4 Min Reading
A drive among the urban and natural landscapes of Los Angeles.
A desert road. Rivers of tarmac meander through rough, barren hills. In place of water – chrome and steel. A 1972 Mercedes-Benz 250C Coupe, beige and tobacco brown, reflects the tones of Californian sand and rock. Angular metal glints in the early sun, along windows, door handles, wing mirrors and bumpers. There is no penumbra below it. The desert is a binary world of light and shadow.
The facade of the Cinerama Dome, positioned on Sunset Boulevard.
An architectural detail of Los Angeles City Hall. The design of this central tower was inspired by the Ancient Greek Mausoleum at Halicarnassus.
The car has left the city far behind, but as the low morning light brightens into amber hues, the time to return west draws near. The high rises of Downtown LA begin their approach through a gentle haze, as the sun ascends into empty sky. From the end of Grand Park, the gleaming white tower of City Hall flashes, a towering Greek mausoleum of concrete, formed of sand from each county of California. Along South Spring Street, the colossal Art Deco block of the Los Angeles Times Building rises like a cathedral nave from its columnar base, its dense concrete walls luminescent, its shadow retreating. Up West 3rd Street, the redbrick and terracotta exterior of the Bradbury Building shrouds a voluminous inner atrium of ornate wrought iron staircases and balustrades, heavy with memory of an LA since passed.
The torrent of Sunset Boulevard carries the car along its humming grey surface, past susurrating trees and glinting glass. Beckoning, the sun begins to dip, drenching the boulevard in honeyed light. A short detour eddies around a circular road, circumventing a gently inclining park. Here, the stout courtyards of Hollyhock House rest against the hill. Its sandy walls recline towards the tiered roof, resembling the mysterious facade of a Mayan temple. Beyond the road, Mount Hollywood soars over low terracotta roofs. Perched atop its high slopes, the Art Deco domes of Griffith Observatory silhouette against a pastel sky. Bands of arches cast lengthening shadows across the structure’s gleaming surface. Behind it, the iconic letters of the Hollywood sign glimmer in the golden, afternoon light, peering from their outcrop above the city, framed in earth, brush and rock.
The Griffith Observatory, overlooking the Los Angeles Basin from the slopes of Mount Hollywood.
It was these elements – the dreamlike, hazy lustre; the splendour of the hills, the plains and the desert – which first drew filmmakers here in the 1910s. Between these landscapes, in a seemingly eternal evening glow, the conditions were set for the Golden Age of Hollywood to bloom. On Fountain Avenue, the Pickford Center for Motion Picture Study is a concrete embodiment ofHollywood’s illustrious past.
Formerly known as the Don Lee Mutual Broadcast Building, it was constructed in 1948 as a warren of radio and television studios. Vertical columns flank the entrance, perforated with round holes, as if to welcome the city’s hallowed light into its core.
An architectural detail from the Pickford Center for Motion Picture Study.
Sunset Boulevard continues west. Lonely palms teeter along the wide road. The geometric shell of the Cinerama Dome catches the late sun, casting rhythmic panes of shadow and light across its surface. Through West Hollywood, the road curves away from the soaring, pitched roofs of Chateau Marmont, rising from its verdant hillside.
The Streamline Moderne facade of Sunset Tower ascends from a cluster of palms, its elegant, curving windows redolent of that same early Hollywood glamour. A plaster frieze – a sculpted Eden of plants, animals, and Adam and Eve – adorns the building, lifted high above the trees as if in offering to the erubescent sun.
Evening silhouettes of the undulating Santa Monica Mountains, rising to the west of Los Angeles.
Past the vibrant billboards, bars, clubs and shops of Sunset Strip, the road begins to snake. The car turns towards the hills and makes for the Mulholland Highway, leaving the Boulevard to its fated terminus at the Pacific coast. The highway climbs out of the city and sweeps through the valleys of the Santa Monica Mountains.
As the car rolls along the precipitous road, hugging the mountain’s side, the sun dips to meet the jagged, rocky hills. The car comes to a halt. Ochre light floods the interior. The driver peers from behind two shaded circles at the last rays of the glowing, descending orb.
Words: Ollie Horne
Photos: Rich Stapleton