This Friday, May 26, the Hollywood Entertainment District is launching a new public walking tour of Old Hollywood along Hollywood Boulevard. The tour is designed to explore the Hollywood history “hidden in plain sight — the real town behind the tinsel” — and to tell “the story of how Hollywood started as a sleepy little town of orange groves and wealthy retirees and became the center of the world’s entertainment industry…in less than 50 years!”
Stops on the new tour include several of Hollywood’s first movie theaters, the first tourist attraction in Hollywood (which did NOT have anything to do with the movie industry), the oldest remaining residence on the Boulevard, and the oldest restaurant in Hollywood…along with a look at how the district is still unfolding as modern-day artists and creatives reinvent their neighborhood while honoring its storied past. It’s a fun itinerary…and the Buzz was treated to a preview tour last Saturday.
The tour begins at the Hollywood Property Owners’ Alliance, on Hollywood Boulevard, which is also home to the Hollywood Business Improvement District. We were welcomed there by tour guide April Brooks Clemmer, whose 1940s attire immediately set the vintage tone for the morning.
Like many of us who love Hollywood history, Clemmer moved to Hollywood from elsewhere after becoming fascinated with the entertainment industry. She graduated from the University of Georgia with a degree in Fashion Marketing, and developed a passion for all things Hollywood while reading biographies of her favorite movie stars. But instead of ending up in the movies, her love of history, vintage clothing, hair and makeup led her to develop custom private tours of historic Hollywood. She has also served as a research consultant on a web series about Hollywood history, and she’s a member of the Hollywood Heritage Preservation Committee…so we could tell we were in expert hands.
From the BID office, Clemmer guided the group east along Hollywood Boulevard, where we learned that the Hollywood Hudson Apartments, 6533 Hollywood Blvd., were originally built for silent film actors at a time when most landlords wouldn’t rent to actors and other decadents from the early movie business.
Our stroll also took us past the Fox Theater, originally opened in 1918 and still standing…though heavily modernized and no longer used as a theater. From there we strolled down to the southwest corner of Hollywood and Cahuenga, where we got a quick peek into the newly renovated Hollywood Building, which has beautiful Art Deco touches and offices with doors and transom windows that make you feel like you just stepped into a Raymond Chandler novel. From an office on the fourth floor, we looked out at the Hollywood sign, and over the NW corner of Hollywood and Cahuenga, which was originally the stately home and gardens of famous flower artist Paul DeLongpre (for whom Hollywood’s DeLongpre Ave. is named). It was that estate that became the area’s first big tourist draw.
At this point, we crossed the street and headed back west, to the Warner Hollywood (later, Pacific) theater. It’s now shuttered, but we were welcomed into the grand lobby area to learn about how the venue was built for the premiere of 1927’s “The Jazz Singer.”Delays prevented the debut, however, and the film never screened there. But the old movie palace does have a storied history anyway…not the least because the legendary Carol Burnett once worked there as an usher…and today (at her request) her Hollywood Blvd. star is located just outside the front entrance.
After the theater, we stopped at the Janes House – built in 1902 and currently the oldest surviving building on the Boulevard…and one of only two single family homes left. Despite decades of traversing Hollywood Blvd., neither of us Buzzy bees had ever seen or known about the house, which once operated as a private school and is currently tucked into a small mall and hidden behind fencing. It’s still in use today, though, as a bar called No Vacancy. Although Clemmer said tour participants do usually get to peek inside the building, we weren’t able to do so on Saturday…but the owner of the adjacent Secret restaurant invited us into his establishment for a look at a detailed drawing of the old home, which hangs on his restaurant wall.
Continuing west along Hollywood Blvd., we noted more historic buildings (including two former dueling dime stores), stopped in at the legendary Larry Edmunds’ Book Store, still going strong as a purveyor of Hollywood and entertainment industry-related books, posters and magazines…and then ended our tour at what was most recently called the Ritz theater, but which was originally built as the News-View newsreel theater, and much later became the Pussycat adult theater. It’s now undergoing yet another major transformation…to a hologram theater.
Although our tour ended at the last theater, Clemmer noted that the usual last stop will be the historic Musso and Frank Grill, just across the street, where participants can have coffee, ask questions and chat afterward. (A private event at the restaurant last week forced our conclusion at the penultimate location instead.)
Throughout the tour, Clemmer was a delightful and informed guide, and even those of us who have taken many Hollywood tours learned something new on this one. It opens to the public on this Friday, with several other dates scheduled this spring and summer:
- Friday, May 26 at 10:00 a.m. (tickets available now)
- Saturday, June 17 at 10:00 a.m. (tickets available now)
- Friday, June 30 at 10:00 a.m. (tickets available now)
- Friday, July 28 at 10:00 a.m. (tickets available now)
- Friday, September 29 at 10:00 a.m.
Additional tour dates can also be made available depending on demand, with private, group, and Spanish language tours by arrangement. Tickets are $20 and can be purchased at http://onlyinhollywood.org/oldhollywoodwalkingtour/buy-tickets/ It’s an easy walk along flat terrain, and takes about 90 minutes from start to finish. Care is also taken to walk in shade whenever possible, and headsets are provided to make it easier to hear the tour guide. Parking is available in the public lot behind the Hollywood Property Owners’ Alliance building.