ranch in the Valley to the Queen Mary docked in Long Beach.
Or so they thought.
In reality, Hollywood has transformed the rest of Los Angeles into one giant back lot, where shooting takes place in virtually every neighborhood at one time or another. Pick up a shoot sheet, or just look for the large white trailers parked around the city, and you can watch Hollywood movie-making on location throughout the vast L.A. basin.
Most tourists have found the actual neighborhood of Hollywood a pretty disappointing spot. (Fortunately, that seems to be changing - click here to read about the ongoing rebirth of Hollywood Boulevard.)
But even so, all of us who
live in Southern California (and most tourists) will probably make
the pilgrimage to Hollywood Boulevard at least once in our lifetimes. We
are driven both by curiosity and by our sense of history.
Yet we are driven to visit that actual neighborhood just the same... as if to pay homage to the authentic source of our memories, the cradle of our modern pop culture.
Let the "Seeing Stars"
website be your guide to getting the most out of your visit.
To reach Hollywood Boulevard from downtown Los Angeles, take the
Hollywood (101) Freeway north to the Hollywood Boulevard exit, then head
west (about a mile and a half) to Grauman's Chinese Theatre, which will
be on your right (north) side.
[For more information, you can access the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce website at http://hollywoodchamber.net.]
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Copyright © 2014-Gary Wayne
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