Hollywood High School

Side Trip: Hollywood High School

Hollywood High School was where the stars studied, or like Lana, played hooky from. Carol Burnett, Linda Evans, James Garner, John Ritter and Fay Wray all attended school here, just a 5-minute walk down Highland Avenue to Sunset Boulevard. This Side Trip should take about 25 minutes of your time.

–> Continue down Highland Avenue towards Sunset Boulevard.

A) Mel’s Drive-in.  Across the street, next to the Hollywood Museum, is Mel’sDdrive-in. It’s not the Mel’s – the one pictured in the 1973 classic, “American Graffiti.” That San Francisco eatery was demolished after filming wrapped. But it is one of the chain that was resurrected by Mel Weiss’ son Steven in 1985. It’s also one of the few Mel’s drive-ins that isn’t a drive-in; it costs $2 to park here. (But you don’t care; you’re on a WalknRideLA tour.)

–> Cross Hawthorn Avenue and continue down to Sunset Boulevard.

B) Hollywood High School. To your right is Hollywood High School (Marsh Smith & Powell, 1934). Times have changed at Hollywood High but in its day its halls fairly swarmed with budding or soon-to-bud movie and TV stars. The Streamline Moderne building (a later offshoot of Art Deco) replaced an earlier 1906 structure (image at left) erected on this same site. Following the 1933 Long Beach earthquake a number of area schools and civic structures were rebuilt to tighter standards that would better protect their occupants; Hollywood High was one of them.

On the way down to Sunset you’ll pass the school’s auditorium on the right. That mural (, 2002) hints at a few of the students who spent time here. Click here for a more complete list of notable Hollywood High School students. Spoiler Alert – here are some of the names on that list: Cher, Sarah Jessica Parker, Carol Burnett, Sharon Tate, Ricky Nelson, Lon Chaney, Jr. (the “Wolf Man”), Judy Garland, Mickey Rooney, Alan Hale, Jr. (“Skipper” on “Gilligan’s Island“), Mike Farrell (Captain B. J. Hunnicutt from “M*A*S*H*”), Linda Evans, Carol Lombard, Joel McCrea and Brandy Norwood (R&B singer).

–> At Sunset Boulevard, turn right and walk to the front of the high school’s steps.

Here, at right, is a view of what you’ll see. It could be said that Streamline Moderne put Art Deco on its side. Art Deco favored soaring verticalities; Streamline Modern went with ribboned horizontalities, like the ones you see here. It also favored curvilinear shapes and fell in love with a new construction material: glass blocks.

–> Return to the corner at Highland and Sunset.

C) A Star is Spotted! Straight across the street is a mini-mall – one of thousands in the city. But here, on the far side of this site, once stood the Top Hat Cafe. As the story goes, one afternoon in 1936,  Hollywood High student, Julia Turner (she later claimed she was cutting typing class) popped into the cafe, sat down and ordered a soda. A Hollywood Reporter publisher spotted her and referred 16-year-old Julia to a talent agent. The rest, as they say, is history. Julia changed her name to Lana, was cast in a role wearing a tight-fitting sweater (earning her a nickname she destested: “The Sweater Girl”) and became a popular World War II pin-up girl. Later, as she and her career matured, she pushed for – and famously got – more challenging dramatic roles. Lana Turner, at any age, looked way better than this mini-mall!

As Quoted…”My goal was to have one husband and seven children, but it turned out to be the other way around.” Lana Turner

–> Cross Highland Avenue and  continue down Sunset, crossing McCadden Place and Las Palmas Avenue.

D) Crossroads of the World. Designed by Robert Derrah and completed in 1936, Crossroads billed itself as “Hollywood’s first shopping center.”  Maybe yes, maybe no. But you’re not here to shop its few stores but to take in an icon of Streamline Moderne architecture. By the 1930s, speed became the stuff of front page news: the fastest plane, the fastest car, the fastest train and the fastest passenger liner. To accentuate speed, “streamlining” became the rage. Everything looked like it was ready to move – fast. Curvilinear lines found themselves in everything from vacuum cleaners and cigarette lighters to ocean liners and office buildings. 

Here we have a main building that almost looks like it could power itself across the ocean, so strong are its references to ocean liners of the 1930s. Portholes, iron railings – even life rings, are included within its design. (You may have seen or heard of the Coca Cola Bottling Plant building just east of downtown L.A.; Derrah designed it too, also with a similar ocean liner motif.) Keeping with the “crossroads” theme, other buildings within the center pulled from other architectural styles: Tudor and Spanish Colonial seem most evident here.

E) Blessed Sacrament Church. Just next door is the Blessed Sacrament Church (Thomas Franklin Power, 1928) with its 203-foot steeple. Frequent attendees at the Roman Catholic church included Bing Crosby (he married his first wife here), John Wayne (he gave away two daughters here) and Ann Blyth (who played Joan Crawford’s sassing daughter in “Mildred Pierce“). Looting took place on Hollywood Boulevard following the 1992 Los Angeles riots. One of the stores hit was Frederick’s of Hollywood, its “museum of lingerie” losing a push-up bra worn by Katey Sagal and bloomers worn by Ava Garner. The thief later atoned for his sins, returning the stolen goods to this church.

F) Hollywood Athletic Club. In the distance, on the next block, rises the Hollywood Athletic Club (Meyer and Holler, 1923).  As Hollywood came into its own as a maker of movies, movie stars needed a place to unwind, right? Founded by Charlie Chaplin (who is believed to have lived in its penthouse for a while), Lon Chaney, Cecil B. De Mille and Rudolf Valentino, the club was an immediate hit with almost a thousand members (men-only) by 1926. And no wonder: within its walls were 75-foot swimming pool, a billiard parlor, a gymnasium, lounges, locker room, cigar room, libraryand bachelor apartments. Most everyone big in Hollywood belonged: Errol Flynn, Walt Disney, Howard Hughes, Clark Gable, Humphrey Bogart, John Ford, John Wayne…

But, as Hollywood suffered, so did the club, closing in 1956. It was latered purchased by Gary Berwin, carefully restored and renovated at substantial cost and re-incarnated as a nightclub. It was one of the hottest clubs in town but nightclubs being fickle, this one proved just too big to sustain. Today it’s a popular venue for private parties and filming. Two “titles” worth mentioning: it was briefly the tallest office building in Hollywood and it was here, in 1949, where the first Emmy Awards were held and, naturally, televised.

–> Retrace your steps back to Highland Avenue, turn right and walk up to Hollywood Boulevard to rejoin the main tour.

Comments are closed.