I’d heard of Esotouric bus tours before, but didn’t get around to joining in on the fun until this weekend.* Hollywood!, an all-new tour looking at the beautiful architecture, crazy stories, and gruesome crimes of Tinseltown, made its debut October 1. Co-hosts Richard Schave and Kim Cooper, a married couple with penchants for history, true crime, and architecture, really know their stuff.
I have fond, if somewhat fuzzy, childhood memories of standing in the footprints at Grauman’s Chinese Theatre. When I was a little girl, Hollywood was considered a “bad” neighborhood (my parents are from “suburban” parts of LA), and my family didn’t spend much time there. So, naturally I had to see this tour for myself.
On tour day, I checked in at the entrance to the Daily Dose Cafe. I got a name-tag sticker with my first name and neighborhood. The bus was air-conditioned, comfortable, and had a restroom (very important in Hollywood, which has few public restrooms).
Over the 17 minutes it took to get to the first location, Kim recounted a very complex murder case involving two of its employees. The location? Everyone’s favorite surviving example of Googie architecture – the Capitol Records building.
I’m not going to fill this entry with spoilers. But I’ll mention a few things I saw that I would never have found on my own:
- The apartment building where F. Scott Fitzgerald died (I sent a picture to my book-loving brother, who mistook it for Walt Disney’s house)
- The site of the nastiest eminent domain battle in West Hollywood history
- A long-forgotten (yet miraculously still standing) 1950s beatnik club
- The former Garden of Allah site (they paved paradise and put up the world’s ugliest strip mall)
- The former site of Schwab’s. Now Schwab’s was a shocker – I’ve been to that mall. I’ve eaten at that Veggie Grill. And I never knew Schwab’s had stood there. By the time I was old enough to go to Hollywood on my own, Schwab’s had been gone for many years.
I have to mention a very special tour stop: the Crossroads of the World. Although it was originally retail space, the buildings have been offices for many years. As of this writing, you can’t just drop in and look around.
Except on this tour.
Esotouric is the ONLY tour company that can enter Crossroads of the World. It took two years of work to make that happen, and you’ll need to take the Hollywood tour to see it. (The area is slated for redevelopment in a way that will preserve Crossroads.)
One building – the “Moorish temple” – is a recording studio formerly used by Crosby, Stills, and Nash (this was rather interesting to my mom, who taught at a school Stephen Stills’ kids attended). The steamboat building is Benedict Taschen’s office. Other buildings were formerly used by the likes of Huell Howser and Alfred Hitchcock.
On a personal note, I’m amazed that I got to visit a couple of spaces inside Crossroads of the World and have also been inside the Coca Cola building on Alameda Street. Both locations were designed by the same architect within two years of each other. Both are iconic examples of 1930s architecture, yet both are off limits to the public. (I’ve only been inside the Coca Cola building because my father worked there when I was little. I’d never be able to get in now!)
We really lucked out with a completely unexpected “only in LA” moment that recalled a more recent decade – the 1980s. A hot pink Corvette was spotted a couple of lanes over. That could only be one person – Angelyne! Sure enough, the vanity plate confirmed this. She smiled and waved. Having spent my early childhood a stone’s throw from one of her billboards, I feel like my life is finally complete.
*Full disclosure: I was generously gifted a trip because I share some of my research on LA’s lost French neighborhood with Richard and Kim (hi guys!). I haven’t mentioned this blog to them yet.