Categories
Film

Looking for Hollywood history and David Lynch’s Los Angeles: Part 6

SOUTH L.A. AND VICINITY

See an INDEX for this series of blog posts.

In this part: Doheny Mansion / “Winkie’s Diner” / The diner that inspired Winkie’s / “Eat at Judy’s” (Rudy’s) / The lot where Tyler Durden’s house was / Point Fermin Park / Pelican Cove Park

During my visit to L.A., I spent a few hours one day driving south from downtown to see a few locations associated with David Lynch films and other movies…

DOHENY MANSION

My first stop during this trip was Doheny Mansion—not to be confused with another house connected with the Doheny family, Greystone Mansion. Greystone, which I wrote about in Part 1, is the lavish Beverly Hills palace that oil tycoon Edward Doheny Sr. had built for his son, Ned.

But the father lived in Doheny Mansion in South L.A.

Three decades after David Lynch made 1977’s Eraserhead at Greystone Mansion, he filmed at Doheny Mansion, using the house as a key setting in his 2006 movie Inland Empire.

In the movie’s early scenes, this is the home where Laura Dern’s character, actress Nikki Grace, resides. Playing a woman who lives nearby—who is possibly a witch—Grace Zabriskie walks up to Doheny Mansion and sits down with Den’s character for a disturbing conversation.

“I am a new neighbor. I live just down the street. … I don’t mean to intrude. I am your new neighbor. I hope that it is not being inconvenient for you?”

The mansion was built in 1899 for Oliver P. Posey, with a Romantic Revival exterior including elements of the Gothic, Chateauesque, Moorish, and California Mission architectural styles. It was part of Chester Place, a gated community of Victorian mansions. After Doheny bought it in 1902, his family owned it for nearly 60 years.

Today, Doheny Mansion is part of Mount Saint Mary’s University’s campus, along with the surrounding properties on historic Chester Place. I had a bit of trouble finding an entrance to the campus, which is closed off to traffic with a private parking lot. But I eventually noticed an open gate for pedestrians on Addams Boulevard, about a block south of the mansion.

As I walked around the house, I saw only a few other people on the quiet campus. On the surface, it was a beautiful and idyllic scene. I’m guessing that most people wouldn’t find anything spooky about it. But I couldn’t help sensing something strange and sinister—probably just an after effect from watching Inland Empire. I did not go inside the mansion, which the university uses for offices. Tours are available.

“WINKIE’S DINER”

Driving farther south, l crossed L.A. city limits, entering the suburb of Gardena in the South Bay region—for a visit to one of the most iconic locations from Lynch’s Mulholland Drive. The movie includes scenes at a diner called Winkie’s, which is supposed to be somewhere on Sunset Boulevard.

“I just wanted to come here.”
“To Winkie’s?”
This Winkie’s.”
Okaaay… Why this Winkie’s?”
“It’s kind of embarrassing…”

In reality, Lynch filmed the Winkie’s scenes in and around a restaurant at 1016 West El Segundo Boulevard in Gardena. When I visited in September 2019, the building still had signs identifying it as Caesar’s Restaurant, but it had been out of business for some time. The building seemed to be under renovation; a phone number was posted on one window for a roofing contractor.

The building was still filled with the former restaurant’s furniture—and even some kitchen supplies and coffee cups. The decor doesn’t match the colors seen in Mulholland Drive, but the restaurant’s layout looks similar. I held my iPhone window up to the glass to capture some pictures of the interior. A Gideons Bibles box sat on one table.

In hindsight, I wish I’d taken more pictures of the surrounding area. Rewatching Mulholland Drive now, I recognize nearby buildings in the background of those scenes, including an adjacent hotel.

In Mulholland Drive, Dan (Patrick Fischler) tells Herb (Michael Cooke) about a nightmare he had about Winkie’s. He’d dreamed that a man was behind the restaurant, somehow causing him to feel frightened inside the dinner. “He’s the one who’s doing it. I can see him through the wall. I can see his face. I hope that I never see that face—ever—outside of a dream.”

Herb takes Dan behind the restaurant to confront his fears. As I approached the location where Lynch filmed this shocking scene, I felt disoriented. Wasn’t there supposed to be a wall behind Winkie’s? And an alley around the corner from that wall—where a dirty and disheveled bum lived? Visiting the spot, this is what I saw:

For some reason, I didn’t walk down those steps or explore the parking lot. (Was something holding me back?) Later that afternoon, I tweeted that “there’s no dumpster or even an alley behind the place.”

Chicago filmmaker and author—and fellow David Lynch fan—Michael Smith replied: “The alley is definitely still there, Robert!” He’d visited the same place a month before I was there, and he ventured farther back behind the restaurant than I did, with photos on Instagram to prove it.

Where had I gone wrong? Maybe if I’d studied those Mulholland Drive scenes more closely before visiting, I would have known where to look. If only I’d brought along some videos and photos to study when I was on location!

Rewatching the movie, I can see how the area behind the restaurant has changed. In the movie, the wall behind the restaurant extends farther west. And there’s another section of wall running toward the restaurant.

An image from Mulholland Drive

The satellite image of the restaurant currently posted in Google Maps shows how these portions of the wall were demolished at some point in recent years.

Later in Mulholland Drive, the movie shows the “Bum” (Bonnie Aarons) sitting in the alley behind that wall. In this dimly lit scene, bathed in a red glow, a stepped pattern is visible on the alley wall behind the Bum and a shopping cart.

An image from Mulholland Drive

That pattern is still visible on the wall today, although the wall has been painted dark gray. Although I failed in my mission to stand on the spot where Mulholland Drive‘s mysterious Bum lived, I think I was looking right at it. If you consider where that wall used to stand before it was demolished, the Bum was probably in that space just beyond the stripes for parking spaces.

THE DINER THAT INSPIRED WINKIE’S

Taking a tangent from my travelogue…

The restaurant that inspired Winkie’s diner actually is on Sunset Boulevard. It’s the Denny’s at 6100 Sunset Boulevard, at the corner with Gower Street. (I wish I’d known this when I was in L.A.—I did not visit the Denny’s.)

Google Streetview

“Denny’s restaurant on Sunset used to be a place called the Copper Penny,” Lynch told interview Chris Rodley1—getting the old name wrong. It was actually called the Copper Skillet.

Advertisement in the Los Angeles Times, December 23, 1956

Before that, a 1953 classified ad called it California Kitchen.

Advertisement in the Los Angeles Times, November 4, 1953

“I think that’s where Frank Capra worked,” Lynch said, “and in the old days that was the corner where all the movie extras would line up in the morning for work.”

The intersection of Sunset and Gower was known as Gower Gulch. That nickname alluded to the cowboys who congregated at the corner looking for work in the movies back in the era from the 1930s through the 1950s, when many Westerns were filmed nearby at Columbia and Republic Studios. There was even a deadly shootout between a couple of cowboys at the corner in 1940.

Behind the Denny’s restaurant, there’s a strip mall Gower Gulch with a Old West theme, which opened in 1976.

Google Streetview

The Gower Gulch name has also appeared in several movies.

Lynch mentioned hearing about a connection with Frank Capra. Capra worked nearby at Columbia Pictures. And later, he reportedly named Mr. Gower, a character in 1946’s It’s a Wonderful Life, after Gower Street.

The restaurant became Alphy’s in 1977 and Denny’s in 1982.

Advertisements from the Los Angeles Times, November 8, 1977, and October 20, 1982.

In 1998, the Los Angeles Times reported that this restaurant was known as the “Rock ‘n’ Roll Denny’s” because of its proximity to a Guitar Center and Ralphs grocery, which was nicknamed “Rock ‘n’ Roll Ralphs.”2 According to the Urban Dictionary, that store was “notorious for being packed around 2 to 3 AM after the clubs close, with drunken people trying to buy liquor for after-hours parties.”

In 1998, the Times also remarked that this Denny’s restaurant “has got to be the best people-watching place on the planet.”3

David Lynch told Rodley:

“And the Denny’s there was a pretty strange Denny’s. I’m not positive, but I think there was a satanic booth in the parking lot there for a while.”

Rodley: “What’s that?”

Lynch: “I don’t know! But I used to go there and have breakfast—a Grand Slam. Anyway, I was in a booth, and I think i was alone, and behind me there were three people, and they were talking about God. It sounded like quite a pleasant Sunday morning conversation.

“And I got up to pay the check, and I glanced over at the people in the booth, and there was the head of the satanic church in the booth. They were talking quite friendly and nice. I thought it was like a church group! And so it was kind of strange. Anyway, there was some kind of heavy feelings at that Denny’s, and that fed into this thing in Mulholland Dr.—this bum.”

Anton Szandor LaVey

Perhaps those people Lynch noticed were members of the the Church of Satan—”the first organized church in modern times promulgating a religious philosophy championing Satan as the symbol of personal freedom and individualism.”

Anton Szandor LaVey—who was the church’s high priest from its 1966 founding in San Francisco until his death in 1997—even mentions Denny’s restaurants in The Secret Life of a Satanist: The Authorized Biography of Anton LaVey by Blanche Barton:

“Many of our grass-roots people didn’t know much about subtlety then, or decorum,” he said. “I was trying to present a cultured, mannered image and their idea of protest or shock was to wear their ‘lodge regalia’ into the nearest Denny’s.”

“EAT AT JUDY’S” (RUDY’S)

Returning to my travelogue of South L.A. …

Driving south from the shuttered Caesar’s Restaurant in Gardena, I stopped for lunch at a diner called Eat at Rudy’s.

Lynch fans will recognize it as Eat at Judy’s, the place in Texas where Kyle MacLachlan’s character Dale Cooper (or is it a mysterious alter-ego named Richard?) visits in the final episode of Twin Peaks‘ third season.

In reality, Eat at Rudy’s is located at 558 East Anaheim Street, in a Los Angeles neighborhood Wilmington, which is part of the city’s Harbor region.

The restaurant’s interior was recognizable from those haunting scenes in Twin Peaks, including the open kitchen area where Cooper/Richard drops some handguns into the deep fryer.

“Is there another waitress that works here?”
“Yeah. It’s her day off. Actually, it’s her third day off.”

On his Twin Peaks Blog, Steven Miller describes his own visit to Eat at Rudy’s in detail, analyzing how Lynch used the space.

I must say this seemed to be an outstanding diner and a friendly spot to go for lunch. I asked the waitress for the best or most popular dish, and she recommended the California turkey melt, which turned out to be just as delicious as she’d promised.

THE LOT WHERE TYLER DURDEN’S HOUSE WAS

While I was eating at Eat at Rudy’s, I noticed that several locations from David Fincher’s 1999 movie Fight Club are within a few blocks of the restaurant. I stopped by one of these locations—the lot where Tyler Durden’s house stood during the filming.

An image from Fight Club

In the movie, it’s supposedly on road called Paper Street, but according to the Movie District website, it was filmed at 240 North Neptune Avenue. It’s a vacant lot with a fence topped by razor wire.

I took a peek through the fence…

A team led by the movie’s production designer, Alex McDowell, built the ramshackle house at this spot, mimicking the look of burned-out houses McDowell has seen in Detroit. Introducing the film at Design Manchester in 2016, he said:

“The port of Los Angeles at this time decided they needed more room for containers, so they bought up 10 city blocks north of the ocean and destroyed all the houses in preparation for a new container port. We moved in there and built a house—the Paper Street House, sitting on its own on a city block, inspired by that Detroit desolation.”

The other nearby locations from Fight Club are: Asian man’s drugstore, 1109 West Harry Bridges Boulevard; Lou’s Tavern, 1331 B Street; and Goodyear, 505 North Avalon Boulevard.

POINT FERMIN PARK

By this point in travels, I was near the Port of Los Angeles and the San Pedro neighborhood in L.A.’s Harbor region. There’s another connection here with the Doheny family.

As I mentioned in Part 1, oil tycoon Edward L. Doheny Sr. was a key figure in the Teapot Dome Scandal. San Pedro is where Doheny’s Pan American Petroleum and Transport Company built a refinery as part of a corrupt deal with the administration of President Warren G. Harding.

I continued south to Point Fermin Park, the southernmost point in Los Angeles. The 37-acre park is atop rugged bluffs with lovely views of the Pacific and a Stick Style Victorian lighthouse built in 1874.

In Joel and Ethan Coen’s 1998 film The Big Lebowski, Point Fermin is where Walter Sobchak (John Goodman) and Jeffrey “The Dude” Lebowski (Jeff Bridges) scatter their friend Donny’s ashes. This scene takes place in an area of San Pedro’s shoreline called the “Sunken City,” where a neighborhood of houses tumbled into the ocean during a landslide in 1929.

The Big Lebowski

“And so, Theodore Donald Karabatsos, in accordance with what we think your dying wishes might well have been, we commit your final mortal remains to the bosom of the Pacific Ocean, which you loved so well. Good night, sweet prince.”

As Atlas Obscura notes: “Do not attempt to enter the Sunken City. Not only is trespassing not tolerated, but accessing the ruins is dangerous and therefore should not be attempted. Due to the danger of the ruins, the site is strictly off-limits to the public.” So, I had to settle for looking through the fence at those bluffs.

Point Fermin Park is prominently featured in another iconic movie about Los Angeles. In 1974’s Chinatown, it’s where detective Jake Gittes (Jack Nicholson) follows the city water department engineer Hollis Mulwray (Darrell Zwerling). As Gittes watches, water mysteriously pours from pipes into the ocean, even though the city is in the midst of a drought.

Images from Chinatown

The parking spaces on Paseo Del Mar are where Gittes is shown placing a stopwatch next to one of the wheels of Mulwray’s car—his trick for determining what time Mulwray finally moves his car to leave.

In these scenes, a little bar and restaurant can be seen nearby.

Images from Chinatown

That joint, Walker’s Cafe, is still there, and it doesn’t look like it has changed a whole lot. Constructed around 1913 as a turnaround station at the end of the Red Car line down Pacific Avenue, it’s been Walker’s Cafe since 1946. I stopped in for a beer. Judging from the motorcycles parked outside and some of the conversations I overheard, it seems to be a hangout for bikers.

In 1990, waitress Reni Mauritsen defended the restaurant’s biker clientele, telling the Daily Breeze’s Lisa Plendl: “People have a tendency to think these guys are real rough, but I get more respect from them than anyone else.”

PELICAN COVE PARK

One more stop on my tour of L.A.’s southern reaches. I drove northwest on Palos Verdes Drive, a curving road with lovely views of the ocean—heading into Rancho Palos Verdes, a suburb in L.A.’s South Bay region.

In this area, Pelican Cove Park is a delightful place for a walk down to the ocean’s rocky shore. I spent half a hour sitting on the rocks and watching a large gathering of birds on some rocks out in the water.

As it happens, this oceanfront park appears in another movie by the Coen brothers: 2016’s Hail, Caesar! According to Los Angeles Magazine: “The dramatic South Bay topography stands in for Malibu, but the home of Burt Gurney (Channing Tatum) is only a matte painting.”

Images from Hail, Caesar!

Continued in Part 7.

See an INDEX for this series of blog posts.

In this part: Doheny Mansion / “Winkie’s Diner” / The diner that inspired Winkie’s / “Eat at Judy’s” (Rudy’s) / The lot where Tyler Durden’s house was / Point Fermin Park / Pelican Cove Park

NOTES

1 David Lynch, ed. Chris Rodley, Lynch on Lynch (New York: Farrar Straus & Giroux, 2005 edition), excerpted in Criterion Collection booklet for Mulholland Drive, 22.
2 Heidi Siegmund Cuda, “Club Hoppin’: Got Milk?”, Los Angeles Times, November 26, 1998.
3 Heidi Siegmund Cuda, “Club Hoppin’: Burgers, Los Angeles Times, January 29, 1998.
Follow links in the text for additional sources.

Photos by Robert Loerzel unless noted otherwise.

Categories
Film

Looking for Hollywood history and David Lynch’s Los Angeles: Part 2

MULHOLLAND DRIVE

See an INDEX for this series of blog posts.

In this part: Mulholland Drive / Fred and Renee’s house from Lost Highway / The walk down from Mulholland Drive / Aunt Ruth’s apartment / Pink’s Hot Dogs

“I want to know if there was an accident on Mulholland Drive.”

David Lynch named his 2001 movie Mulholland Drive after one of the most famous roads in Los Angeles.

“I live near it, and I drive it quite often,” he told Filmmaker magazine in 2001. “… So it’s a mysterious road. It’s rural in many places. It’s curvy, it’s two lanes, it feels old. It was built long ago, and it hasn’t changed too much. And at night, you ride on top of the world. In the daytime you ride on top of the world too, but it’s mysterious, and there’s a hair of fear because it goes into remote areas. You feel the history of Hollywood in that road.”

When the Hollywood Hills Improvement Association, “a body composed of a large number of prominent property owners,” proposed the plan for Mulholland Drive in 1922,1 the Los Angeles Times remarked: “The idea has enormous possibilities as a scenic road, since it would command views of ocean, city, mountains and desert without peer in the world.”2

And when the road opened to cars on December 26, 1924,3 it created the possibility of building houses high up in the Hollywood Hills, transforming a wild and mountainous landscape into pricey real estate.

Photo: Mountains Recreation & Conservation Authority

The road is named after the man who’d envisioned it: William Mulholland, an Irish immigrant who started working as a ditch digger before rising to become the Los Angeles city engineer and Water Bureau chief. Mulholland (who inspired the Hollis Mulwray character in the 1974 film Chinatown) had overseen the construction of the highly controversial aqueduct carrying water from the Owens Valley to Los Angeles.

William Mulholland
(Wikipedia photo)

“Years ago, in his walks over these hills, Mr. Mulholland saw the possibilities of such a road, and advocated it among his friends,” the Los Angeles Times reported. Remarkably, Mulholland Drive was named after him while he was still serving in office. He’d reportedly suggested naming it after some famous historical figure, but Mulholland’s associates insisted on honoring him.

The Times agreed, saying that the road should be named after “the man whose engineering skill brought to Los Angeles the water supply which has made the Los Angeles of today possible.”2

Mulholland’s career ended in calamity and disgrace, when the St. Francis Dam burst open on March 12, 1928—just over 12 hours after Mulholland and an assistant had inspected the dam and declared it was safe. The resulting flood killed more than 400 people.

I didn’t take many photographs of Mulholland Drive during my visit—because I was too busy driving on it. The scenery is breathtaking all along this winding road. It feels like it’s high above the City of Angels, and yet, it is actually a part of it.

“I think because of the views, Mulholland gives you a semi-religious feeling of being up there and in control,” David Thomson wrote in the 1990s. “It is where Satan would take you if he were to offer you the city.”4

Sweeping around all of those curves, I gripped the steering wheel of my rental car and kept my foot poised to break at any second. Mulholland Drive demands that you stay alert at all times, even as the mountains and mansions tug at your attention, pulling your eyes away from the pavement. It’s no surprise that at least one spot on Mulholland Drive is known as a “dead man’s curve.”

Photographer Jason Knight has documented a car crash graveyard below Mulholland Drive near Laurel Canyon.

In director Lee Tamahori’s 1996 neo-noir movie Mulholland Falls, brute cops throw a mob-connected man down a steep hill next to Mulholland Drive, calling the spot “Mulholland Falls.”

The road and its dangers also loom in the background of Steven Soderbergh’s 1996 film The Limey. “Those streets up them hills, you gotta’ be careful,” Luis Guzmán’s character Eduardo Roel says. “Gotta keep your eyes on the ball. Two o’clock in the morning, it’s dark, your mind’s agitated. You’re driving too fast. Those curves don’t kid around. Could’ve happened to anybody.”

“What are you doing? We don’t stop here.”

David Lynch told interviewer Chris Rodley that his movie sprang out of a simple suggestion: “My former agent Tony Krantz said, ‘Why don’t you do a new television show called Mulholland Dr.*?’ If he hadn’t said that, I would never have done anything with it, so that was a good thing. … It was just those words. ‘Mulholland Drive.’ When you say some words, pictures form, and in this case, what formed was what you see at the beginning of the film—a sign at night, headlights on the sign, and a trip up a road. This makes me dream, and these images are like magnets, and they pull other ideas to them.”5

* The film’s title is often styled as Mulholland Dr.

In the movie’s opening minutes, two cars come screaming down the two-lane highway at nighttime—racing side by side, with young people standing up through the sunroofs of the vehicles, yelling and waving their arms. That would be reckless anywhere, of course, but now that I’ve actually driven on Mulholland Drive, it’s almost unimaginable that anyone would attempt such a stunt on this road.

Those cars crash into a limousine stopped along the road. The passenger in the limo (Laura Elena Harring), whom we’ll come to know as “Rita,” walks away from the crash, heading downhill through the brush along Mulholland Drive—drawn toward the lights of Los Angeles. It’s not clear precisely where on Mulholland Drive this collision is supposed to happen.

The movie returns to the same road in its final scenes, when the characters have changed personas. This time, Diane Selwyn (Naomi Watts) is riding in the limo. Her destination is the home of movie director Adam Kesher (Justin Theroux). We’ve heard the address:

6980 Mulholland Drive.

Once again, the limo makes an unexpected stop along Mulholland Drive—but this time, there’s no crash. Harring, now playing the character Camilla Rhodes, takes Diane up a hill to Kesher’s house.

In reality, there is no house at 6980 Mulholland Drive. Does the crash in the first part of the film happen at or near this address mentioned in the last part of the film? Geography suggests that it’s at least somewhere in that vicinity. As Rita walks downhill, she ends up on streets that are south-southwest of 6980 Mulholland Drive.

Google Streetview of 6980 Mulholland Drive

It’s worth noting that the nighttime vista Rita sees in the movie doesn’t seem to quite match what she would see at 6980 Mulholland Drive. (And this isn’t where Lynch filmed the scenes at Adam Kesher’s house isn’t here—that location is reportedly in the Studio City neighborhood in the San Fernando Valley.)

A scene from Mulholland Drive

If a house did exist at 6980 Mulholland Drive, it would be right next to the parking lot for the Jerome C. Daniel Overlook, where I stopped to take in views of the Hollywood Sign, the Hollywood Bowl, and the city of Los Angeles spread out below the Hollywood Hills.

I did not visit Mulholland Drive at nighttime; the closest approximation I have for the nighttime views in Lynch’s film are these photos looking out at Los Angeles from the part of Griffith Park near the Griffith Observatory.

FRED AND RENEE’S HOUSE IN LOST HIGHWAY

“Dick Laurent is dead.”

There’s something curious about the 6980 Mulholland Drive location.

If Rita walked a few hundred feet downhill from this spot, she’d end up in the backyard of a house from an earlier Lynch movie, 1997’s Lost Highway: the modernist home where jazz musician Fred Madison (Bill Pullman) lives with his wife, Renee (Patricia Arquette).

In the film, the house’s address is identified as “7035 Hollis, near the observatory.” There is, in fact, no such address in L.A. (Is Hollis an allusion to the Chinatown character Hollis Mulwray, a.k.a. William Mulholland?)

The house where Lynch filmed the exterior shots of the house and at least some interior scenes is actually on Senalda Road. According to Zillow, it was built in 1957. Here’s how it was described in a 1959 real estate ad in the Los Angeles Times:6

I drove past this private home a couple of times and snapped a few quick photos without lingering. Perhaps the house seemed spooky merely because of the way I’d seen it used in Lost Highway, but I sensed something forbidding about the building’s fortress-like façade facing that narrow, curving street in the Hollywood Hills neighborhood.

In Los Angeles Plays Itself, Thom Andersen observes:

“One of the glories of Los Angeles is its modernist residential architecture, but Hollywood movies have almost systematically denigrated this heritage by casting many of these houses as the residences of movie villains.”

THE WALK DOWN FROM MULHOLLAND DRIVE

Scenes from Mulholland Drive

In Mulholland Drive, Rita is next seen walking on the 7400 block of West Franklin Avenue in the Hollywood Hills West neighborhood—about a mile south of Mulholland Drive. (As it happens, this is near the former home of Joan Didion, 7406 Franklin Avenue.)

Scenes from Mulholland Drive

Rita continues walking, heading about half a mile southeast, to the 7200 West Sunset Boulevard in the Hollywood neighborhood. Finally, she falls asleep in some hedges outside an apartment building we later hear identified as 1612 Havenhurst. There’s actually no such address: Havenhurst Drive doesn’t extend north beyond Sunset Boulevard, or 1500 North.

That’s about a mile west of the previous spot where we’ve seen Rita walking, meaning that her entire trek down from Mulholland Drive was something like two and a half miles—a rather long walk for a dazed and injured woman wearing high heels.

Of course, Lynch may not have intended viewers to study the geography of Rita’s walk. And, depending on how you interpret the movie, all of this might be a dream anyway.

Google satellite photo

If, in fact, the spot where Rita falls asleep is supposed to be near Havenhurst and Sunset Boulevard, that would place it in the suburb of West Hollywood.

Looming northwest of the intersection is the seven-story Chateau Marmont hotel, built in 1929, where Greta Garbo, Marilyn Monroe, John Wayne, and Lindsay Lohan stayed; John Belushi and Helmut Newton died; Robert Mitchum was arrested; Jim Morrison jumped from a fourth-floor window; and Dorothy Parker, Hunter S. Thompson, F. Scott Fitzgerald, and Jay McInerney wrote.

Half a block south on Havenhurst, a dotted line is painted across the street, marking the boundary between the cities of Los Angeles and West Hollywood.

On the same block, the Mi Casa apartments were filmed in Chinatown—appearing as the El Macondo Apartments, where detective Jake Gittes (Jack Nicholson) takes clandestine photos of Hollis Mulwray (Darrell Zwerling) in a romantic rendezvous.

AUNT RUTH’S APARTMENT

“Everybody in this building’s pretty much OK with me—or they wouldn’t be here.”

When she awakens, Rita hides in an apartment, as a tenant named Aunt Ruth (Maya Bond) departs on a trip. Later, Aunt Ruth’s niece Betty Elms (Naomi Watts) arrives. Lynch filmed these exterior scenes at the Il Borghese Apartments, a couple of miles to the southeast—at 450 North Sycamore Avenue in the Hancock Park neighborhood.

Built in 1929 and designed by Charles Gault, the Mediterranean-style building was on the cover of the book Courtyard Housing in Los Angeles, which called it “one of the most elegant of the courts.”

Curbed Los Angeles reported: “According to a tipster: ‘Shirley Temple lived here. Errol Flynn partied here, Ann-Margaret visited her publicist here, Lionel Richie found his current wife here.’ And we can’t confirm a damn bit of it…”

I photographed the exterior of the building, with its distinctive arched gates. I could hear the trickling of the fountain inside the courtyard, a sound that appears a few times in Mulholland Drive.

For photos of the courtyard, check out this blog post by Jonathan Myles-Lea, who notes: “Apparently a large olive tree existed on the lot where [Il] Borghese was to be built and instead of uprooting the tree, Gault centred the building’s courtyard around it. The 100 year old tree is still there today.” And for a look inside one of the units, see this story at the Apartment Therapy website.

PINK’S HOT DOGS

“Any new girls on the street lately? … A brunette? Maybe a little beat up? You’ll keep your eyes open for me won’t, you baby?”

Another Mulholland Drive location is just three blocks from the Il Borghese apartments: Pink’s Hot Dogs at 709 North La Brea Avenue. Billing itself as “A Hollywood Legend Since 1939,” the popular restaurant is where Lynch filmed the hitman Joe (Mark Pellegrino) talking with a couple of his associates along the building’s north wall.

Paul Pink and his wife, Betty, started selling 10-cent wieners from a cart at the same corner in 1939, before constructing the restaurant in 1946.7 It’s one of those oddly configured commercial buildings that seem cobbled together; the hot dog stand shares space with a lamp store. In Los Angeles Plays Itself, Thom Andersen describes Pink’s as one of those “a few Los Angeles landmarks that almost always play themselves.”

Pink’s serves a delicious and decadent item dubbed the Mulholland Drive Dog: a nine-inch “stretch dog,” grilled onions, grilled mushrooms, nacho cheese, and bacon. Inside, the many photos of celebrities and customers on the walls include an autographed picture of Lynch. Above his name, he wrote:

“GO PINKS”

Continued in Part 3.

See an INDEX for this series of blog posts.

In this part: Mulholland Drive / Fred and Renee’s house from Lost Highway / The walk down from Mulholland Drive / Aunt Ruth’s apartment / Pink’s Hot Dogs

NOTES

1 “Scenic Boulevard From Hollywood to Sea Over Crest of Santa Monica Mountains,” Los Angeles Times, December 24, 1922.
2 “Fact and Comment,” Los Angeles Times, December 24, 1922.
3 “High Way Fete to Be Free,” Los Angeles Times, Dec. 26, 1924.
4 David Thomson, Beneath Mulholland: Thoughts on Hollywood and Its Ghosts (New York: Knopf, 1998); quoted in Thomas Curwen, “‘If you ever want to fly…’,” Los Angeles Times, June 21, 2006.
David Lynch, ed. Chris Rodley, Lynch on Lynch (New York: Farrar Straus & Giroux, 2005 edition), excerpted in Criterion Collection booklet for Mulholland Drive, 25-26.
6 Classified advertisement, Los Angeles Times, March 15, 1959.
7 Larry Gordon, “Chili Dog Champ Paul Pink Dies at Age 87,” Los Angeles Times, March 3, 1996.
Follow links in the text for additional sources.

Photos by Robert Loerzel except where noted otherwise.

Categories
Film

Looking for Hollywood history and David Lynch’s Los Angeles: Part 1

I went to Los Angeles. I looked for locations where some of my favorite L.A. movies were made. Especially the films of David Lynch, but others, too. Here’s what I saw and learned…

BEVERLY HILLS AND VICINITY

See an INDEX for this series of blog posts.

In this part: Greystone Mansion / Beverly Center / Franklin Canyon Park

 

GREYSTONE MANSION

“In heaven, everything is fine.”

Eraserhead

As a fan of David Lynch’s films, I wanted to see the place where Eraserhead was born. But that is hardly the only claim to fame for Greystone Mansion in Beverly Hills.

This West Coast palace was built with oil money. Edward Doheny Sr., who’d discovered oil in Los Angeles in 1892, had this 55-room Tudor Revival-style home built in the late 1920s—as a gift for his son, Ned Doheny.

On February 16, 1929, five months after Ned and his family had moved in, he was found dead in the mansion alongside the body of his friend and aide Hugh Plunkett. Both had been shot in the head.

“After a quick investigation, authorities ruled that a deranged Plunkett shot his employer and then turned the gun on himself, but to this day the sensational crime is a source of rumor and speculation,” the Los Angeles Times wrote in 2003.

Los Angeles Times, February 18, 1929
Great Falls Tribune, February 18, 1929

As it happened, both men were due to testify in the trial of Ned Doheny’s father in the Teapot Dome case—perhaps the biggest political scandal in U.S. history before Watergate. And Ned was accused of serving as his father’s bribery bagman.

Edward Doheny Sr. was later found not guilty of bribing an official in President Warren G. Harding’s Cabinet, even though the official was found guilty of taking the bribe.

The story of the Dohenys inspired Upton Sinclair’s novel Oil!—which Paul Thomas Anderson loosely adapted into his 2007 film There Will Be Blood, one of many, many movies filmed at Greystone Mansion.

And some scholars believe that Raymond Chandler had Greystone Mansion in mind when he described the home of General Sternwood, an aging oil tycoon, in his 1939 novel The Big Sleep (filmed in 1946 by Howard Hawks).

The Big Sleep

Greystone was later owned by Chicago industrialist Henry Crown, who leased it out for movie shoots. He planned to tear it down and subdivide the property, but Beverly Hills stopped demolition by buying the mansion in 1965.

The city leased it to the American Film Institute—and that’s where David Lynch enters the picture, arriving as an AFI student in 1970. Beginning in 1972, Lynch spent four years making Eraserhead, transforming the Greystone Mansion’s stables into a makeshift studio—creating a weird world inside its walls.

In his 2018 book Room to Dream, Lynch wrote:

“Nobody was using the stables at the AFI, so I set up there and had a pretty-good-size studio for four years. Some people from the school came down the first night of shooting and they never came down again. I was so lucky—it was like I’d died and gone to heaven.”1

For a time, Lynch even lived in the stables. “I moved into the stables when Peggy and I split up, and that was the greatest place. I’d lock myself in Henry’s room and I loved sleeping there, but eventually I had to leave …”2

The American Film Institute moved out of the mansion after 1981. Today, the grounds are a public park, Historic Doheny Greystone Estate (905 Loma Vista Drive, Beverly Hills) while the mansion itself is open only for special events.

It’s an astonishingly beautiful place. Strolling amid the buildings and gardens, I felt as if I’d somehow wandered onto the grounds of an English castle.

At first, it wasn’t clear to me where the stables were located, but I found a map on a placard, which showed the stables down at the southwest corner of the estate, along Doheny Road.

The gates to this section were locked, much as I’d expected. These utilitarian buildings are hardly the main attraction for most visitors, even if I think they deserve to be preserved—not only for their architectural beauty, but as a shrine to the creation of Eraserhead.

The Criterion Collection’s edition of Eraserhead includes a short film from 1997 documenting a visit by Lynch, Jack Nance, Charlotte Stewart, and Catherine Coulson to the stables. Even they weren’t allowed inside the buildings, apparently.

Until I visited this spot, I’d had trouble picturing the place where Lynch and his small team of collaborators created their surreal film, which seems so far removed from the milieu of Los Angeles. The contrast was even more striking as I stood outside the wall on Doheny Road, which is lined with tall palm trees. It’s hard to imagine how anything like Eraserhead had emerged from this sunny street lined with luxurious estates.

Greystone Mansion has a Zelig-like presence in Hollywood films and TV shows. Dozens of movies have been filmed in its rooms and gardens over the decades, including—to name just a few—Hush, Hush Sweet Charlotte, The Disorderly Orderly, The Loved One, Stripes, Ghostbusters, The Witches of Eastwick, X-Men, Spider-Man, The Prestige, and The Social Network.

In The Big Lebowski, its interiors served as the mansion of the title character (the wealthy Lebowski, of course, not the Dude). It was also Kermit the Frog’s mansion in 2011’s The Muppets.

It would be fascinating to see the scenes showing Greystone in these various films edited together, to see how the same spaces have been used time and time again. Through its numerous film roles, Greystone has become the archetype of a classic West Coast mansion.

There Will Be Blood

In There Will Be Blood, it’s the mansion of oil tycoon Daniel Plainview (Daniel Day-Lewis), where he proclaims, “I drink your milkshake!” That was the first film made inside the mansion’s subterranean bowling alley, located near the old laundry room where Lynch had constructed the stage for Eraserhead‘s Lady in the Radiator in the 1970s.3

Raymond Chandler

In Chandler’s The Big Sleep, private detective Philip Marlowe describes departing Greystone—or a mansion similar to it, anyway:

Outside the bright gardens had a haunted look, as though small wild eyes were watching me from behind the bushes, as though the sunshine itself had a mysterious something in its light. I got into my car and drove off down the hill. What did it matter where you lay once you were dead? In a dirty sump or in a marble tower on top of a high hill? You were dead, you were sleeping the big sleep, you were not bothered by things like that.4

Eraserhead

BEVERLY CENTER

Two miles southeast of Greystone, David Lynch filmed some outdoor scenes for Eraserhead on the land southeast of Beverly Boulevard and San Vicente Boulevard, in the Beverly Grove neighborhood of Los Angeles.

I didn’t visit this site—largely because I knew that nothing remains to be seen of the landscape Lynch filmed. Nevertheless, it’s fascinating to consider how much this place has changed.

Eraserhead

Lynch told interviewer Chris Rodley:

“… it was one of my favorite places in the whole world. You’d go over this doughnut of earth and down inside this place, and you’d be in a completely different world. There were these oil tanks and this working oil well just standing there. It was just incredible.”

Lynch said he liked this place because it seemed frozen in time since the 1930s. “… it hadn’t changed. It was like a set. This place just existed there.”5

Back in 1931, the Ripley’s Believe It or Not cartoon had told readers about an oil well near this site:6

Beverly Park, an amusement park with a dozen kiddie rides, opened here in 1946, leasing land from the Beverly Oil Company and disguising the neighboring oil well as a dragon with flapping wings. Walt Disney’s visits to the park reportedly inspired him to create Disneyland.

(KCET reports that Alfred Hitchcock filmed 1951’s Strangers on a Train here, but that seems to be incorrect. From the American Film Institute website: “According to a Nov 1950 HR news items, the amusement park set was constructed at director Rowland V. Lee’s Ranch, which was located in the San Fernando Valley…” The Carousel Corner website agrees, noting that Hitchcock’s movie, featuring “the greatest carousel movie scene ever,” used a rental Herschell carousel.)

Beverly Park closed in 1974—around the time when Lynch filmed Eraserhead—while the adjacent Ponyland stayed open a few more years.

“Beverly Ponyland consisted of a dusty, dirty row of old wooden stalls with a 3-track riding ring where one could hear the sounds of snorting ponies, jingling bits, creaking leather saddles and sporadic ‘Giddyups,’ while the pungent mixture of hay and fresh droppings filled the air,” KCET notes.

“… After Beverly Park closed, some of the rides remained on the lot. They stood forlornly behind a chained up gate, bearing a misleading sign which read, ‘closed for renovations.'”

Photos from the Water and Power Associates website

Lynch recalled: “There was a pony ride from the twenties or thirties. And there was this little key shop that was like four feet by four feet, with a roof. And then there was the Tail o’ the Pup hot dog stand, which has moved to another place now. And there was Hull Bros. Lumber, which was a working sawmill, I think, with a hundred-foot-tall mound of sawdust next to it. There was also a nursery. It was all, like, from the thirties—mostly dirt, with this stuff scattered around. The buildings were ancient, and guys wore those green-colored visors and armbands. They were old-timers who knew about wood and Hollywood and everything.”5

In 1979, two years after the release of Eraserhead, construction crews began building the eight-story Beverly Center shopping mall on this land. “Now it’s just like, a congestion of shops and parking and lights and signs. It’s just a huge change,” Lynch later remarked.5

In 1984, the Los Angeles Times reported that neighbors “said it was one of the ugliest buildings in the city and called it the Incredible Bulk.”7

In 1991, architecture critic Aaron Betsky wrote: “The Beverly Center is not a pretty building. It’s big, it’s brown, and it’s a blob.” He called the mall’s interior a “shining shopping nirvana” and “the Acropolis of shopping, dedicated to our national religion, consumption.”8

Since renovations were completed in 2018, the bulky shopping center is no longer brown. It “now boasts a new glimmering white skin made of a highly textured stucco surmounting a metal mesh which changes transparency through the day and according to the viewer’s vantage point.”

Google Streetview

It’s utterly unrecognizable as the place where Lynch filmed, but oil wells are still operating on the property, concealed by the tall walls along San Vicente Boulevard.

FRANKLIN CANYON PARK

Driving north three miles from Greystone Mansion—taking Loma Vista Drive and Coldwater Canyon Drive—you’ll arrive at Franklin Canyon Park, where several scenes were filmed for Twin Peaks, especially for the second season of the TV series. This California park serves as a stand-in for the forests of Washington state in these scenes, which were mostly filmed by directors other than David Lynch.

Scenes from Twin Peaks

Glastonberry Grove’s ring of sycamore trees—that portal into the Black Lodge—was reportedly filmed somewhere in these woods. So was Windom Earle’s cabin, and various forest outings by Twin Peaks characters. It’s where the show’s lawmen took a walk. And it’s where Hawk found Major Briggs. (For details about these and other places where Twin Peaks was filmed, visit location sleuth Steven Miller’s excellent Twin Peaks Blog.)

I took a short drive into Franklin Canyon Park, but alas, I didn’t have enough time to search for these locations—or the many other places where movies and TV shows were filmed. When I visited, it looked like a movie crew was filming something.

Franklin Canyon has appeared in It Happened One Night, The Blob, Minority Report, Platoon, Nightmare on Elm Street, Rambo, The Creature From the Black Lagoon, Purple Rain, and the original Star Trek TV series episode “The Paradise Syndrome.”

Perhaps most famously, a lake in the canyon serves as the backdrop for the opening credits of The Andy Griffith Show.

Franklin Canyon is also where two 1960s album covers were photographed: Simon and Garfunkel’s Sounds of Silence and the Rolling Stones’ Big Hits (High Tide and Green Grass).

This canyon is where Los Angeles Water Bureau chief William Mulholland built reservoirs and a “Mighty Siphon of Riveted Steel” from 1913 to 1916, completing a 230-mile aqueduct that carried water from the Owens Valley to Los Angeles.

Without all of that water, it’s doubtful that L.A. could have continued growing into a massive city, and the Los Angeles Times hailed this “splendid achievement by Mulholland and his assistants.”9 But people in the Owens Valley accused L.A. of stealing their water.

Illustration of William Mulholland in the Los Angeles Times, March 20, 1915
Los Angeles Times, March 20, 1915

Mulholland was the inspiration for a character named Hollis Mulwray in Robert Towne’s screenplay for Roman Polanski’s 1974 film Chinatown. Don’t take that version of the story too literally, though.

In Los Angeles Plays Itself—a 2003 documentary that was one of the inspirations for my movie-location hunt in L.A.—director Thom Andersen observes:

“Robert Towne took an urban myth about the founding of Los Angeles on water stolen from the Owens River Valley and made it resonate,. Chinatown isn’t a docudrama; it’s a fiction. … These echoes have led many viewers to regard Chinatown not only as docudrama, but as truth, the real secret history of how Los Angeles got its water, and it has become a ruling metaphor for nonfictional critiques of Los Angeles development.”

Darrell Zwerling as Hollis Mulwray in Chinatown

Author David Thomson wrote that William Mulholland “is regarded now as a robber baron and ecological rapist.” But as he noted, “No one is sending the water back to the desolate Owens Valley.”10

As Mulholland was building Franklin Canyon’s reservoirs, the Dohenys—the same family that built Greystone Mansion—bought land in the lower part of the canyon for watering and grazing cattle. In 1935, the Dohenys added a Spanish adobe home in the canyon, using it as a summer retreat.

The canyon’s old reservoirs were removed from use—and one was completely drained—by the early 1980s, after officials decided they were vulnerable to earthquakes. And the land was opened to the public as Franklin Canyon Park.

Photo: Mountains Recreation & Conservation Authority

The park’s north end connects with a curvy mountain highway with a famous name: Mulholland Drive.

Continued in Part 2.

See an INDEX for this series of blog posts.

NOTES

1 David Lynch and Kristine McKenna, Room to Dream (New York: Random House, 2018), Room to Dream, 124.
2 Room to Dream, 131.
3 Room to Dream, 122.
4 Raymond Chandler, The Big Sleep (New York: Alfred Knopf, 1939; New York: Vintage Crime/Black Lizard, 1992), 230.
5 David Lynch, ed. Chris Rodley, Lynch on Lynch (New York: Farrar Straus & Giroux, 2005 edition), excerpted in Criterion Collection booklet for Mulholland Drive, 24.
6 Johnson City (TN) Chronicle, April 2 and 3, 1931.
7 Frank Clifford, “The Beverly Center,” Los Angeles Times, March 4, 1984.
8 Aaron Betsky, “It’s Big, Chic and Famous, but Beverly Center’s Not a Pretty Site,” Los Angeles Times, Nov. 14, 1991.
9 “Drive Great Pipe Line Through to Lower Dam,” Los Angeles Times, May 11, 1913.
10 David Thomson, “Uneasy Street,” in Sex, Death and God in L.A., ed. David Reid (New York: Pantheon, 1992), page 363 in the e-book.
Follow links in the text for additional sources.

Photos by Robert Loerzel except where noted otherwise.