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Monday December 6th 2021

Los Angeles for Film Fans: Midtown 3

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Rock Walk, Guitar Center, 7425 Sunset Boulevard
The old May & Co store, Wilshire Boulevard

On Wilshire’s northwest corner with Fairfax Avenue stands Johnie’s Coffee Shop, 6101 Wilshire Boulevard, a Fifties-style treat – again closed, but thankfully still standing – featured in Reservoir Dogs, American History X and the underrated Miracle Mile.

This is where Anthony Edwards receives the phone call tipping him off about an impending nuclear attack on LA in this apocalyptic thriller, and the appearance of this stretch of road on-screen rarely bodes well for the city.

The striking gold cylinder of long-closed department store May & Co on the opposite corner of Fairfax is destroyed in Volcano (don’t worry – this stretch of Wilshire Boulevard was recreated in the studio for the film). The department store became LACMA West – an extension of the LA County Museum of Art – but it's since been acquired by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences and is scheduled to become a movie museum.

The lava that threatens to engulf the city first wells up from the La Brea Tar Pits. Technically, this is not tar, but asphalt, which oozes from a large petroleum reservoir called the Salt Lake Oil Field, bubbling beneath the ground to the north of Hancock Park.

La Brea Tar Pits, Wilshire Boulevard
La Brea Tar Pits, Wilshire Boulevard

Visit the La Brea Tar Pits & Museum, 5801 Wilshire Boulevard at Curson Avenue – that’s the excellent museum built at the site of the Pits, where the remains of thousands of Pleistocene Age animals (particularly dire wolves and sabre-tooth cats) were preserved as fossils after the creatures became trapped in the sticky oil.

You can see the museum in another unjustifiably neglected movie, Curtis Hanson’s Bad Influence, where smoothly sinister Rob Lowe gives James Spader a little dodgy career advice. The ‘La Brea tar pits’ which are seen in Last Action Hero, though, are fake – recreated down in Long Beach.

A double ticket to the Museum includes admission to the LA County Museum of Art (LACMA), 5905 Wilshire Boulevard, next door. Steve Martin roller-skates through its Ahmanson Gallery in L.A. Story (he’s allowed to – he’s on the museum’s board), while the star-studded charity ball in Robert Altman’s wicked satire The Player is held in its Central Court.

The entrance to LACMA is now graced by Urban Light, an ingeniously simple forest of 200 vintage lampposts, by Chris Burden, through which you can stroll. Tailor-made as a romcom backdrop, it’s not taken long for this striking landmark to appear on screen – briefly in Garry Marshall’s Valentine’s Day and more substantially in Ivan Reitman's 2011 romcom No Strings Attached, with Natalie Portman and Ashton Kutcher.

Back to Volcano and, fortunately for shopaholics, Tommy Lee Jones and Anne Heche are on hand to halt the deadly lava flow just before it engulfs the enormous, eight-story Beverly Center, 8500 Beverly Boulevard. This is supposedly where Bette Midler and Woody Allen row in Scenes From a Mall, though apart from exterior establishing shots, the film was shot in Connecticut and New York.

Away from the shopping centres, Midtown also takes in the smart enclave of Hancock Park.

Most mansions seen in Hollywood movies can be found in LA’s genteel (and less expensive for filming) neighbour Pasadena but occasionally the smart homes of Hancock Park deign to appear on screen.

Behind the forbidding gates at 211 Muirfield Road, alongside Wilshire Country Club is the one-time home of Howard Hughes, which was naturally seen in Martin Scorsese's The Aviator.

Il Borghese, North Sycamore Avenue, Midtown Los Angeles
Il Borghese, North Sycamore Avenue

Il Borghese, 450 North Sycamore Avenue at Rosewood Avenue, was the ‘West Hollywood’ courtyard apartment presided over by Coco Lenoix (Ann Miller) in David Lynch’s Mulholland Drive.

Keeping up the tradition of Los Angeles doubling for just about anywhere in the US, 333 Arden Boulevard becomes the ‘Pacific Northwest’ house where schoolkid David Lightman (Matthew Broderick) hacks into the US defence system for a quick game of Global Thermonuclear War in John Badham’s 1983 WarGames, and if you want to visit 'Elgin, Illinois', 366 South June Street at West 4th Street is the mansion of smugly swanky Steff (James Spader), where Andie (Molly Ringwald) has such a bad time at the rich kids’ party in Pretty In Pink.

Back closer to home, the old ‘Hollywood’ mansion (actually a very smart Hancock Park residence), where sisters Jane and Blanche Hudson (Bette Davis and Joan Crawford) live in a mutually-dependent hate-hate relationship in 1960s campfest What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? is 172 South McCadden Place between West First and West Second Streets.

Head back west to relax in Tom Bergin's Tavern, 840 South Fairfax Avenue south of West 8th Street. Its sole film credit (that I can find) is a brief appearance in Danny DeVito's 2003 Ben Stiller-Drew Barrynore comedy Duplex, but the self-styled 'House of Irish Coffee' has been a celeb favourite since it opened in 1935. If you doubt that, the bar is festooned with thousands of shamrocks commemorating loyal regulars over the years, including the likes of John Wayne, Kiefer Sutherland and Julia Roberts, as well as Cary Grant who had his own booth here.


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