There are those who seem to constantly bemoan the loss of Hollywood. Sometimes that's in the figurative sense. They'll say that the mystique surrounding the classic stars has long since given way to crass, reality-show personalities. Often, that's in the literal sense too. Every time an old establishment closes and a new hip thing replaces it, we enter another round of collective mourning.
Yet, as the city evolves and re-evolves, the spirit of Old Hollywood peeks out of grimy, tourist-crowded corners and rises from recently renovated buildings. The reminders are plenty, from the bungalows on residential streets to the Hollywood High School mural, which features just a few of the school's famous alumni. Below is a list of 10 spots to get you started on an Old Hollywood journey.
1. Broadway Historic Theatre and Commercial District
It's not Hollywood, but the Broadway Historic Theatre and Commercial District was a part of L.A.'s film history. Home to the city's original movie palaces, the neighborhood boasts more historic theaters on one street than any other city in the country. Step into a venue like the Orpheum or Los Angeles Theater and you'll feel as if you've traveled back in time as you stare at decor too ornate, too luxurious to be part of the modern movie-watching experience. Now, you're more likely to head to this newly refurbished neighborhood for a concert than a film. Want to check out the buildings during daylight hours? L.A. Conservancy has regularly scheduled tours for $10. While you're here, don't forget to check out local movie star the Bradbury Building. Broadway, between Second and Olympic, downtown. bringingbackbroadway.com.
2. The Hollywood Museum
In 2013, L.A. Weekly named the Hollywood Museum “Best Touristy Thing in Hollywood.” If you still haven't checked it out, you should. The collection of Hollywood odds and ends fills up the old Max Factor building, itself a thing of beauty, on Highland at the Hollywood intersection. There's a wonderful randomness to the collection; the top two floors feature a mishmash of costumes and fancy clothes, with old and new Hollywood butted up against each other. Some of the displays are genius. There's a tribute to Roddy McDowall's bathroom. I honestly never expected to be so fascinated by a pink toilet, but the late actor's parties were, apparently, off the hook and chances are, that bathroom could tell a lot of stories. The first floor is the most interesting, as it ties together the history of movie make-up king Max Factor and the beauties of the big and small screens. There's also an extensive collection of ephemera from noted “autograph hound” Joe Ackerman that's fascinating. 1660 N. Highland, Hollywood. (323) 464-7776, thehollywoodmuseum.com.
3. Larry Edmunds Bookshop
I'm going to assume you're reading this list because you have an interest in movies and their stars. If that's the case, then you must go to Larry Edmunds Bookshop. It's crammed with new and used books and periodicals pertaining to the subject. There are biographies galore here — who knew so much had been written on Katharine Hepburn? — as well as histories of genres like the mighty B-movie. This shop sells a lot of related memorabilia as well, but the book collection is enough to keep you in the store, flipping through pages, until you get kicked out. 6644 Hollywood Boulevard, Hollywood. (323) 463-3273, larryedmunds.com.
4. Musso & Frank Grill
When it comes to Old Hollywood dining, Musso & Frank Grill should be at the top of your list. It opened in 1919 and the restaurant's website documents its status as perennial hangout for movers and shakers, from screen stars to authors. (Oh, to have been able to chill with Raymond Chandler and Kurt Vonnegut.) Even today, you might people-watch from your seat, noticing the older gentleman in the casual blazer and thinking, “Yeah, he's probably a big deal.” Musso & Frank Grill remains decidedly old-school with dim lights, waiters in red jackets and coat racks attached to the booths. It's the kind of restaurant where you'll want to show up in a Lucy Ricardo–style Don Loper outfit. 6667 Hollywood Blvd., Hollywood. (323) 467-7788, mussoandfrank.com.
5. Egyptian Theatre
There are a few old-school cinemas in Hollywood, but the Egyptian is the one that's worth your time. Founded in 1922, the movie palace retains its over-the-top charm, but retro appeal can only go so far. Aside from being a large and comfortable theater, it's a well-programmed one. If you really want to go Old Hollywood, you can do it here, as classic films are a regular part of the calendar. Mixed in are new indies, late-20th-century blockbusters, film festivals and other special screening events. Once a month, the Egyptian offers a tour of the venue for $7-$9. 6712 Hollywood Blvd., Hollywood. (323) 461-2020, americancinemathequecalendar.com/egyptian_theatre_events.
6. The Hollywood Roosevelt
I have mixed feelings about the Hollywood Roosevelt. It's stuck in the middle of the biggest tourist nightmare in the city, but it's a hell of a lot of fun to explore. It wasn't just a place where movie stars stayed, according to the L.A. Tourism and Convention Board's Discover L.A. site, it was actually financed in part by the likes of Douglas Fairbanks and Mary Pickford. The first Academy Awards were held here, too, in a banquet hall right off the lobby. More recently, it's been a party spot for TMZ stars and attractive people possibly vying for a spot in the celebrity limelight. But those sightings aren't nearly as memorable as the more ordinary Hollywood Boulevard activity, like when you see a Marilyn Monroe impersonator sitting in a hotel restaurant. 7000 Hollywood Blvd., Hollywood. (323) 856-1970, thehollywoodroosevelt.com.
7. Hollywood Athletic Club
Back in the 1920s, Charlie Chaplin, Rudolph Valentino and Cecil B. DeMille came together to bring the Hollywood Athletic Club to life. For years it was an industry meeting place with members that included Errol Flynn, Jean Harlow and Humphrey Bogart. It's also the site of the first Emmy Awards. Years later, HAC became a party palace. I've spent my fair share of late nights here. Sometimes it was to see bands like Modest Mouse perform. Other times, I headed here to see friends DJ or, on a few occasions, to DJ myself. It was a massive space with multiple rooms, including a dance area that featured a drained pool. I loved being in a space where a remnant of Hollywood's glamorous past converged with the subcultures of the late 1990s and early 2000s. Now, when I see that “For Lease” sign whenever I pass the building, I hope that someone cool can take over the space and give a new generation a chance to feel some of that magic. 6525 Sunset Blvd., Hollywood, (323) 460-6360, thehollywoodathleticclub.com.
8. Hollywood Bowl
Angelenos love the Hollywood Bowl and, as far as the venue's history is concerned, many of us would immediately associate it with The Beatles' 1965 gig in Los Angeles. While that honor gives it a special place in music history, the Bowl has Old Hollywood ties as well, some of which are documented on the venue's website. Max Reinhardt, the director known for the 1935 film version of A Midsummer Night's Dream, brought the Shakespearean tale to the stage here a year earlier with Mickey Rooney and Olivia de Havilland in the cast. Fred Astaire and Al Jolson graced this stage too and, in 1943, Frank Sinatra performed with the L.A. Philharmonic here. The Bowl has made a good number of appearances onscreen over the decades as well and, if you're a Looney Tunes fan, you can probably recall seeing a cartoon version of the venue as well. 2301 Highland Ave., Hollywood. (323) 850-2000, hollywoodbowl.com.
9. Hollywood Forever
Hollywood Forever certainly isn't the only cemetery with famous permanent residents, but the sheer number of celebrity graves here make it a curious attraction. Some of the names have grown obscure with time, like those of silent film stars. Others remain cultural icons. Mel Blanc, Peter Lorre, Jayne Mansfield and Fay Wray are just a few of the stars interred here. The “Life Stories” section of the cemetery's website documents some of those who are forever housed on the Santa Monica Boulevard grounds. While Hollywood Forever remains an active cemetery, it's also a gathering spot for film and music fans. It's the home of Cinespia's outdoor screening series during the warmer months. Throughout the year, bands will perform at the Masonic Lodge on the campus. 6000 Santa Monica Blvd., Hollywood; (323) 469-1181, hollywoodforever.com.
10. Fountain Avenue
We'll finish our trip with some advice from silver screen icon Bette Davis: “Take Fountain.” Perhaps if you head down the avenue at just the right time of day, this will come in handy and you will shorten the trek that you normally take down Sunset or Santa Monica. More likely, though, you'll end up here when the drive is just as terrible as every other route through Hollywood. You'll try not to shoot up your middle finger at every jerk who almost hit you. Instead, you'll daydream about Old Hollywood, thinking about the days when the faces were all by Max Factor and Fountain was actually a short cut.