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.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
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

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

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Travel

    Recruitment Genius: Senior Bid Writer

    £25000 - £34000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: With offices in Manchester, Lon...

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

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

    Guru Careers: Marketing Manager / Marketing Communications Manager

    £35-40k (DOE) + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Marketing Communicati...

    Guru Careers: Membership Administrator

    £23K: Guru Careers: We're seeking an experienced Membership Administrator, to ...

    Day In a Page

    Sepp Blatter resignation: The beginning of Fifa's long road to reform?

    Does Blatter's departure mean Fifa will automatically clean up its act?

    Don't bet on it, says Tom Peck
    Charles Kennedy: The baby of the House who grew into a Lib Dem giant

    The baby of the House who grew into a Lib Dem giant

    Charles Kennedy was consistently a man of the centre-left, dedicated to social justice, but was also a champion of liberty and an opponent of the nanny-state, says Baroness Williams
    Syria civil war: The harrowing testament of a five-year-old victim of this endless conflict

    The harrowing testament of a five-year-old victim of Syria's endless civil war

    Sahar Qanbar lost her mother and brother as civilians and government soldiers fought side by side after being surrounded by brutal Islamist fighters. Robert Fisk visited her
    The future of songwriting: How streaming is changing everything we know about making music

    The future of songwriting

    How streaming is changing everything we know about making music
    William Shemin and Henry Johnson: Jewish and black soldiers receive World War I Medal of Honor amid claims of discrimination

    Recognition at long last

    Jewish and black soldiers who fought in WWI finally receive medals after claims of discrimination
    Beating obesity: The new pacemaker which helps over-eaters

    Beating obesity

    The new pacemaker which helps over-eaters
    9 best women's festival waterproofs

    Ready for rain: 9 best women's festival waterproofs

    These are the macs to keep your denim dry and your hair frizz-free(ish)
    Cycling World Hour Record: Nervous Sir Bradley Wiggins ready for pain as he prepares to go distance

    Wiggins worried

    Nervous Sir Bradley ready for pain as he prepares to attempt cycling's World Hour Record
    Liverpool close in on Milner signing

    Liverpool close in on Milner signing

    Reds baulk at Christian Benteke £32.5m release clause
    On your feet! Spending at least two hours a day standing reduces the risk of heart attacks, cancer and diabetes, according to new research

    On your feet!

    Spending half the day standing 'reduces risk of heart attacks and cancer'
    With scores of surgeries closing, what hope is there for the David Cameron's promise of 5,000 more GPs and a 24/7 NHS?

    The big NHS question

    Why are there so few new GPs when so many want to study medicine?
    Big knickers are back: Thongs ain't what they used to be

    Thongs ain't what they used to be

    Big knickers are back
    Thurston Moore interview

    Thurston Moore interview

    On living in London, Sonic Youth and musical memoirs
    In full bloom

    In full bloom

    Floral print womenswear
    From leading man to Elephant Man, Bradley Cooper is terrific

    From leading man to Elephant Man

    Bradley Cooper is terrific