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Sunday March 3rd 2024

Los Angeles for Film Fans: West Hollywood 1

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Rock Walk, Guitar Center, 7425 Sunset Boulevard
Guitar Center, Sunset Boulevard

West Hollywood is literally a city unto itself, with a whole different feel to central Hollywood, as the Boulevards Sunset and Santa Monica gear up towards the glitz of Beverly Hills, while Hollywood Boulevard fizzles out completely.

The movie business gives way to the rock music business with a proliferation of guitar shops and rock clubs. The Guitar Center, 7425 Sunset Boulevard, at North Vista Street, is where Jack Black first hears of the legendary Pick Of Destiny, and, since 1985, has been home to the RockWalk – rock’s answer to Grauman’s Chinese – where you can compare your puny digits with the mighty handprints of rock gods from AC/DC to ZZ Top.

Rock Walk, Guitar Center, 7425 Sunset Boulevard
West Hollywood's answer to Grauman's forecourt – the Rock Walk

West Hollywood’s stretch of Santa Monica Boulevard is LA’s gay heart, with numerous bars flying the rainbow flag and some very specialist novelty stores. With its significant mature population, the city is run by a very Eighties sounding pink and grey coalition, while retail heaven Melrose Avenue boasts the most stylish boutiques you’ll see anywhere.

To the south, the Formosa Cafe, 7156 Santa Monica Boulevard at North Formosa Avenue, a former railroad car converted to a bar-restaurant, evokes the slightly musty feel of historic Hollywood, with its endless frieze of 8x10 portraits, and all the better for that.

Formosa Cafe, Santa Monica Boulevard, West Hollywood
Staff canteen to the stars – the Formosa Cafe, Santa Monica Boulevard

This is where earnest detective Ed Exley (Guy Pearce) has an embarrassing confrontation with the ‘real’ Lana Turner in L.A. Confidential.

The atmosphere – and the cocktails – more than compensated for what was, in the past, possibly not the finest culinary experience in Hollywood. The Formosa closed down and came shockingly close to demolition a couple of years ago. It's since been bought with the promise of a relaunch but, as of April 1918, still stood in a sad state of disrepair.

If you gazed out of the restaurant at the building on Formosa Avenue opposite, this is what was once called simply ‘The Lot’. It was the old Goldwyn studio, and the Formosa was something of a staff canteen, with the likes of Humphrey Bogart, Marilyn Monroe and Clark Gable regularly downing its Chinese nosh.

The Lot seems to have been a favourite for William Wyler, who shot Wuthering Heights, The Little Foxes and The Best Years of Our Lives here; as well as for John Ford (Stagecoach and The Horse Soldiers); and Billy Wilder (The Apartment, Irma La Douce and Some Like It Hot). The studio also hosted filming for classic musicals Guys And Dolls and West Side Story. With the usual respect the city shows for its heritage, most of The Lot was recently demolished.

The Lot, Formosa Avenue, West Hollywood
'The Lot', entrance to the old Goldwyn Studio on Formosa Avenue

A few blocks to the east, 7000 Romaine Street at North Sycamore Avenue was the Hollywood headquarters of maverick director, engineer and bra designer Howard Hughes, where he edited his 1930 flying epic Hell's Angels and the scandalous The Outlaw (for which, Hughes famously devised a specially cantilevered seamless support for the buxom Jane Russell). You can see the monumental block in Martin Scorsese’s biopic The Aviator.

As you head west towards another West Hollywood institution, take a look up at the Emser Building, 8431 Santa Monica Boulevard on the northeast corner of Olive Drive. This is the rooftop from which Riggs (Mel Gibson) leaps, with the reluctant suicide, in Lethal Weapon, back in those innocent days when he didn’t need to worry if anybody in charge of the airbag below was Jewish or black or gay.

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