Literary Hot Spots: Los Angeles

Posted Dec 21st 2010 03:00 PMUpdated Jan 10th 2011 12:36 PM

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Many writers have brought unique outlooks to their visions of Los Angeles. From classic authors like Raymond Chandler and Joan Didion to modern ones like Sara Davidson, Michael Connelly, and Hector Tobar, a great number of writers have put L.A. on the literary map. With so many authors writing about so many places, it necessitates an eclectic selection of 10 spots to visit.






The Santa Monica Pier
The Santa Monica Pier appears in Raymond Chandler's books multiple times, most notably in the climactic scene in "Farewell, My Lovely." Chandler thinly disguises Santa Monica as Bay City, and describes the pier as a "lightless finger [that] jutted seaward into the dark." At the end of the dock, detective Philip Marlowe boards a small boat that zips out to a gambling ship, where he finds trouble. In real life, beginning in 1928, gambling ships anchored off the coast of Santa Monica, though this practice ended in the late thirties when they were shut down for being a nuisance. The original Santa Monica Pleasure Pier was built in 1916, and a carousel was built on it in 1922, which you can still ride. There are also a variety of rides, shops, an arcade and restaurants on the pier.
Colorado Avenue at Ocean Avenue, Santa Monica.

Angels Flight
Writer Michael Connelly has taken over Chandler's beat for providing an evocative feel for Los Angeles through a detective's eyes. His Harry Bosch has appeared in 16 novels so far, like "Angels Flight," which refers to a short incline rail line that ascends what used to be Bunker Hill. In the book, Bosch and two colleagues investigate the death of a famous lawyer on the rail line. The original line was built in 1901 and connected Hill Street with Olive Street. It was torn down in 1969 to redevelop the entire area, and the railway was rebuilt a half block south and reopened in 1996. At the top, you can visit the Museum of Contemporary Art and see Walt Disney Music Hall.
Angels Flight runs from 351 S. Hill St. to 350 S. Grand Ave., Los Angeles.

MGM Studios
This lot in Culver City, now Sony Studios, is the setting for F. Scott Fitzgerald's unfinished novel, "The Last Tycoon." The title character, Monroe Stahr, was based on the real life Irving Thalberg. Thalberg, the "boy genius" who made MGM grand, died in 1936, a year before Fitzgerald came to work for the studio. After his contract wasn't renewed in 1938, Fitzgerald teamed up with young screenwriter Budd Schulberg, who went onto write another famous Hollywood novel, "What Makes Sammy Run." The MGM Studios, built starting in 1915, were sold in 1986 after financial crises at the studio.
10202 W. Washington Blvd., Culver City.

The Watts Towers
The Watts Towers are part of the neighborhood in Walter Mosley's "Little Scarlet." The novel opens with detective Easy Rawlins having just witnessed the crest of the Watts Riots of 1965, and he's hired by a white detective to find the murderer of a young black woman. The Watts Towers are also part of Don Delillo's "Underworld." The Towers were built by Simon Rodia, an Italian immigrant worker, and consist of seventeen major towering sculptures constructed of structural steel and covered with mortar. He built it on his property from 1921 to 1954, and it's now a National Historic Landmark.
1765 E. 107th St., Los Angeles.

The Highland Park Police Station
Now the Los Angeles Police Museum, this location appears in Joseph Wambaugh's "The Onion Field." The station, the oldest surviving one in the city, is the place from which police detectives hunted Gregory Powell and Jimmy Lee Smith, who had coldly murdered a police officer in an onion field. It was from this station, too, that Det. Robert Grogan pursued serial killers Angelo Buono and Kenneth Bianchi, who are the focus of Darcy O'Brien's book, "The Hillside Stranglers." The station has been designated a Historic Cultural Monument.
6045 York Blvd., Los Angeles.

The Musso and Frank Grill
This restaurant is a huge literary trove, not only for the novels in which it appears, such as Raymond Chandler's "The Big Sleep" and Budd Schulberg's "What Makes Sammy Run," but also for all the famous writers who regularly drank there including Chandler, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway, William Faulkner and Orson Welles. It's the oldest restaurant in Hollywood, first opening in 1919.
6667 Hollywood Blvd., Los Angeles.

Pink's Hot Dog Stand
This hot dog joint appears in what seems like hundreds of mystery novels written in the last 60 years. Paul Pink started his stand in 1939 from a pushcart at the corner of La Brea and Melrose, and in 1946, built the small building that still remains. The stand appears in Thomas Pynchon's "Inherent Vice," the Harlan Ellison short story "Prince Myshkin and Hold the Relish," and in novels by Lisa Yee, Robert Cort, and Steven Barnes.
709 N. La Brea Ave., Los Angeles.

The Formosa Café
Located near a corner of the Lot Studios (formerly Warner Bros), this café is featured in many novels having to do with Hollywood, like those by Bret Easton Ellis, Rachel Resnick, Terrence Taylor, and Dan Fante. Opened in 1934, it became known as a spot for celebrities, the likes of Humphrey Bogart, Clark Gable, Frank Sinatra, Elizabeth Taylor, Elvis Presley, and more recently, Johnny Depp, Brad Pitt, Paris Hilton, and Bono.
7156 Santa Monica Blvd., West Hollywood.

Frank Lloyd Wright's Hollyhock House
This house can be found in TC Boyle's "The Women," a narrative account of four lovers in architect Frank Lloyd Wright's life. It's also alluded to in Nancy Horan's "Loving Frank," a fictionalization of the life of Mamah Borthwick Cheney, an independent woman who Wright loved and for whom he left his first wife. Additionally, the house is part of the background information in William Drennan's true story, "Death in a Prairie House: Frank Lloyd Wright and the Taliesin Murders," which is about the murder of Cheney and six others in 1914 at Taliesin, Wright's home in Wisconsin. Located in Hollywood's Barnsdall Park, the house was finished in 1921 for oil heiress Aline Barnsdall. It's an example of how Wright's design sense changed radically after the murders, as his homes became more "protective" and fireproof. The 1994 Northridge Earthquake damaged some of the house, and a major restoration was finished in 2005.
4800 Hollywood Blvd., Los Angeles.

The Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel
Opened in 1927 and kitty-corner to Grauman's Chinese Theater, the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel was the site of the very first Academy Award ceremony in 1929. Clark Gable and Carole Lombard regularly met in the penthouse suite and Marilyn Monroe lived in the hotel for two years. It's rumored that Montgomery Clift's ghost haunts the halls blowing a bugle. Clift lived at the hotel during the filming of "From Here to Eternity," and Frank Sinatra, also in the film, often came over for drinks and consolation over Ava Gardner. Noel Alumit's novel, "Letters to Montgomery Clift," has a whole chapter focused on the Roosevelt Hotel. Perhaps the best literary ghost at the hotel, however, is in Steve Erickson's novel "Zeroville," in which the main character stays and speaks with the ghost of DW Griffith, often mistaken for Clift. The hotel was restored and upgraded in sweeping renovations in 2005, which included a David Hockney mural on the bottom of the swimming pool.
7000 Hollywood Blvd., Los Angeles.

Originally from Minnesota, Christopher Meeks has lived in Los Angeles for the last thirty years where he writes novels and short fiction and teaches college English and creative writing. Read about his short-story collection "Months and Seasons" and his novel "The Brightest Moon of the Century" on Red Room.
Filed Under: Arts & Culture

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