Los Angeles will forever be linked to its beautiful beaches, Rodeo Drive, and frenetic Hollywood Boulevard, but nostalgia for the glory days is putting the spotlight on preservation efforts and old-world haunts.
Rewind back to a time when downtown Los Angeles was the centre of action; where the financial hub, Spring Street, bustled by day and Broadway’s neon-lit theatres illuminated the night.
Charlie Chaplin made Olvera Street famous in the 1921 film, The Kid, and the 1893-built Bradbury Building still stands as a testament to that prosperous era (open to the public; it starred in the movie, Blade Runner). Following a period of decline, DTLA – as locals now call it – is once again the talk of the town thanks to its refurbishment over the past decade.
Forgotten streets have been scrubbed, Art Deco facades shine, and theatres are being reinvented. The onetime United Artists Theatre run by Charlie Chaplin, Douglas Fairbanks, DW Griffith, and famous silent film actress, Mary Pickford, is the boutique Ace Hotel, a harbinger of cool.
Its 20th century Spanish Gothic architecture is best experienced at the rooftop bar. Next door, The Theatre at Ace Hotel, restored to its former frescoed glory, headlines top acts like Nick Cave, Quentin Tarantino and Arcade Fire.
A 15-minute walk away is the nearly century-old Grand Central Market, crowned one of America’s “best new restaurants” by Bon Appétit magazine in 2014. The 30,000-square-foot covered expanse embodies downtown’s cultural and culinary renaissance and buzzes with dozens of purveyors, from longtime favourite Sarita’s Pupuseria, loved for moreish corn tortillas filled with meat, cheese, and vegetables, to relative newcomer Wexler’s Deli, whose chef Micah Wexler makes a delectable Reuben sandwich with tender corned beef.
The line forms early for EggSlut’s breakfast sandwiches; Horse Thief BBQ dishes spare up ribs on its patio; and The Oyster Gourmet serves beer, wine, and fresh seafood at a circular bar. Head to G&B Coffee for excellent brew.
When downtown's population dissipated with the advent of the car, movie making had already transitioned to Hollywood. Take a taxi (or Uber) to experience Musso & Frank Grill, open since 1919. Located on Hollywood Boulevard, the old-world restaurant hasn’t changed much except for the Walk of Fame by its front door and the addition of air-conditioning.
Industry gossip is still exchanged over porterhouse steaks in red leather booths, and martinis are sipped at the mahogany bar where writers John Steinbeck and Dorothy Parker used to hang out.
Hollywood Forever Cemetery, a few streets to the south, is where fans pay respects to Italian heartthrob and actor Rudolph Valentino, guitarist Johnny Ramone, and Toto from The Wizard of Oz. The area, in sight of Paramount Studios, marks LA’s place in history and is more celebratory than morbid.
A cemetery walking tour with guide Karie Bible reveals fascinating Hollywood lore, and Cinespia regularly screens legendary movies on the lawn by Douglas Fairbanks’ crypt. Los Angeles may evoke timelessness but life shimmies right alongside.
Words: Marina Chetner