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Film

Looking for Hollywood history and David Lynch’s Los Angeles: Part 5

DOWNTOWN L.A.

See an INDEX for this series of blog posts.

In this part: “Nite Owl Café” / Safety Last! / The door to Club Silencio / The Banks-Huntley Building / “Twin Peaks Savings & Loan” / The Tower Theatre / Hotel Barclay / Fire Station No. 23 / The Bradbury Building / The Million Dollar Theatre / The Second Street Tunnel / Union Station / Los Angeles City Hall / The Los Angeles Times Building / The John Ferraro Building / Los Angeles Central Library / Bunker Hill / Angels Flight / Double Indemnity’s opening shot / The final scene of Chinatown / The viaduct in Eraserhead / The Los Angeles River

“NITE OWL CAFÉ”

Just about every block of downtown L.A.—probably every block—has been filmed for a movie at some point.

I parked on a random block, with the first parking space I could find. Pulling out my iPhone, I checked the Google map I’d created with a list of movie locations.

By sheer coincidence, I’d parked right next to the restaurant where the Nite Owl Café scenes were filmed for L.A. Confidential. The café’s layout looked eerily similar.

“It happened to have, in the inside alley of the building right behind that restaurant, a bathroom that we could use for the murder scene,” L.A. Confidential production designer Jeannine Oppewall told Curbed Los Angeles.

SAFETY LAST!

Walking around downtown, I spotted a few of the buildings where Harold Lloyd filmed scenes for his classic 1923 silent comedy Safety Last!—famously featuring Lloyd dangling from a clock on the side of a high-rise.

Safety Last!

As John Bengtson documents on his Silent Locations website, the rooftop scenes in Safety Last! were filmed on several different buildings in downtown Los Angeles.

From the Silent Locations website: Three different Safety Last! rooftops for the closing scene, 548 South Spring Street, Third and Spring, and 908 South Broadway.

I saw three of the Safety Last! buildings:

THE DOOR TO CLUB SILENCIO

David Lynch has filmed at a number of places in downtown L.A., including three buildings on one block of Spring Street—within an area known as the Spring Street Financial District, a.k.a. “the Wall Street of the West.”

One of these locations is actually just the rear wall of the Palace Theatre—or as the faded paint on the wall calls it, the Palace Newsreel Theatre. Built in 1911, it was originally a vaudeville house called the Orpheum Theatre—not to be confused with another theater of that name built down the street in 1926.

The Palace Theatre faces Broadway, but Lynch used the wall facing a parking lot on Spring Street as the entrance to Club Silencio in his 2001 movie Mulholland Drive.

Images from Mulholland Drive

“Go with me somewhere.”
“It’s 2 o’clock—It’s 2 o’clock in the morning.”
“Go with me somewhere.”
“Sure. Now?”
“Right now!”

On the day when I visited, some trucks were parked in the lot, obscuring my view of that mysterious portal. And the alley next to the theater’s wall—where a taxi drives in Mulholland Drive, dropping off Betty (Naomi Watts) and Rita (Laura Elena Harring)—was closed off.

(For their 1998 film The Big Lebowski, Joel and Ethan Coen used the Palace Theatre’s fifth floor as the loft of Maude Lebowski, played by Julianne Moore.)

THE BANKS-HUNTLEY BUILDING

Directly across the street from that parking lot is the Banks Huntley Building, a 12-story art deco skyscraper completed in 1931. In Mulholland Drive, the director Adam Kesher (Justin Theroux) is seen entering this building. In the film, it houses the offices of a company called Ryan Entertainment.

“This is the girl.”

After exiting an ominous and surreal meeting, Kesher uses his golf club to smash the windshield of a limo in the parking lot just south of the Banks-Huntley Building.

Here’s a curious thing about that scene: As Kesher (Theroux) walks in front of the Banks-Huntley Building, a parking lot is visible across the street. That’s the same lot that will appear later in Mulholland Drive as the entrance to Club Silencio.

A scene from Mulholland Drive

“TWIN PEAKS SAVINGS & LOAN”

South of the parking lot next to the Banks-Huntley Building—that lot where the limo’s windshield gets smashed—is the Majestic Downtown, a Beaux Art building that opened in 1924 as the Hellman Commercial Trust and Savings Bank.

David Lynch used the interior as the Twin Peaks Savings & Loan when he filmed the scenes in the last episode of Twin Peaks Season 2, showing Audrey Horne (Sherilyn Fenn) chaining herself to a vault (in what was supposed to be Washington state).

But the exterior won’t look familiar. Lynch apparently filmed the bank’s exterior on the Universal Studios Lot, according to Steven Miller’s Twin Peaks Blog.

In 2014, the former bank space inside the building became a nightclub called the Reserve, where you can see that vault from Twin Peaks. I did not get the chance to go inside.

Photo from the Reserve

THE TOWER THEATRE

After Betty and Rita are seen entering the neon-lit doorway for Club Sliencio in Mulholland Drive, the following scene shows them watching a dreamlike show inside that mysterious club.

Mulholland Drive

No hay banda! There is no band! Il n’est pas de orquestra! This is all a tape recording. No hay banda! And yet we hear a band.”

Lynch did not film that interior scene in the Palace Theatre, however. He filmed inside the Tower Theatre, which is at the corner of Broadway and Eighth Street—just one block east and one block south of the spot where Lynch filmed the club’s doorway.

The Tower Theatre building is also where Lynch filmed the Mulholland Drive scenes where Theroux’s character is seen staying inside a run-down place called the Park Hotel.

Years later, Lynch returned to the Tower Theatre, using its interior as a location in the third season of Twin Peaks (or, as many people call it, Twin Peaks: The Return). This was the otherworldly space occupied by a character known as the Fireman (a.k.a. the Giant) and Señorita Dido. On his Twin Peaks Blog, Steven Miller analyzes where Lynch filmed these scenes within the building.

Twin Peaks publicity photo by Suzanne Tenner

The Tower Theatre opened in 1927, designed by S. Charles Lee with a blend of French Baroque, Moorish, and Spanish design elements. The theater originally had a Vitaphone horn behind its screen, protruding through the building’s rear wall into the alley.

On October 5, 1927, the Tower screened a sneak preview of The Jazz Singer, one night before its official premiere at New York City’s Warner Theatre. See the Los Angeles Theatres blog for a detailed history of the Tower Theatre, along with many examples of movies where the theater is visible.

Motion Picture News, December 28, 1929

The Tower stopped showing movies in 1988, and the building has not generally been open to the public in recent years. So I was stuck on the outside, unable to see those spaces inside where Lynch filmed those incredible scenes…

The Tower Theatre’s website includes some photos of the interior…

Tower Theatre website
Tower Theatre website

When I was standing outside the building, I didn’t know why it had construction walls and scaffolding around it. I’ve since learned that the Tower Theatre is under renovation. In August 2018, Apple announced its plans to convert it into a store and event space.

“Apple has the original blueprints for the Tower and will use them along with photographs and other records to restore original theater highlights such as murals, decorations and a leaded-glass window over the entrance,” the Los Angeles Times reported.

Apple released an artist’s rendering of what the Tower Theatre space will look like after it reopens as an Apple store (at some date in the future, not yet announced). I hope some of the architectural details seen in Mulholland Drive and Twin Peaks will be visible inside the store.

Artist’s rendering from Apple

HOTEL BARCLAY

Mulholland Drive includes a brief shot showing the Hotel Barclay—which is supposed to the building where a character named Ed (Vincent Castellanos) has an office.

“Look at my digs. Times are tough, bro.”

This is where a criminal named Joe Messing (Mark Pellegrino) kills Ed and steals his “famous black book” (“the history of the world in phone numbers”). After the killing-theft goes seriously awry, Joe makes his getaway via the fire escape.

The building, at 103 West Fourth Street, opened as the Van Nuys Hotel in 1897. A 2017 article at Curbed Los Angeles documents the hotel’s long history of “gruesome slayings and bloody accidents.”

“It is still a low-income residence and seems to be stubbornly resisting the gentrification that is going on all around,” Curbed noted.

A historical plaque on the opposite corner notes that Woody Guthrie often played his folk music on the streets here.

FIRE STATION NO. 23

Built in 1910, the fire station at 225 East Fifth Street was the Los Angeles Fire Department headquarters for a decade. The building’s decor was so ornate that critics called it the “Taj Mahal” of firehouses. The impoverished area surrounding Fire Station No. 23, which closed in 1960, is known as Skid Row.

David Lynch filmed the death row scenes for his 1997 movie Lost Highway inside this fire station.

“Shit. That wife killer’s looking pretty fucked up.”

The building also appears in Ghostbusters, Big Trouble in Little China, The Mask, Flatliners, National Security, and other movies.

In 2018, Curbed Los Angeles reported that the city of Los Angeles plans to turn the old fire station into an art center. “Each year this building has been subject to vandalism, rain damage, and other deterioration,” project manager Neil Drucker said. Some Skid Row activists spoke out against the proposal.

THE BRADBURY BUILDING

The Bradbury Building was near the top of my list of things I wanted to see in L.A. Watching the documentary Los Angeles Plays Itself, I was fascinated to see how this building’s skylight-illuminated interior has appeared in many different movies over the years. The 99% Invisible podcast also devoted an episode to the Bradbury Building, calling it “arguably the biggest architectural movie star in all of Los Angeles.”

In Ridley Scott’s 1982 movie Blade Runner, the Bradbury feels spectral, with beams of light shining down from an advertising zeppelin through the skylight. It’s where the replicant designer J.F. Sebastian (played by William Sanderson) lives, along with a menagerie of his mechanical creatures.

Blade Runner

In the commentary on the Blu-ray of Blade Runner: The Final Cut, Scott recalls: “The Bradbury Building I was told was a cliché, and millions of TV series had been made in it. Eventually, I just stopped listening.”

The Bradbury Building’s exterior is nice, but nothing all that remarkable.

But, oh that interior!

Gold mining millionaire Lewis Bradbury had the building constructed in 1893, hiring a draftsman named George Wyman. According to 99% Invisible’s Avery Trufelman, Wyman was inspired by a passage in Edward Bellamy’s Looking Backward, an 1887 novel that predicted what the world would be like in the year 2000:

“It was the first interior of a twentieth-century public building that I had ever beheld, and the spectacle naturally impressed me deeply. I was in a vast hall full of light, received not alone from the windows on all sides, but from the dome, the point of which was a hundred feet above. … The walls and ceiling were frescoed in mellow tints, calculated to soften without absorbing the light which flooded the interior.

It’s hard to capture the Bradbury Building’s essence in a still photograph. Here’s a video I took as I entered the structure’s atrium:

In his Blade Runner commentary, Ridley Scott recalled making the Bradbury Building look desolate and spooky during a nighttime shoot: “The mucking up of this building to make it look deserted was very simple, because I only dressed where you see: little bits of water on the ground. Bits of rubbish that could be easily swept up afterwards. So you don’t need to do much, you don’t need to trash the whole goddamn building. … We were cleaning up rubbish as we went, so we could leave that night.”

Blade Runner

In Blade Runner, the Bradbury Building’s entrance is flanked by large columns. “I said, ‘I need something in the street to make it weird,'” Scott recalled. “… So we just stood it up in the front door, shot it that night, and took it away.”

THE MILLION DOLLAR THEATRE

The Million Dollar Theatre, which opened in 1917 and still stands across the street from the Bradbury Building, is visible in Blade Runner.

THE SECOND STREET TUNNEL

I took a walk through downtown’s Second Street Tunnel, where Ridley Scott filmed some scenes for Blade Runner.

“I had them go in and they just blasted it with water,” Scott recalls in his commentary track for Blade Runner: The Final Cut. “… We just hit it with water and let it dry out and just brought the car down the middle, and it kind of looked futuristic. And glittered like diamonds.”

This tunnel is also where the car repossessors led by Harry Dean Stanton’s character Bud confront their rivals, the Rodriguez Brothers, in director Alex Cox’s 1984 film Repo Man.

LOS ANGELES UNION STATION

In Los Angeles Plays Itself, Thom Andersen observes:

“As the major gateway to Los Angeles in the ’40s and ’50s, it has been a location for many movies and a favorite site for movie kidnappings. Through its corridors and grand lobby have passed gangsters, drug dealers, political protesters, Munchkins, even an alien in heat disguised as a railroad conductor. Yet Union Station hasn’t always played itself. It was a police station in Blade Runner.”

LOS ANGELES CITY HALL

Los Angeles City Hall was the city’s tallest building from its completion in 1928 until 1964, and it can be seen in numerous films and television shows, from the original Dragnet series and Mildred Pierce to L.A. Confidential. It’s destroyed by Martians in 1953’s War of the Worlds.

THE LOS ANGELES TIMES BUILDING

An art deco building from 1935, it stands a block away from the spot where an earlier Los Angeles Times Building was destroyed in 1910—in a bombing that killed 21 newspaper employees. The newspaper moved out of this building in 2018. Some movies and TV shows have been filmed inside. It’s where David Lynch filmed the Twin Peaks Season 3 scenes set inside the office of Duncan Todd (Patrick Fischler), which is supposedly in Las Vegas.

THE JOHN FERRARO BUILDING

This modernist 1965 high-rise houses the headquarters of the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power—and appears prominently in Christopher Nolan’s 2010 film Inception.

LOS ANGELES CENTRAL LIBRARY

BUNKER HILL

Once again, I will quote from Los Angeles Plays Itself:

“The movies loved Bunker Hill. The lords of the city hated it. Rents were low, so it put the wrong kind of people too close to downtown. Bunker Hill became a target for slum clearance or urban renewal. They had to destroy it in order to save it.”

“The new Bunker Hill looks like a simulated city…”

ANGELS FLIGHT

The Angels Flight funicular railway has appeared in many movies over the years. The one currently in operation is at a different location from the original one, which ran from 1901 to 1969.

DOUBLE INDEMNITY‘S OPENING SHOT

The opening shot of Billy Wilder’s 1944 film Double Indemnity
South Olive Street and West Fifth Street

THE FINAL SCENE OF CHINATOWN

The climatic scene of 1974’s Chinatown was filmed on Spring Street south of Ord Street in the Chinatown neighborhood, which is just north of downtown L.A.

Chinatown

Comparing my photo of that block with the movie, I now realize that I was facing the wrong direction. There’s one building you can see in both photos: the one with several curved arches on its façade. It’s on the left side in the movie, but the right side in my photograph. I was facing north. Apparently, the camera in Chinatown was facing south.

“Forget it, Jake. It’s Chinatown.”

THE VIADUCT FROM ERASERHEAD

An image from Eraserhead
510 South Santa Fe Avenue, Los Angeles

THE LOS ANGELES RIVER

After catastrophic floods in the 1930s, Los Angeles officials and the Army Corps of Engineers completely encased the Los Angeles River’s bed and banks in concrete.

It became an iconic location for movies. Scenes were filmed here for Point Blank, Repo Man, Grease, Terminator 2: Judgment Day, The Dark Knight Rises, To Live and Die in L.A., Drive, and All Quiet on the Western Front (which disguised it as a European battlefront during World War I).

I stopped to take a photo of the river from the bridge on Seventh Street, looking north. In the distance, you can see Sixth Street, where the old bridge is being dismantled and replaced with a new one featuring a wavy design.

Continued in Part 6.

See an INDEX for this series of blog posts.

In this part: “Nite Owl Café” / Safety Last! / The door to Club Silencio / The Banks-Huntley Building / “Twin Peaks Savings & Loan” / The Tower Theatre / Hotel Barclay / Fire Station No. 23 / The Bradbury Building / The Million Dollar Theatre / The Second Street Tunnel / Union Station / Los Angeles City Hall / The Los Angeles Times Building / The John Ferraro Building / Los Angeles Central Library / Bunker Hill / Angels Flight / Double Indemnity’s opening shot / The final scene of Chinatown / The viaduct in Eraserhead / The Los Angeles River

Photos by Robert Loerzel unless noted otherwise.

Categories
Film

Looking for Hollywood history and David Lynch’s Los Angeles: Part 3

GRIFFITH PARK, ETC.

See an INDEX for this series of blog posts.

In this part: The Snow White Cottages, a.k.a. Sierra Bonita / Snow White Café / Griffith Observatory / Bronson Caves / The Hollywood Sign and Sunset Ranch / The tailgating scene from Lost Highway?

THE SNOW WHITE COTTAGES, A.K.A. SIERRA BONITA

“It’s right about here on Sierra Bonita. That’s not too far away.”

In David Lynch’s movie Mulholland Drive, the Diane Selwyn character lives in the Sierra Bonita Apartments—supposedly at 2590 Sierra Bonita Avenue.

A scene from Mulholland Drive

We see Betty Elms (Naomi Watts’s character in the movie’s first part) looking for the apartments on a map of Los Angeles. She points to a spot near the corner of De Longpre Avenue and Hobart Boulevard in East Hollywood, not far from the corner of Sunset Boulevard and Western Avenue. All of this geography may be purposely fictional.

In reality, Lynch filmed the Sierra Bonita scenes at a complex nicknamed the Snow White Cottages, at 2900 Griffith Park Boulevard in Central L.A.’s Los Feliz neighborhood.

These eight cottages were constructed in 1931, a block away from where Walt Disney had opened his studio two years earlier (at 2719 Hyperion Avenue, where a Gelson’s Market grocery store is today). Disney animators lived in these 700-square-foot, one-bedroom homes, including Claude Coats and his wife, Evelyn Henry, walking to work down the street. Henry later described the cottages:

“They’re real cute. Thatched roofs and looked just like a Snow White cottage. They were all separate cottages. They were not adjoined. Everyone living there worked at the studio.”

It’s sometimes said that Walt Disney built these houses. But in reality, they were built and designed by Ben Sherwood.

According to the Finding Los Angeles website: “The Snow White cottages feature crooked roofs, timber-frame facades, picture-perfect windowboxes and landscaping, intentionally-worn chimneys, and a tower at the far end of the bungalow courtyard. For Disney’s animators who lived in and walked by these storybook cottages everyday, there’s no doubt that art imitated life through their renderings of the fairytale cottage now immortalized in Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs.

“Oh, it’s adorable! Just like a doll’s house. I like it here. Ooh, it’s dark inside.” — Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs

The cottage from Disney’s Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs

I wonder: Is the connection between this filming location and Disney’s classic 1937 movie based on the Snow White fairy tale mere happenstance? Or does it have some deeper resonance for Lynch?

On another note, singer-songwriter Elliott Smith lived in two different cottages in the complex in the 1990s, but he’d moved out by the time of his death in 2003.

The Snow White Cottages are private property, of course, with a locked gate. I walked along the front of the complex and looked down the alley (where the characters in Mulholland Drive go, seeking to hide from seemingly ominous men sitting in a nearby car).

SNOW WHITE CAFÉ

During my visit to L.A. I happened upon another place with connections to Disney’s classic 1937 film Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs—the Snow White Café, a cozy little bar and restaurant on Hollywood Boulevard, where the walls are adorned with paintings of Snow White’s characters.

I asked the bartender: “What’s the deal with the Snow White theme?” He told me Disney’s animators used to hang out at the café, which opened in 1946, and that Walt Disney himself donated the artwork. This story seems to be more or less true, according to an article on the Only in Hollywood website.

The bartender also told me that the joint had been a speakeasy during the Prohibition Era, owned by Charlie Chaplin. (I’d want to see solid evidence before I buy that story.)

GRIFFITH OBSERVATORY

As I noted above, those Snow White Cottages where Lynch filmed scenes for Mulholland Drive are on Griffith Park Boulevard. If you follow that winding street north for a mile, you’ll arrive at Griffith Park itself. With 4,310 acres of mountainous terrain, it’s one of the nation’s largest urban parks, nearly five times the size of New York City’s Central Park. (An article at KCET’s website outlines the history of Griffith Park.)

Not surprisingly, this park has a starring or cameo role in many Hollywood movies. One of its most famous features is the Griffith Observatory, which opened in 1935. This beautiful structure, including a planetarium and a telescope that’s open for free viewing in the evenings, is a signature location in 1955’s Rebel Without a Cause—a role that’s commemorated with a bust of James Dean. (Are those racing cars in Mulholland Drive—the ones that crash into the limo in the opening scene—a nod to the “chickie run” scene in Rebel Without a Cause?)

Griffith Observatory is also where the time-traveling cyborg played by Arnold Schwarzenegger arrives in 1984’s The Terminator. More recently, it appears in La La Land and Under the Silver Lake, in which Andrew Garfield’s character Sam decodes a secret message in a song:

“Rub Dean’s head and wait under Newton.”

In those films, the characters seem to have Griffith Observatory’s grounds to themselves. But when I visited, it was crowded with tourists. It’s a delightful place to look out at L.A.’s landscape, especially as the sun goes down and the city’s lights turn on.

BRONSON CAVES

The Bronson Caves are in another area of Griffith Park. This is where the Owl Cave scenes were filmed for Season 2 of Twin Peaks—and, more famously, the mouth of the caves appears as the Bat Cave entrance in the 1960s Batman TV series.

This man-made tunnel is a remnant of a rock quarry opened by Union Rock Company in 1903. It takes only about a minute to walk through the main corridor, as you can see in this video I made:

Wikipedia observes: “Scenes of the main cave entrance are normally filmed in a manner that shows the entrance at an angle because the cave is actually a very short tunnel through the hill, with the rear opening easily visible in a direct shot.”

As the Los Angeles Department of Recreation and Parks website notes, this is “not a spectacular cavern like Carlsbad Caverns in New Mexico or Mammoth Cave in Kentucky.”

And yet, thanks to its proximity to Hollywood, the Bronson Caves have appeared in hundred of movies and television shows—including two classics from 1956: In the finale of John Ford’s The Searchers, John Wayne pursues Natalie Wood to the cave’s entrance. And it’s also where Kevin McCarthy’s character hides out in Invasion of the Body Snatchers, only to make a horrifying discovery about his companion, Becky (Dana Wynter).

“I went to sleep, Miles, and it happened.”
“Oh, Becky.”
“They were right.”

Robert Altman filmed a disturbing scene for the climatic moments of 1993’s Short Cuts nearby. More recently, Bronson Caves appear in Hail, Caesar! and Under the Silver Lake.

THE HOLLYWOOD SIGN AND SUNSET RANCH

Next to Bronson Caves and Bronson Canyon, a walking trail leads up to a couple of places with scenic views of the Hollywood Sign. I walked up 1.9 miles to the end of the Hollyridge Trail on Mount Lee, where you can see that iconic sign as well as a location from Lynch’s Mulholland Drive: Sunset Ranch.

This is where Adam Kesher (Justin Theroux) goes at night for a meeting with the enigmatic figure called the Cowboy (Lafayette “Monty” Montgomery).

“Where do I meet this Cowboy? I mean, do I have to ride out to the range?”
“Sort of, funny boy. If I tell him the meeting’s on, you have to go to the top of Beachwood Canyon. There’s a corral up there where he’ll be.”
“You’ve got to be kidding me.”

It’s striking how close Sunset Ranch is to the Hollywood Sign. That proximity isn’t apparent in the movie, although Lynch cuts from the nighttime scene directly to a daytime image of the sign. During my visit, I heard horses neighing below me in the private ranch, which offers horse rides on the nearby mountain trails.

Hope Anderson, the director of a documentary called Under the Hollywood Sign, writes: “While the Ranch is not as scary in daylight as it was in Mulholland Dr., it is believed to be haunted. I had already heard stories of a “weird, dark energy” from someone who spent a lot of time there as a child. …

“I interviewed a former Sunset Ranch riding instructor who told me of spending the night in one of the rooms over the barn and hearing a man being hanged, along with choking sounds and the vibration of the rope. …

“Then there’s the strange, wafting scent of gardenias each autumn. Riders and ranch employees report smelling gardenias on the trails in mid-September, near the anniversary of Peg Entwistle’s suicide off the Hollywoodland Sign. No gardenias grow in the area, but Peg wore gardenia perfume.”

Entwistle, a New York stage actress who came to Hollywood and failed to land any of the movie roles she’d dreamed of, climbed 50 feet up a workman’s ladder to the top of the “H” and jumped to her death in 1932.

Los Angeles Times, September 20, 1932
The Californian, September 19, 1932

Eleven years earlier, the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce had published an advertisement discouraging people from flocking to Hollywood in the hope of becoming movie stars.

When Los Angeles Times publisher Harry Chandler had the sign built in 1923, it originally said “HOLLYWOODLAND”—the name of a real estate development he was advertising.

The sign makes me think of Eden Ahbez (or “eden ahbez,” as he usually styled his name), the songwriter and proto-hippy who wrote the song “Nature Boy.” Legend has it that Ahbez was living under the first “L” of the “HOLLYWOODLAND” sign in 1947, when he managed to get his song into the hands of Nat King Cole, who turned it into a No. 1 hit.

On his blog about Ahbez, Brian Chidester reports: “According to old-time California nature boy Bob Wallace, Ahbez used to camp out next to a shack up there in his sleeping bag, where he’d also sit and hold his hand-carved bamboo flutes up to the wind to let nature play its own song!”

Promotional photo of Eden Ahbez

As I walked down the trails in Griffith Park after seeing the Hollywood Sign, I encountered a coyote crossing the roadway:

THE TAILGATING SCENE FROM LOST HIGHWAY?

In David Lynch’s 1997 film Lost Highway, tough guy Mr. Eddy (Robert Loggia) beats up a motorist who was tailgating him.

“Don’t you ever fucking tailgate! Ever! Ever! Do you know how many fucking car lengths it takes to stop a car at 35 miles an hour?! Six fucking car lengths! That’s 106 fucking feet, mister! If I had to stop suddenly, you would’ve hit me!”

A scene from Lost Highway

I haven’t found information about exactly where this scene was filmed. It takes place on a two-lane road curving through the mountains, much like Mulholland Drive. The Hollywood Sign is visible in the background during the violent assault along the road’s shoulder.

Judging from where the sign is in the background, I’m guessing the scene was filmed in Griffith Park—maybe on Mount Lee Road?

Google satellite

Incidentally, you may notice a spot labeled as The Last House on Mulholland on the Google satellite image above. As of now, it’s actually a vacant lot, but this design won first place in a 2017 architectural contest for the site:

Ambivalent House by Hirsuta (Jason Payne, Michael Zimmerman, Joseph Giampietro, Ryosuke Imaeda). Image: arch out loud

Continued in Part 4.

See an INDEX for this series of blog posts.

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.