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Destination Hollywood

By Jay Fermin

A few weeks after the 83rd Oscar Awards and while cinema fever was still in the air, I decided to spend a day and revisit Hollywood. The red carpet has been rolled up and the golden drapes and giant statues are gone. However, the excitement is still in the air when I cruised up Highland Avenue driving northbound. As I came closer, the Hollywood sign became clearly visible, even from miles around, creating a perfect backdrop to this area of Los Angeles which is the center of entertainment.

At the northside of Hollywood Boulevard, there still stands the famous Capitol Records Building on Vine Street which houses offices and recording studios. Its circular design resembles a stack of 7-inch vinyl long-play records. Today, most of their music end up at Amoeba Records, a mecca mega store for music-lovers on Sunset Boulevard where you will usually find the music you are looking for.

Arriving at the intersection of Hollywood and Highland, H&H as they now call it, I saw groups of tourists from all over the world walking the boulevard, with cameras dangling, gazing down the sidewalk at the names of the stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. It used to be very hard to find parking here, but with the Kodak Theatre inside the Hollywood & Highland Center now straddling what used to be the location of the old Hollywood Hotel (1902), there is more than enough multi-level underground parking available.

The Hollywood & Highland entertainment complex is huge and offers 75 world-class shops, fine restaurants, a movie theatre, The Highlands nightclub and Level 3 nightclub, a bowling alley called Lucky Strike Lanes and a number of bars including the recently opened Rolling Stones Bar and Hard Rock. The Grand Ballroom is the venue for the Oscars Governors Ball while the Kodak Theatre is the modern day home of the Oscar Awards.

It is not hard to imagine the feel of the red carpet along the entrance to the Kodak Theatre which is called the ‘Awards Walk’, a long stretch of art deco inspired hallway which opens out into Hollywood Boulevard. This is where the movie stars walk thru during the Oscar Awards.

Stepping out of the complex leads to the sidewalk which is part of the Hollywood ‘Walk of Fame.’ Tourists from all over the world are busy taking pictures at the bronze-engraved names of stars from motion pictures, TV, radio, recording and live theatre. There is one star that caught my eye because alot of people were taking turns posing next to it. I looked down and also took a photo. The star belonged to Michael Jackson.

Grauman’s Chinese Theatre, a favorite site for movie world premieres, is packed with visitors. As the saying goes: you have not really been to China without visiting the Great Wall, and you have not really been to Hollywood without seeing the Chinese Theatre. Footprints and handprints belonging to George Burns, Bob Hope, John Wayne and Johnny Depp dots the cemented courtyard. A tour guide leads an excited group of tourist around the cement blocks of handprints and footprints of the famous.

As I continue my easy walk westbound on Hollywood, I saw tourist waiting in turn to have their photos taken with celebrity look-alikes who will oblige with a few dollars of tip. SpongeBob Squarepants is happily waving at me while Elvis belts out a song. Spiderman is also here, well, there are actually three spidermen today. And I think I just saw Michael Jackson too.

If you really want to meet movie stars, there is the famous Madame Tussauds Hollywood Wax Museum nearby. This is where you can encounter famous celebrities without the barrier of the velvet rope nor the hassle of security. Life size and almost lifelike wax figures include Robin Williams, Jamie Foxx, Nicole Kidman, Beyonce, Lady Gaga, Salma Hayek and James Dean.

But I want to go to where the first ever Oscar Awards was held way back in 1929. I quickly crossed the street down the block to the Spanish-style hotel named after U.S. President Theodore Roosevelt. The 12 floor hotel has a rich past. It catered to the Hollywood elite. Marilyn Monroe stayed in suite 229 overlooking the pool. Montgomery Clift lived at room 928 for three months while filming the movie ‘From Here to Eternity’ (1953).

The elegant hotel lobby of the Roosevelt Hotel feels like you are stepping into a time capsule of the glamour of old Hollywood. Moorish windows surround the high ceiling and the original giant wrought-iron chandelier while a bubbling fountain straddles the middle of the lobby, surrounded by plush armchairs and sofas. The hotel recently became a hotspot again, with celebrities like Bruce Willis, Paris Hilton, and Eva Longoria spotted partying here. I remember not too long ago the red carpet press conference of the Manny Pacquiao – Ricky Hatton fight. It was at the ‘Blossom Room’ where the first Oscars were also held.

I stepped out from the subdued lighting of the Roosevelt Hotel and back into the sunshine of Hollywood Boulevard. One block away and opposite the Kodak Theatre is another treasure of old Hollywood, the El Capitan Theatre.

The El Capitan is the original home of the spoken drama. Built in 1926, the Spanish Colonial Revival theatre presented live plays including legendary stars like Clark Gable. Today, the theatre marquee bathed in modern colored lights displayed the title of the Disney Movie ‘Gnomeo & Juliet’, the 3D movie with voice overs by James McAvoy and Emily Blunt.

Within walking distance from Hollywood and Highland are also other attractions that include ‘Ripley’s Believe It Or Not’ museum and the ‘Hollywood Wax Museum.’ By this time, I was thinking of having a quick brunch without breaking stride with my Hollywood rendezvous. A quick drive and a right turn on Vine Street and Sunset Boulevard led me to Ivan Kane’s Café Was.

From the outside, Café Was is unpretentiously modern. However, the interior of the café is a seamless continuation of the Hollywood feel. Ivan Kane, who played ‘Tony’ in the 1986 Oliver Stone movie ‘Platoon’ owns the sexy, bohemian French/American bistro. The bar is accessible and elevated from the sunken main dining area which is already full of guests. A rotating grand piano sits right in the middle.

Red velvet couch, artwork slipping from the creases between the ceiling and walls, the Bukowski Room plastered with pages from the author’s books, huge curtains, framed art, and the stairway to nowhere adds to a theatrical feel. The Slider Brunch Trio and Crab Cake was excellent paired with their bottomless Screwdriver. It is a perfect spot for visitors on the run. The dress code is casual and the decor and music, it’s a spectacle. After all, it’s Hollywood.

A Hollywood experience would not be complete without coming up-close and personal with the most iconic landmark of all: the Hollywood sign. I drove up on Beachwood Canyon Drive to Mulholland Drive. This is the closest spot to the sign and it is gigantic. I met a group of tourists who wanted to pose in front of the Hollywood sign. They were from the Ukraine.

Hollywood is the world’s center for entertainment and cinema. This is the place where ‘stars’ are born. From the silent film era, to the classical films, and the action and drama interlude, Hollywood has reinvented itself with the advent of 3D films of today. On your next visit to Los Angeles, go to where the spotlights shine. As Harrison Ford aptly declared: ‘Hollywood’s got its own particular environment.’ Have a Hollywood experience.

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