Issue: Winter 2018

Walking Hollywood

Do you know what Hollywood’s first tourist attraction was? Are you familiar with the Idle Hour, Hollywood’s first movie theatre? Do you know the story of Hollywood’s first hotel? Or why radio towers were added to the Pacific Theatre? You’ll learn all this and more in the Old Hollywood Walking Tour, a decidedly different take on the history of Hollywood, that is as enjoyable for longtime residents as it is for tourists.

The Old Hollywood Walking Tour is a 2-hour trip back in time to the very beginnings of Hollywood.  Its focus is more on the founding of the area than the Golden Age of Hollywood, so you will learn about many places and locations that date back more than 100 years.

Don’t let the two-hour tour length deter you—this is a leisurely tour taking you both outside and inside key locations along a five-block stretch of Hollywood Blvd, between Las Palmas and Cahuenga, an area recently used for the filming of Quentin Tarantino’s upcoming Manson opus, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood.

The tour starts at Hollywood and Wilcox, at the offices of the Hollywood Property Owners Alliance.  Tour guide April Clemmer, not only knows her stuff, but looks the part as well, as she gives the tour dressed in vintage fashion. She begins the tour with maps and photos of Hollywood before the turn of the (last) century, preparing you for the sites to come. Everyone is provided with headsets which allow you to hear April above the din of traffic—a brilliant idea.

April Clemmer with tour group
The Old Hollywood Walking Tour with guide April Clemmer.
Photo by Kathy Flynn.

The tour’s first stop is the Hillview Apartments, the first apartment building in Hollywood which was built specifically to house actors. Built in 1917, it’s still standing today and has changed very little in 100 years.

Hollywood’s first movie theatre can be found across the street.  Known today as the Fox Theatre, it was originally named the Idle Hour, but the implied laziness saw it change its name to The Iris in 1918. Noted architect S. Charles Lee gave it a facelift in 1955, and it was remodeled with its current façade in 1968 when it was rebranded as the Fox.

The Fox Theatre
Hollywood's first movie theatre, the Fox, has gone through one restoration and multiple name changes.
Photo by Kathy Flynn

The Sackett Hotel on the corner of Hollywood and Cahuenga may have been demolished in 1910, but it served as Hollywood’s first hotel for over 20 years, creating the first Hollywood commercial center.  Today, The Hollywood Building stands in its place, a four-story, art deco commercial building listed on the National Historic Registry.

April Clemmer takes tour group inside the Hollywood Building
Photo by Kathy Flynn

One of the unique treats on this tour is the opportunity to go inside the Hollywood Building and visit an office on the fourth floor, a place where Philip Marlowe or Sam Spade would have felt quite at home.  The Hollywood Building management generously keeps the room stocked with water and snacks for the tour members to enjoy. The fourth floor vantage point also provides a pristine view of the Hollywood sign, as we look at photos of De Longpre Gardens, Hollywood’s first tourist attraction, which was once located across the street.

De Longpre Gardens consisted of a Moorish mansion surrounded by more than 800 varieties of roses.  It was completed in 1901 and so many visitors came to see the famed gardens that it was added to General Sherman’s famed tourist trolley, known as the “Balloon Route”, which took passengers from Downtown LA to the ocean by way of Hollywood. At its most popular, the grounds were toured by as many as 8,000 people a month.

DeLongpre home circa 1910
Artist Paul DeLongpre's mansion and garnders circa 1908.
Photo courtesy of Marc Wanamaker

The tour next takes you across the street to Hollywood Heritage’s De Longpre annex, to view the Hollywood in Miniature exhibition. The exhibition, which was originally displayed in 1946, is a unique small-scale replica of Hollywood in the late 1930s, which was profiled extensively in an article in the Summer 2018 issue of Discover Hollywood. The exhibit recreates 45 blocks of Hollywood, with all buildings built to scale, complete with working electric lights. It’s a stunning reproduction of a bygone age, and one well worth seeing.

Hollywood in Miniature
Hollywood in Miniature depicts the town in the 1930s
Photo by Kathy Flynn

The next stop is the site of the former Warner Pacific Theatre, designed by G. Albert Lansburg, who also designed the interiors of the El Capitan, the Wiltern, and the Orpheum. The 2,700 seat theatre opened to the public on April 26, 1928.  The Warner Pacific, now known as the Pacific Theatre, was the first movie theatre built to screen sound films exclusively. Countless glamourous premiers took place at the Warner Pacific in the 30s-50s. It sustained significant damage from the Northridge earthquake as well as water damage from the construction of the Red Line subway, and closed its doors in 1994. Today it sits abandoned, its future uncertain.

The Pacifc Theatre
The Pacific, which opened in 1928, was the first theatre built specifically to screen the new "talkies." it now faces an uncertain future.
Photo by Kathy Flynn

The absolute highlight of the tour is getting a chance to step inside the lobby area of the Pacific Theatre.  In spite of the decay, it’s still gorgeous inside, and the fading glory only heightens the atmosphere of days gone by.

Interior of the Pacific Theatre
The Pacifc Theatre lobby

From there we visited the Janes House, a two-story Queen Anne home built in 1903 that has the distinction of being the oldest building still standing on Hollywood Blvd.  The Janes House served as a school for the children of Hollywood’s elite until 1926, and currently houses a 1920s-themed speakeasy called No Vacancy.

Janes House
The Janes House, built in 1903, is the oldest building on Hollywood Blvd.
Photo by Kathy Flynn

From the Janes House we look across the street at the Kress Building with its Zigzag Moderne design, and the former site of J.J. Newberry, now housing Hollywood Toys & Costumes.  Both are exquisite Art Deco landmarks that retain much of their original style and charm, with the blue-green glazed terra cotta tiles of Newberry’s a lovely remnant of the age.

As we near the end of our tour, we stop into Musso & Frank, the longest continuously operating restaurant on Hollywood Blvd and the legendary home to Hollywood’s biggest stars. We take a seat at a table and unwind, soaking in the atmosphere as waiter Sergio serves up stories and photos along with our coffee.

Musso & Frank
The legendary Musso & Frank.
Photo by Kathy Flynn

And there’s more. After a leisurely break, we venture out to the boulevard again to learn about the Vogue Theatre, another S. Charles Lee design, which housed Musso & Frank’s back room, where the great writers of the era such as Raymond Chandler, Dorothy Parker, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Dashiell Hammett, Nathaniel West, and William Faulkner congregated. There’s a quick stop at the former News-View Theatre, which opened as a newsreel theater in 1939, and was also known as the Pussycat and the Ritz before its current incarnation as Hologram USA.

The final stop on the tour is Larry Edmunds Bookshop, the last remaining independent book store on the boulevard, which is filled with books on Hollywood and film as well as movie memorabilia and scripts, and frequently hosts book signings and other live events.

The Old Hollywood Walking Tour is normally scheduled for the last Friday of the month, with additional tours offered on certain dates. If you find the available dates don’t work for you, they will happily put together a group tour for you on another date—just ask!  Most tours require a minimum of seven participants and advance reservations are required. Walk-ins may be added depending on availability, but cannot be guaranteed.

The tour costs $25 per person and can be booked at For group reservations or further information email or call (323)463-6767.