Los Angeles: South LA | 1

Caesar's, El Segundo Boulevard, Gardena

Caesar’s restaurant in Gardena – seen as ‘Winkie’s’ in Mulholland Drive

Although South LA covers a vast area, much of it is urban housing and the city’s industrial heartland, movie related sites tend to focus on Long Beach and the harbour of San Pedro.

Unless, of course, there’s a movie about LA street gangs. It’s unfair to dismiss a whole area, but South Central has undeniably acquired a bad reputation over the years. It’s not all gang territory of course, but if you’re not familiar with the neighbourhoods, use your street smarts.

Daytime and main roads are fine, but territoriality operates to its own rules. The Dennis Hopper-Sean Penn cops’n’gangs movie Colors was largely filmed around Venice, but Boyz N The Hood and Training Day both filmed in South Central.

John Singleton’s drama centres on Park Mesa Heights, where Tre Styles (Cuba Gooding Jr) lives with his dad ‘Furious’ (Laurence Fishburne), at 5918 Cimarron Street, between 59th and 60th Streets.

For Training Day, particularly, the drive for authenticity led to some pretty dodgy areas of South Central LA – so visiting is not advised. The production got unprecedented cooperation from local gangs, allowing filming for the first time in areas of Crenshaw; Hawthorne, and Rampart (home of the infamous LA police corruption scandal which inspired the movie) rarely seen in feature films. The Sandman’s apartment, where Alonzo (Denzel Washington) serves a fake warrant on Macy Gray, is in the Imperial Courts Housing Project, Croesus Avenue at Imperial Highway, in Watts.

Despite easy assumptions you might make, the dramatic-sounding ‘Jungle’ (“You don’t come in here with anything less than a platoon”) got its nickname from the lush plantings of early developers. Officially, it’s Baldwin Village the area south of Coliseum Street between South La Brea Avenue and Crenshaw Boulevard.

Hilton LAX

The gleaming towers of Hilton LAX – the airport hotel seen in Heat

Your starting point to explore the city is likely to be South LA – from Los Angeles International Airport (LAX). If you need an airport hotel, you can start the movie location theme at Hilton Los Angeles Airport, 5711 West Century Boulevard. You might recognise its gleaming black towers from the climax of Michael Mann’s Heat – it’s here that Waingro finally gets hisdues and Hanna (Al Pacino) catches up with McCauley (Robert de Niro) for the final confrontation on the LAX runways.

Which shows that there is much more than the poverty-stricken ghetto image. Just north of LAX the area of Baldwin Hills has been dubbed the ‘Black Beverly Hills’ – home to such celebrities as Ray Charles, Tina Turner, director John Singleton, and the late Los Angeles Mayor Tom Bradley.

Ray Charles lived in a modest home at 3910 Hepburn Avenue, at West 39th Street in Leimert Park, before moving to a grander mansion at 4863 Southridge Avenue, View Park. Both houses were seen in Taylor Hackford’s 2005 biopic, Ray, with Jamie Foxx in the title role.

The area is home to dozens of ‘nodding donkeys’, which have been mechanically pumping oil from the Inglewood oil field since the Twenties. See them on-screen around the deserted ‘Victory Motel’ (which was a set built for the movie) in L.A. Confidential.

Caesar's, El Segundo Boulevard, Gardena

Caesar’s restaurant in Gardena – home of the scary man in David Lynch’s Mulholland Drive

Time for a coffee? Supposedly on ‘Sunset Boulevard’, ‘Winkie’s’, the diner behind which Dan (Patrick Fischler) fears he’s going to find a disturbing figure in David Lynch’s Mulholland Drive, is actually way down in South Central LA. It’s Caesar’s Restaurant, 1016 West El Segundo Boulevard at South Vermont Avenue, in Gardena, between Hawthorne and Compton. I was both disappointed and mightily relieved to find nobody behind the wall at the back of the diner.

Ignore the sign proudly announcing ‘Always open’ – Caesar’s closes at two in the afternoon.

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