By Antonio Malara
In my mind Los Angeles was the myth, the expression of success, the place where dreams come true. This because my love for cinema always connected me with this city. This was the place where the movies were shot and besides the fascinating stories told in them, this was the place where the actors' real life takes place. TV used to show richness, wealthy and beautiful people living in amazing and big houses with pool. Me as a fan of the old classic movies, I also wondered about the eccentric life of the golden age actors. They were famous, super rich and they were the only people in the world that getting divorced was as simple and normal as taking a walk.
Those were my thoughts as a kid but when I started reading James Ellroy books during my teen age, I also known the dark side of the city. In the books Ellroy talks about about the corruption, building speculations, perversion and intrigues which are the results of a rich but boring lifestyle. In those books the fashion side is replaced by violence and the beauty is most of time the result of plastic surgery. Of course most of the events on the novels are fictional or amplified but there’s reality in that.
Despite this double nature of the city, I still want wanted to see it, indeed I was even more curious. So with all this different sides of the city, I was finally ready to see what I still had in mind as a dreaming place!
Finally we were ready to go, the trip was actually a long weekend that would take us to visit both Los Angeles and Las Vegas. We rented a car at Alamo near downtown San Diego and we left at around 10 AM in the morning. In a while we were on the iconic interstate 5 with its eight lanes, our journey to LA would last two hours and a half and while I was driving looking on the road, my friend was taken pics to the green sings. What struck me most about the road was that at some point we passed over a viaduct where the landscape all around was identical to a stretch of highway that I often travel in Sicily! I thought that nature sometimes is really funny.
It wasn’t hard to reach our hotel, I remember we took an exit which brought us straight to the downtown, it was nice because we first saw the landscape from far away, then we literally entered into the skyscrapers. We arrived at around twelve-thirty and to optimize our time we decided to have lunch at the hotel.
Our stay in Los Angeles was only for two days and a half so I made up a detailed list with all the places I wanted to see. There were lots of things to do in Downtown and since I didn’t want to miss nothing, I planned to see all the places by walking. The first thing we saw was the Walt Disney Concert Hall, which was a few steps away from our hotel. I knew this building after I discovered Frank Gehry during my visit to Boston and after that I started to see where other structures made by the Canadian architect were placed. The WDCH it’s a hall with over 2.000 seats which houses the Los Angels Philharmonic Orchestra and the Los Angels Master Chorales. Behind its function what attracts me most, is the aesthetic. This was the second structure I saw made by Gehry after the “Ray and Maria Stata Center” and I was more and more in love with the designer style. This is perhaps his most beautiful work, entirely in gray steel (the only color that stands out) with scattered windows. The hall occupies an entire block, and the view from the S Grand Avenue is perfect because the road is very wide. In this way it can be easily admired in full from at least two different corners, the West 1st St. and the West 2nd St. The curves are very harmonious, they remind me of cream on top of an ice cream. Entering the narrow spaces there is also green to break the coldness of the modern, the trees seem to sprout from the floor. Walking around is possible to see the presence of artistic installations.
Just one block away from the WDCH, there’s the John Ferraro Building, I discovered it thanks to a TV series named “Flash Forward”, this is very interesting and I recommend to see it. The plot is very intriguing; the world has a general blackout, everyone passes out and in those two minutes everyone has a flashback in which they live personal events that will happen exactly six months in their future. The FBI building in the series where a detective begins an investigations, is actually the Ferraro Building. The architecture is very interesting because the rectangular building is made up of many slats. Each floor comes out symmetrically from the wall giving a unique effect, almost like a perfectly unfinished building. All around is surrounded by big ponds under which there are parking lots. You can walk all around and it's like a park both for the presence of ponds with fountains and for some installations. This, even more than the WDCH is visible in full from many angles, even from the “Grand Park” which is a couple of blocks away slightly below the building.
To be honest I didn’t know anything about the park, normally I check on google maps all the details of an area. This time has a been a surprise, I discovered something that I didn’t perviously saw on google street. The park extends over a large block that is located in a difference between N. Grand Avenue and N. Hill St. As background it has the City Hall Building, whose design has always fascinated me. Its shape reminds me of an Empire State Building in miniature and in the cinema it has been present in many movies. Besides its interesting position right in the heart of the city, the park is characterized by its fuchsia chairs, there were many scattered here and there. We walked through the park from top to bottom and stopped to take pictures with the City Hall in the background. We just looked at the palace from the outside and then headed to the next destination, which was the Bradbury Building.
Some famous scenes from the movie “Blade Runner” took place in this building. A curious fact is that I have always dreamed the stairs of this building, probably I watched the movie as a kid, then I realized where those stairs were born in my memories when I watched again the movie in my adult age. When I finally got inside, I felt satisfied, not only for the beauty but because I had finally exorcised a dream-obsession that I had since I was young, it was truly indescribable. The building is characterized by a double shade of brown, which is not exhilarating seen from the outside but gives its beauty inside. All in visible brick which are of the same color as the exterior, with a large central skylight and black iron stairs in contrast. The central aisle, although not small, gives a “pleasant” sense of claustrophobia when looking upwards, this is because all the upper floors develop from the sides. The square-shaped floor is also very nice and makes a cool effect. Unfortunately, when we visited it, we could only go up to the first floor, because in the upper ones there were police investigative offices.
After visiting the Bradbury we went to see the Angel Flight, this is a small funicular with orange and black wagons which covers a difference in height between Hill St. and Olive St. Although it may seem strange, I discovered this place thanks to an old video game for PC, a noir set in the 30's. When I used to play the video game, I believed that this funicular was not real, also because I couldn't understand the meaning of this work. Then while we were there, an elderly lady told us a little story behind it. The lady said that the “Angel” had been built in old times because the noblewomen did not want to go up the stairs when they went out for shopping. In fact, the railway covers a very short stretch so it is actually a disproportionate work. The funicular is in good condition and it actually still works for what it is, I have to say that they done a good job to preserve it because is something unique.
On the way back it was getting dark and I started taking night photos of the skyscrapers. LA is not famous for these, because of earthquakes the city is not built in height like New York so there aren’t so many tall buildings. Despite this, shot after shot I noticed that the pics I was taking were so cool, even those “minor” skyscrapers made their beautiful effect at night.
That first day in LA we went to have dinner in a famous grill in the downtown, it was a pleasant evening and we had a good dinner. But it was when I back to the hotel and I started to relax that I noticed something singular, that first day in LA was focused on architecture, classic and modern, despite the fact that the city is not so famous for its buildings.
The second day we woke up early because I had in mind to visit many places and the first destination of that morning was Hollywood. We left the car in a parking lot and we headed for Sunset Boulevard. Beyond the popularity of the avenue, I had read that along this road at some intersections you could see the Hollywood Sign. In fact it was true but the writing was very small even photographing it at the 70mm focal length. The street was exactly as seen in the movies, six or seven lanes with a mix of one-story blocks and some more modern buildings. After seeing "The Dome" a large white dome that broke the architectural uniformity we took Vine St. because the famous stars on the pavements began there. It was strange to walk on it and find out all the names of the old actors and actresses who I had seen in the movies. These stars were iconic but to be honest I don't know if I would have liked to have my name trampled and ruined by anyone who wanted to, seen live it doesn't seem this great tribute.
At the intersection with Hollywood Boulevard we headed to the main part which was the “Dolby Theater” and the “Chinese Theater”. While walking on the street we turned on Wilcox to see "You are the star" the famous Thomas Suriya mural which sees the myths of Hollywood all together in a cinema hall while presumably watching a movie. I had seen this "photo" as a child on a school book and it has always fascinated me. When I saw the mural that morning, I was pleasantly surprised because it was bigger than I expected. I had the same impression as when I saw Picasso's "Guernica", who knows why when we look at a photo of a painting, we automatically attribute it to an arbitrary size. I think the mural was about ten-twelve meters long, the best way to see and photograph it was from the opposite side of the road. After looking at it for a while with me trying to take a selfie with Marlon Brando on my back, we went back to Hollywood Boulevard.
As we got closer to our destination there were many souvenir shops where mainly masks for disguises were sold. The interesting thing was to see those closed because on the lowered shutters there were as many murals that always depicted the myths of the old Hollywood. As I walked, I realized that that "Hollywood" rather than a tribute to the great actors was a tourist place that exploited the image of them. In some places there was a smell of piss, probably many homeless spent the night there, the area in general was not elegant. Seeing murals with the great stars that I loved in a non-elegant context was a mockery for me that I expected more and for cinema culture in general. If it is decided that that area must represent the cinema and the stars, it must be better qualified and maintained.
Between one block and another, stopping for some purchases, we arrived in what is considered the heart of Hollywood. The Dolby Theater with its striking yellow facade dominates the area, inside this theater the Oscar ceremony takes place every year, obviously for that event the whole area is closed and in doing so it seems completely different. A little further on there is the famous TCL Chinese Theater with the famous Hollywood Footprints at the entrance. This is a famous theater built in the 1920s and which has hosted some oscar ceremonies from the past. On the external floor there are the famous imprints of the stars. Even here unfortunately more than a tribute to cinema, it is a hodgepodge of tourists who may not even know an actor of those who have left their mark. All around so many people who make up as super heroes, who in exchange for a few dollars agree to take a picture with you. If on the one hand some of them looks cool, I also consider this format an insult to the cinema, those appearances would be fine if they were regularized and taken on by someone. A way to deceive people who are interacting with celebrities and superheroes, something like what there are in large amusement parks.
Despite this, I found the experience of comparing my hand in the actors' footprints very interesting and at times exciting. More than anything else it seemed alive in me that some personalities had been in that precise space in which I was. Seeing the real size of their hands and feet made them seem alive. Footprints like those of Humphrey Bogart, Steve Mcqueen or Natalie Wood, have given me a charge of energy, a consolation for never having had the chance to get to know them in person.
After we left the TCL we entered inside the Dolby, there were shops on the ground floor and a large central staircase led to the circular part from where you could see the upper floors. We didn't have much time there because just next to the Dolby there was another much more imposing staircase, leading to a large circular area that seemed the amplified and open-air version of the Dolby. A beautiful multi-stores circular architecture housed shops and restaurants, at the end of it there was a sort of Egyptian "temple" at the sides of which, there were giant elephants positioned on columns. It was a sort of open-air mall, and I must say that I liked it, on the upper floors we found a glimpse of where the Hollywood Sign could be seen well, we took photos and we explored it a bit. It was late lunchtime and right there I discovered a chain of hamburgers that left their mark. It was called “Johnny Rockets” and it was furnished in the 60s style. Not only was it effective, but also the double cheeseburger that I ate was very good. As we walked towards the car I planned the next visits but slowly it started to rain. Unfortunately I had to completely change my plans and return to the hotel hoping for an improvement in the weather. The rain which is so rare in LA, intensified that afternoon forcing us to stay in the hotel which however was very large with many common areas. The plans had to be changed, I had many things to see and I could have done it in one day no matter what!
The third day was also that of the departure which however would have been postponed in the evening because the most important thing was to finish seeing the places I had on my list. Fortunately, the sun was shining that morning and after checking out at the hotel, we took the car and we went to the Griffith Observatory, we left the car in the large parking lot and started exploring. The Observatory was inaugurated in 1935 and stands on a hill where you can admire almost the whole Los Angeles, in addition, its position favors the view of the Hollywood Sign. I discovered the structure thanks to the movie “Rebel Without a Cause”, and I liked it immediately. I wanted to see this structure both to exorcise the dramatic scenes seen in the film and to admire its architecture. Its rectangular shape with a large central dome and two smaller ones on the sides is simply perfect. On the one hand it is harmonious thanks to the lawn and the obelisk positioned in front of the entrance, then turning around it gives one of the most beautiful panoramas in the world. Having just little time available we did not enter to see one of the shows but we limited ourselves to taking pictures first with the Hollywood Sign behind us then all around. We walked on the right side of the Observatory and practically we stopped every 10 meters to take pictures with unique panoramas. I must admit that the Observatory is a place that certainly deserves a more in-depth visit, not only for the shows you can see inside but it is also a place to relax in the midst of nature. If you look far away you can see the “asphalt jungle” of the city, but at the same time, the park is still surrounded by hills and vegetation between which you can spot beautiful villas.
Still in the morning we moved to one of the places I loved so much, Beverly Hills or more precisely Rodeo Drive. For me who love fashion, elegance and chic in general, being able to visit what is considered the top of luxury was a unique experience. On Rodeo Drive there are the most beautiful fashion designer stores, after seeing them I can confirm that it is not just a matter of fame.
We left the car inside the “Sacks Fifth Avenue” parking lot and we walked the Wilshire Boulevard to the intersection with Rodeo Drive. Here is the “Four Season Beverly Wilshire”, the large luxury hotel popularized by the movie “Pretty Woman” and in front of it the Via Rodeo staircase. The famous golden triangle begins here. Via Rodeo is a small winding road with luxurious shops on both sides, going along it you get on the big Rodeo Drive. Also stylistically Rodeo Drive is perfect, four lanes separated by a flowerbed and three interrupted rows of palm trees. The colors of palm trees and flowers create a beautiful contrast with the various shops, which all have a personal design, beautiful be it modern or classic. Needless to say, even if you do not go inside, the stores are also beautiful from the outside and it is a pleasure to photograph them.
Between a photo and another along the Rodeo, we arrived at the intersection with N. Santa Monica Boulevard, from here on, the other Rodeo begins, that of the luxurious villas.
For those who love architecture this is a paradise, shops, trees, plants and as you go up you discover beautiful villas. This was beverly hills, I immediately understood why living here was considered perfection.
We walked Rodeo Drive to the end of the intersection with the Sunset Boulevard, from here starts the “Beverly Hills Hotel” which extends to “infinity”. We stopped for photos with the sign that however is the one that indicates the exit. I later discovered the famous internal sign, the one where everyone takes pictures even if they have never been hotel guests.
We went down walking on the opposite side of the street to the golden triangle, it was lunchtime and I managed to find a restaurant where we ate a delicious salad. I fully enjoyed that lunch, because I knew that it would not be very soon to be there in the midst of super luxury, something with which I really felt at ease. After lunch I took more photos at the store which was the winner for me as a design. The Prada shop perfectly represented my philosophy, modern and minimal enough but that stands out. Covered in aluminum, with straight lines, large windows and the central logo. It wasn't over there, before we got back to the car I had to experience the thrill of being rich for a day. I had a Louis Vuitton bracelet on my wishlist. It was the blue bracelet with monogram motif, I entered in the store and I asked for my product which fortunately was in stock. That morning I felt fully satisfied, the last visit to be left, it was a place that represented my style despite being the opposite of Beverly Hills.
Still by car we took the Santa Monica Boulevard to visit the sea area. This road is entirely straight and leads up to the promenade. We left the car in one of those large parking lots and there were two options: go along the promenade north to the Santa Monica pier or south to Venice Beach. My first target was Venice, if there was time left we would have gone to Santa Monica Downtown. Being a person who lives in a city on the sea, I could only be amazed after two minutes of walking. The beach of Santa Monica and everything that surrounded the area was the fifth essence of what I liked. The sea, the immense beach both in length and depth, all that green and the tall palm trees, for me they were paradise. This is what on a small scale there is also in my city and it is the only thing I like. The beach was a collective meeting place for people of all ages who could do different activities surrounded by a perfect landscape. Families at picnic tables, people on bikes or running and the many facilities for practicing outdoor sports.
This was the landscape until the we arrived at the Ocean front Walk in Venice Beach. Here the landscape began to change, the houses were close to the road which was smaller and stuck to the beach. Slowly, the colors of Venice came out, on the street many street artists exhibited their works, restaurants and shops were all very informal.
While Rodeo Drive was the place of material goods, Venice Beach was the place of the soul, the expression of freedom. My complex character cannot make me choose one place over the other but I liked that mood that became even more spectacular thanks to the sunset. We decided not to do things in a hurry even if after that visit we would have had to leave for Las Vegas. Despite the extra time we spent, we were unable to get to the Venice Beach Broad-Walk which is the main part. It was almost 6 PM and leaving shortly after we would arrive at our destination by about 10 PM. On the way back I continued to take pictures calmly, trying to make my farewell to Los Angeles sweeter.
It was November 2012 and I haven't been back since then but despite this I prefer to have seen that little in two days than not having seen it at all. The idea is still there and I will definitely come back sooner or later, trying to stay for much longer and live like a Los Angeles citizen for at least a month.
Pictures: Antonio Malara
Camera: Nikon D800