Nothing says classic Hollywood more than, well, classic Hollywood. Beyond the glitz and glamor of the golden age, the 1940s also presented Los Angeles with its first journey into a darker, grittier side of LA’s very own mean streets. And while many noir films from 1939 to 1960 were shot in Los Angeles’ brand new sound stages, the modernity of the genre opened the door for shooting on location, adding a sense of urgency and realism. Today, much of the spirit of the city’s noir days lives on, finding a spot in the shadows in sunny Los Angeles.
Although seldom used as an actual shooting location for the noir greats, Formosa’s proximity to the studios, strong drinks and late night hours made it an icon of 1940s Los Angeles film stars. It was just a block east from what old Hollywood referred to as "The Lot," Samuel Goldwyn’s Pickford-Fairbanks Studios Lot which was popular in the '20s and '30s. (Today, "the Lot" is still in operation, although it’s been given a hipper makeover and sleek mirrored windows, its innards of studio lights and catwalks are more or less the same.) Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall have been named as former regulars of the Formosa Cafe, as have Clark Gable, Ava Gardner and Judy Garland.
The Formosa remains a popular destination for tourists and locals alike. A dining and late night spot – note that it doesn’t open until 4pm – the Formosa’s food is Americanized Chinese and its drinks are strong, but its the dark, Old Hollywood atmosphere that keeps this West Hollywood classic on the map.
The narrow hillside streets and looming Victorian homes made Bunker Hill one of the most used locations for film noir. Films such as Cry Danger, Kiss Me Deadly and M made extensive use of the neighborhood. However, by 1955, due to a flight from the neighborhood after the construction of the Pasadena freeway, Bunker Hill was declared a slum and much of it razed for demolition.
While very little of the old Bunker Hill remains today, the old grounds has been given new life as the Walt Disney Concert Hall and Museum of Contemporary Art. But for those seeking a taste of the old Hill, be sure to spend 50 cents on a ride on Angel’s Flight, a renovated funicular between Hill and Olive Street originating in 1901.
Despite it’s Kevin Spacey-framed cameo in '90s film LA Confidential, the Frolic Room is best known for quenching the thirst of the stars of the screen in the 1940s. Officially opening as a bar in 1934 after the end of Prohibition, it became a darling for Howard Hughes’s VIP Oscar parties during the time of the awards’ tenure at the Pantages Theater from 1949 to 1959.
Today the Frolic Room retains its classic facade outside the Pantages on Hollywood and Argyle, just a block east of Vine. The drinks are reasonably priced, the jukebox selection good and the barflies friendly.
Although most often recognized as the site of J. F. Sebastian’s apartment in 1982’s sci-fi neo-noir Bladerunner, the Bradbury Building actually has a long prior history of film locations in the genre’s first incarnation. It was featured in D.O.A., a 1950 noir film in which Edmond O’Brien stars as a man trying to solve his own impending murder by poison. The Bradbury also stars in 1951’s German noir remake, M, in a pivotal confrontation scene in a famous scene shot through the building roof’s overhead skylight.
Today the Bradbury Building is a well-documented landmark for Los Angeles film buffs, so much so that rules have become increasingly strict. Because the Bradbury Building is still very much in use, visitors are not allowed to use the elevators or go up more than a flight of stairs.
Without a doubt, Union Station ranks number one in Los Angeles film noir landmarks to visit today. Opening its door in 1939, it’s not only stayed fully functional, but has kept its art-deco origins in mint condition. Union Station remains operational not only for Los Angeles’ refurbished subway system, but also Amtrack, Amtrack California and Metrolink as well. While Union Station had its day in the sun during the film noir era, when it inspired an eponymous 1950s film, it saw a resurgence in the '70s with the dawn of neo noir.
Union Station is as gorgeous and well maintained as ever. Stop by and have a drink at Traxx, a beautifully crafted cocktail bar tucked away in a former telephone room. And, of course, order a martini.