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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.