I haven’t been on any free walking tours for a while but there were a few intriguing ones on offer in Los Angeles. This morning I went on the Explore Hollywood tour with Paige. Prior to being a tour guide, Paige used to work behind the scenes on the (dreadful) television show, Glee. It was then cancelled so here she was doing walking tours. I honestly don’t know if she was joking about that. We walked along the main section of Hollywood Boulevard, along with a couple of detours. Despite having been somewhat cleaned up since I first visited in the early-2000s, the area remains a little bit rough and ready. You certainly won’t see any celebrities walking down Hollywood Boulevard nowadays. They’re all in Malibu or Beverly Hills, according to Paige. You certainly will find some interesting characters along Hollywood Boulevard though. There’s also a fair few abandoned shops. I asked Paige about why they haven’t been snapped up by the likes of McDonald’s. She explained that a lot of them have preservation orders so often they become prohibitively expensive to refurbish.
We saw most of the obvious famous sights; the Pantages Theatre, the Kodak Theatre, the Hollywood Sign, Mann’s Chinese Theatre, the Walk of Fame and the Capitol Records Building, my favourite Hollywood landmark. Paige also pointed out some not so obvious things. The Musso & Frank Grill, still open today, was where Orson Wells would venture into every day to write Citizen Kane. Near the end of the walk we passed Hollywood High School. On the outside wall is a huge mural featuring some former pupils. Apparently to ensure that a wide demographic sample was represented there’s a couple of people on the wall didn’t attend the school. Paige asked if we could guess anybody on there who wasn’t a former pupil. One lady shouted out, “Jackie Chan.” Paige said that Jackie Chan wasn’t actually on the mural but if she meant Bruce Lee, that was a correct answer. It’s nice to see someone else put their foot in it for a change!
Afterwards I took the subway to Downtown Los Angeles for another walking tour. This area has also gentrified a fair bit in recent years but it’s fair to say that it remains a work in progress. While there are some nice bits of Downtown LA, there are also areas where tourists probably wouldn’t want to wander around. A couple of wrong turns and you can end up in Skid Row, which is a real place. Here you’ll find pavements full of cardboard boxes and tents. This is a bit shocking to find in one of the wealthiest cities on the planet.
As there is a huge amount of architecture and popular culture in Downtown LA, the free walking tour company offers three different tours here. Therefore this afternoon’s tour with Stuart only looked at a certain part of the city. We met up at the bottom of the Angels Flight Railway. This landmark funicular used to take people up and down Bunker Hill. It is no longer in operation though following some serious accidents. Next to funicular is the park featured in 500 Days of Summer, which also seems to be closed. Over the road is another historic landmark, the Farmer’s Market. The last time I was in LA I’m sure this was more of an actual food market rather than full of trendy eateries as it seems to now be. Most of the rest of the tour consisted of a walk along Broadway. This was the original theatre district of LA. In the golden age of cinema and theatre, Broadway was home to dozens of extremely grand theatres. They look like the sort of enormous venues that would have hosted King Kong back in the day and I mean the animal itself rather than the film! Many of them are still around, albeit in various states of repair. The odd theatre remains in operation, some are boarded up and in poor condition, while others have been partly converted into other enterprises, such churches and retail shops. The shops vary from big name clothes chains at one end of Broadway to budget electronic shops on the less developed section of the street. As Stuart said, at least if they are occupied there is less chance of the building falling down or catching fire. Sometimes these tours will take you into places that you’d never otherwise have found. One such establishment was the former Warner Brothers Theatre that has since been converted into a jewellery market. As a listed building the essence of the structure inside has remained. It’s possible to stand on the same stage that Bette Davies and Judy Garland have performed and look up at the tiers of seats in the balconies above. A great non-theatre building on Broadway is the Eastern Columbia Building, an Art Deco beauty. Following his recent divorce, Johnny Depp has been trying to some one of his flats in this building.
I’ve stayed in the USA Hostel in Hollywood a couple of times before and one of the things I like about the place is the comedy night on Sundays. Now there’s an extra show on Thursdays too. I’ve already mentioned about LA being a comedy hotbed. From what I’ve heard getting stage time can be difficult. Therefore the hostel is a good place for beginners. Many of the comedians make fun about how they get to perform in a hostel, to an audience in single figures, often with the majority of them not speaking English as their primary language. Tonight the audience in the lounge peaked at maybe seven, excluding the other comedians in the room awaiting their slot. Three of these were Chinese girls who looked slightly bemused at the bad language, as well as a female comic screaming down the microphone. It’s probably rare to see that sort of act back in Shanghai! To be fair they stayed until the end, although it may well have been out of politeness. Talking of politeness, I felt obliged to laugh slightly more than some of the material merited. Gags being greeted with silence felt a bit awkward. There were a few funny bits though and it was free so you can hardly complain!
After the show I spoke to Miguel who arranges and comperes the comedy night. He obviously does it as a labour of love rather than for any kind of financial recompense. I mentioned in my old travel blog about an incident the last time I was here in 2014. One of the comedians and a heckler were arguing so much that there was almost a punch-up. Miguel said that the comedian in question has only been recently allowed back into the hostel.