Simon Calder: The man who pays his way

Gazing on a sunny afternoon is not enough

Appropriately for the home of make-believe, the roads that wind through the scraggy hills above Hollywood are decorated with signs whose accuracy would be improved if they read exactly the opposite. Steer your rental car east into Lake Hollywood Drive, for example, and you see one of a number of big yellow signs in the area that insist: “No access to Hollywood sign.”

Yet suppose you follow the road almost to the reservoir from which it draws its name. Park on the hill at the junction with Wonderview Drive. Then wander up Wonderview, noting the homes with a vista that only an excessive amount of disposable income can buy, protected by gates made from excessive amounts of steel. Beside a big yellow barrier denying access to vehicles stands another sign. This one provides details of the nearest source of rattlesnake anti-venom: 1.8 miles away, in Burbank. I took this hike last Sunday, and was crestfallen to see that remedies against poisonous reptile bites are available only from Monday to Saturday. But the risk is outweighed by the prospect of one of the world’s greatest urban hikes.

Paying due attention to the further prohibitions on alcoholic beverages, smoking and loitering, you begin the ascent. After half an hour of zigging then zagging uphill, you reach a lone Mountain Oak – known as the Tree of Life among those whose DNA contains traces of the Sixties. Examine the introspective comments in the visitors’ book, then spend another half-hour scrambling through the chaparral that stands high over Hollywood.

Stride across a vertiginous ridge with Los Angeles on one side and the San Fernando Valley on the other, and you reach two items of interest. The first, bolted to a rock, is a brass plaque commemorating the Playboy magnate, Hugh Hefner, who helped pay for the area to be conserved. The second, despite that warning about “No Access,” is the back end of the Hollywood sign. Almost.

The 45ft-high capital letters, planted on the uneven platform of the hills, first announced themselves to the world in 1923. The steel symbols constituted a rudimentary marketing message by realtors (estate agents) seeking to extract some value from what was then a patch of marginal house-building terrain known as Hollywoodland.

The last four letters were shed along the road to stardom. Today, the Hollywood sign comprises a tantalising tourist attraction – with the message, “look but don’t touch”. The backs of the letters are about 100 feet away behind a high mesh fence. You would not need the climbing skills of Spiderman to clamber over the barrier. But warning notices specify that anyone who strays too close faces a fine under the Los Angeles Municipal Code of $103.

Given the high prices for tourist attractions in LA (a one-day pass to Universal Studios costs $84), some of the people whose noses and cameras were pressed against the fence last Sunday were evaluating whether it might be worth the fine to inspect the sign at close quarters.

A rumour went around that offenders are plucked from the hillside by police helicopter, making $103 a positive bargain. You can almost hear over-eager tourists saying, “Get the handcuffs ready”: less than £70 buys a Hollywood close-up plus a helicopter ride. The Independent Traveller does not, of course, condone such behaviour – and any British tourist tempted to test the legal system should note that an arrest will render them ineligible for any future visit under the Esta visa-waiver scheme.

Celluloid heroes?

High in the hills, the air is as fresh as it ever gets in this sprawl of suburbs. Down on Hollywood Boulevard, though, the atmosphere is tacky. As Ray Davies sang in the Kinks’ minor hit, “Celluloid Heroes”, this is the thoroughfare where “Success walks hand-in-hand with failure”.

Along the 10-block stretch of stardom’s Main Street between Vine and Orange, even the evidence of success at ground level is tarnished. The names of stars of screen and sound are picked out on a sidewalk pitted with discarded gum in a variety of calibres.

It’s all a bit Audrey Hepburn (which, I speculate, is Hollywood rhyming slang for “tawdry”). The footprints and/or handprints of A-listers embedded in the concrete approach to Grauman’s Chinese Theatre are outperformed by actors (let’s be kind) in Spiderman costumes hustling tourists for photos and tips.

One location with a touch of class is the mall and hotel complex at Hollywood and Highland. It boasts an arch fitted with three balconies from which to worship at the altar of celebrity, peering at the Hollywood sign from a distance of almost two miles – more of a tourist distraction than an attraction. 

Hollywood whites

Gazing on a sunny afternoon is not enough for the more adventurous. It would be a touch of class on the part of the authorities to allow visitors to acquaint themselves more closely with the Hollywood sign – in the way that another great tourist icon on the Pacific Rim permits. The Sydney Harbour Bridge is actually enhanced by people climbing over it on professionally organised tours. It is alive with slightly-difficult-to-spot tourists, all wearing camouflage-grey onesies to avoid distracting drivers.

Many visitors to California would surely pay, say, $103 to dress up in Hollywood whites and hop from H to O to L along Hollywood’s holy grail – making the land of make-believe seem a little more real to star-struck tourists.

Arts and Entertainment
Kirk Cameron is begging his Facebook fans to give him positive reviews
film
Sport
premier leagueMatch report: Arsenal 1 Man United 2
Arts and Entertainment
Jason goes on a special mission for the queen
tvReview: Everyone loves a CGI Cyclops and the BBC's Saturday night charmer is getting epic
Sport
Jonny May scores for England
rugby unionEngland 28 Samoa 9: Wing scores twice to help England record their first win in six
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Travel
ebookHow to enjoy the perfect short break in 20 great cities
Independent Travel Videos
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Amsterdam
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Giverny
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in St John's
Independent Travel Videos
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Travel

    Recruitment Genius: Customer Service Advisor

    £8 per hour: Recruitment Genius: Excellent opportunities are available for par...

    Investigo: IT Auditor

    £60000 - £75000 per annum + Benefits : Investigo: A global leading travel busi...

    Recruitment Genius: Chef De Partie x 2

    £16000 - £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This charming and contemporary ...

    Recruitment Genius: Membership Sales Advisor - OTE £20,000 Uncapped

    £15000 - £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The fastest growing fitness cha...

    Day In a Page

    Terry Venables: Wayne Rooney is roaring again and the world knows that England are back

    Terry Venables column

    Wayne Rooney is roaring again and the world knows that England are back
    Michael Calvin: Abject leadership is allowing football’s age-old sores to fester

    Abject leadership is allowing football’s age-old sores to fester

    Those at the top are allowing the same issues to go unchallenged, says Michael Calvin
    Four years of excruciating seizures caused by the 1cm tapeworm found burrowing through a man's brain

    You know that headache you’ve got?

    Four years of excruciating seizures caused by the 1cm tapeworm found burrowing through a man's brain
    Travelling to work by scooter is faster than walking and less sweaty than cycling, so why aren’t we all doing it?

    Scoot commute

    Travelling to work by scooter is faster than walking and less sweaty than cycling, so why aren’t we all doing it?
    Paul Robeson: The story of how an American icon was driven to death to be told in film

    The Paul Robeson story

    How an American icon was driven to death to be told in film
    10 best satellite navigation systems

    Never get lost again: 10 best satellite navigation systems

    Keep your vehicle going in the right direction with a clever device
    Paul Scholes column: England must learn to keep possession and dictate games before they are exposed by the likes of Germany and Brazil

    Paul Scholes column

    England must learn to keep possession and dictate games before they are exposed by the likes of Germany and Brazil
    Michael Dawson: I’ll thank Spurs after we win says defender as he prepares to return with Hull

    Michael Dawson: I’ll thank Spurs after we win

    Hull defender faces his struggling former club on Sunday ready to show what they are missing. But he says he will always be grateful to Tottenham
    Frank Warren column: Dr Wu has big plans for the professionals yet he should stick to the amateur game

    Frank Warren column

    Dr Wu has big plans for the professionals yet he should stick to the amateur game
    Synagogue attack: Fear unites both sides of Jerusalem as minister warns restoring quiet could take 'months'

    Terror unites Jerusalem after synagogue attack

    Rising violence and increased police patrols have left residents of all faiths looking over their shoulders
    Medecins sans Frontieres: The Ebola crisis has them in the headlines, but their work goes far beyond West Africa

    'How do you carry on? You have to...'

    The Ebola crisis has Medecins sans Frontieres in the headlines, but their work goes far beyond West Africa
    Isis extends its deadly reach with suicide bombing in Kurdish capital

    Isis extends its deadly reach with suicide bombing in Kurdish capital

    Residents in what was Iraq’s safest city fear an increase in jihadist attacks, reports Patrick Cockburn
    Underwater photography competition winners 2014 - in pictures

    'Mysterious and inviting' shot of diver wins photography competition

    Stunning image of cenote in Mexico takes top prize
    Sir John Major: Negative West End portrayals of politicians put people off voting

    Sir John Major hits out at theatres

    Negative West End portrayals of politicians put people off voting
    Kicking Barbie's butt: How the growth of 3D printing enabled me to make an army of custom-made figurines

    Kicking Barbie's butt

    How the growth of 3D printing enabled toy-designer to make an army of custom-made figurines