August 15, 2013

Taking the Stairs to a Tower, a Terrace, a Dell and a Bowl in Hollywood (Updated for 2023)

[Last updated 3/19/23 3:23 PM PT—The neighborhood covered in the following blog post was officially recognized by the City of Los Angeles as "Hollywood Heights" this week.]

I've done a fair amount of walking around Hollywood, having figured out that parking on or south of Hollywood Boulevard and walking a mile to the Hollywood Bowl is better than taking the God forsaken death chamber of a shuttle bus, and having most memorably walked up to Yamashiro in the Hollywood Hills with Edith until a limo driver took pity on us on the way up and offered us a ride.

So now, once I find a parking spot, I'm reticent to give it up to drive around. After all, where is there to drive in Hollywood? Where is there even to park? There's a reason why Hollywood Boulevard is teeming with people: it's a pedestrian community, akin to Times Square or other public town squares where people amble and wander and look at the pretty lights. Only most visitors walk up and down Hollywood Boulevard in a straight line, rather than meandering through its fascinating side streets, parks, and public stairways.

I found myself finishing a meeting in Hollywood and in close proximity to a good parking spot, with some time to kill, so I decided to change into my hiking clothes, slip on some sneakers and strap on my hydration pack, and set off walking.

I started up a public staircase where neighbors walk their dogs, landing onto a cul-de-sac on Glencoe Way. Wanting to extend my walk, I turned right down a possibly private driveway, walked along another walkway...

...and ended up at the USC-owned Samuel Freeman House, one of Frank Lloyd Wright's concrete block creations (like the Ennis House) which is still in severe disrepair after the 1994 Northridge earthquake. Though it was stabilized in 2005 using FEMA funds, USC's efforts to complete restoration are so old, they still blame "acid rain" for its deterioration.

If it's anything like the Ennis House or the Hollyhock House, it's leaky, classic Frank Lloyd Wright.

Back up the way I came, back to the cul-de-sac, I went up a partially-handrailed staircase that a dogwalker warned me was private but turns out to be public...

...leading me up to another cul-de-sac, on and off Glencoe repeatedly, to the bottom of Broadview Terrace...

...whose stairs upwards are actually a junction of two separate staircases...

...leading up to Hollywood's High Tower.

Built in the 1920s by architect Carl Kay for his wife who tired of climbing stairs, it's not a belltower. It doesn't house a hunchback.

It's an elevator shaft.

Technically it's not in Hollywood, it's in Alta Loma...

...and rumor has it that only 30 residents have keys to the elevator...

...which, shockingly, still works.

It has to - there's still no way up to the top of that big hill, other than the stairstreets. For those elite few that don't want to walk what feels like hundreds of stairs (which I walked), and have a key because they live in one of the buildings inaccessible by car (and pay a monthly subscription fee), they take the elevator.

This strange little community of homes and their gardens - mostly built by Kay between 1935 and 1956 -  is directly adjacent to the Hollywood Bowl, but you'd never know it's there just driving by. You don't even see it walking by. But moviegoers have seen it - and the streamline moderne houses that surround the tower - as Elliot Gould's residence in the film version of Raymond Chandler's The Long Goodbye.

Less hidden but perhaps equally secret are the stairs surrounding the Hollywood Bowl leading up to various upper parking and picnic areas, all of which are more or less open to the public during the day.

Even more secret: the Bowl itself is open during the day, not only for occasional open rehearsals and soundchecks, but also when it's completely empty and  you can walk around freely.

With a capacity that tops 17,000, the Hollywood Bowl is the nation's largest natural amphitheater, originally built in a naturally bowl-shaped area called Daisy Dell.

Opened in 1922, it's known best for its recognizable bandshell, but the "Bowl" of the Hollywood Bowl is actually the curved land that the seats were built into, for the first time permanently in 1926.

During the day, you can walk all the way to the top of those seats - to the top of the bowl - and look down at the iconic bandshell, which has changed a few times since Lloyd Wright's first incarnations in 1927, 28 and 29, the latter of which lasted until 2003, when the current shell was built and replaced it.

Architect Frank Gehry, a friend of the LA Phil, even got involved in the 1970s and 80s to improve acoustics, installing "sonotubes" in 1970 and fiberglass spheres that dangled over the stage, ten years later.

I was walking around for almost two hours before I returned to my car, but both the High Tower and the Bowl are more quickly accessible for a quick peek if you park closer and walk straight to them. But where's the fun in that?

Related Post:
A Tale of Two Tickets
Photo Essay: Beachwood Canyon, In Search of the Hollywood Sign
Photo Essay: Climbing the Hidden Hollywoodland Stairs

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