Posted by: Brad Nixon | October 8, 2010

Take the Long Way Home

We conclude our exploration of some notable sights in Los Angeles, today leaving downtown for a scenic drive home. To see the previous three posts, click back at the bottom of this entry, or scroll down, depending on how your browser displays this blog. Or, to start at the beginning, CLICK HERE.

I wrapped up my visit to downtown L.A. last week in a fairly typical manner, for me. Because this is a vast, sprawling city of adjacent smaller cities and towns and neighborhoods and subcultural pockets, it always pays to take some meandering route home from wherever you are. If you stick to the freeways, you might as well be in Indianapolis or Austin or Phoenix; those are all fascinating places, but the experience you have from I-65 in Indianapolis or I-10 in Phoenix is, more or less, the same ride you’ll have on any freeway. Out on the surface streets, you are amongst the lives of real people, and you see the stores they shop in, the bus stops where they catch their rides, and the signs in many languages that hawk whatever goods the advertisers think they’ll buy.

As the avatar of urban and suburban sprawl, the greater Los Angeles metropolis provides an inexhaustible cityscape for exploration that could consume many lifetimes. What we typically mean when we say “Los Angeles” includes cities of significant size in their own right — Santa Monica, Pasadena, Long Beach — and innumerable smaller cities and towns — Duarte, Hawaiian Gardens, Altadena and Bell (which has leapt to prominence in recent corruption news). Each one of these municipalities has its own history: some have been in existence nearly as long as L.A. itself, while others sprang up during the repeated waves of boom and bust, or have been created from bare dirt by the power of California’s most sacred calling: The Developers.

Driving the streets in L.A. you might end up in a neighborhood occupied by people from almost any culture in the world, living in utter incongruity in houses built in any of the styles that prevailed between 1880 and now.

After the downtown adventure I described earlier this week, I drove northwest up the Hollywood Freeway to pursue one special project which will not appear here for a few weeks yet, but, believe me, it was an important mission, and bore rich fruit. I drove to the heart of darkest Hollywood, hard by the nexus of Hollywood & Vine, about 7-1/2 miles northwest of the Bradbury Building. OK, one quick snapshot, taken directly across Hollywood Blvd. from the site of my “special project.”

There. The Big Guy. His is one of thousands in the Hollywood Walk of Fame, which you probably did not need to have me tell you. Nearby is the star for Debbie Reynolds, and just 50 feet to the east at the corner is Jack Benny. Sorry about the poor contrast in the photo, but I couldn’t doodle around getting the exposure right: I had to get back to my car, which was parked at a meter into which I had put 25 cents, which bought me 8 minutes of time, and it was ticking down.

In order to avoid two left turns ONTO Hollywood and then onto Highland, I zoomed straight north a few blocks to where Streets End: Franklin Ave., right against the base of Mt. Olympus, home of the  Hollywood sign. From there, I could casually circle back onto Highland in the 1900 block and start my long drive south toward home.

It was my plan to take Highland south through Mid-Wilshire to its intersection with LaBrea, and south where LaBrea becomes Hawthorne to Pacific Coast Highway, and then home. I’d be driving through the heart of Hollywood, past the Kodak theater and Ripley’s Believe-it-or-Not Emporium at the intersection with Hollywood Blvd., down through West Adams, past the eastern edge of Baldwin Hills, into the Crenshaw District, then Ladera Heights, Lenox, Inglewood, Hawthorne and finally Torrance, where I’d head east on PCH.

On your Rand-MacNally Map, this is a dot named “Los Angeles,” but at street level, it’s a nonstop visual cacophony of cultures and sights, from Hasidic Jews to orthodox Greeks and every possible ethnic mix you can imagine, except maybe the Persians and the Armenians, who tend to live West and North of my route, respectively.

Along Highland, not far south of Santa Monica Blvd., beautiful Spanish-style stucco-covered houses line the route. Jonathan Kellerman has had Harry Bosch, his detective, involved in a couple of late-night troubles in this neighborhood.

Here Highland is a boulevard with a long, long line of tall parade palms stretching out beyond sight, a much-filmed scene in countless movies. It’s interesting to note that this is a common feature of many L.A. neighborhoods. Take, for example, the Harbor Freeway from south of the city up into downtown, for example, and on the left and right of you you’ll see these strands of palms extending east and west of you down on the surface streets. They’re fading now, as the palms planted forty or fifty years or more ago by ambitious developers die off, there are no funds to replace them, particularly there along the Harbor Freeway, because they are in some of the direst, most disadvantaged neighborhoods of the metropolis.

Everywhere is sign culture: like this example I snapped out my right-hand (western) window near the intersection with Centinela.

A classic!

Then, downtown Inglewood, a city (yes, it is an independent municipality, and a big one) that has seen enormous change. We’ll let it serve as the representative of how cities have grown, evolved and been absorbed into the crazy-quilt of L.A. Founded in 1908, Inglewood had a primarily caucasian population. Men and women my age spent their childhood in THAT city, but, by the time they graduated from high school, the city was rapidly integrating and today boasts large African-American and Latino families. Meanwhile, it was being absorbed into a greater Los Angeles to a degree that the first-time visitor is not aware of its independent existence as a municipality.

Naturally, the place contains numerous architectural survivors of previous eras, and in the heart of downtown Inglewood is a typical sad remnant of one great tradition. As one drives south into the Inglewood downtown, you see a compelling structure looming above the two-story buildings of the area. To visit it, make a left turn into the little downtown and find:

… the former Fox Theater, one of a number of Fox properties languishing across America, with not a few in metropolitan L.A., tattered remnants of the days of big-screen glory before the multiplex. What might it be like inside? This is where I fail you, faithful readers, as your reporter. I got out to snap the photo, but I didn’t wander around to find some longtime shopkeeper or resident who might know more about this, and I haven’t researched to find photos from its days when Gable and Davis and Hutton and Gardner graced it’s now blocked-out marquee. Ah, were there world enough and time!

Then, after La Brea becomes Hawthorne south of Century, I fail you utterly.

I don’t even make the series of right-hand turns to put me on the sidewalk across the street to get a good shot, but, frankly, wearied by the long drive, shoot this one out the left-hand window to grab a pure expression of 1950s restaurant moderne: Chip’s. It’s still in business, and, ephemeral as our culture is, who knows but if I go back there to sit at the formica counter and have a coke and a burger it might be no more? It’s just a mile north of where my route to work to work sometimes crosses Hawthorne, and yet a world away. I’ll try to report back from the scene as soon as I can, and pray that when I get there I don’t find the AVAILABLE signs posted on the corners of the property. That was the case with the Hawthorne Grill, just a couple of miles south of Chip’s, which featured a key scene with Travolta and Jackson in Tarantino’s “Pulp Fiction,” CLICK HERE. I passed it a hundred times on the way to work and finally stopped in one day to have a coke, but sans camera. Soon after, it closed, and, within a year, was leveled to the ground. Sic transit gloria. I never got the SHOT. ALWAYS TAKE THE CAMERA.)

These are just a handful of snapshots from something like 20 miles of city streets dense with history and chock-full of stories. One drive on one day. Your town has this stuff, too, when you take the time to go see it. Your town may not cover four hundred square miles and ten million inhabitants, but you know it’s there. For crying out loud, get the shot while you can, before they tear down something you’ll be hard-pressed to describe to your children.

© Brad Nixon 2012, 2017


  1. You’re a modern day Ed Ruscha! Roll camera!


    • I guess you had forgotten the bit of advise I gave you back when you were in oh, the 4th or 5th grade. “Son, always take your digital camera along with you wherever you go.”

      Regardless, thanks for introducing us to downtown LA.


      • Dad, if I had taken all of your advice, I’d already have been President of the U.S. and retired, helping Carter and Clinton and Bush straighten out the rest of the world by now.


  2. Brad, I wish you had been President INSTEAD of Carter, Clinton and Bush (2x). Then we would not be in the mess we’re all in right now (and have been for the past few decades).


  3. And here I’d always thought Dad said “always take your digital thermometer with you wherever you go”. No wonder I ended up where I did.


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