Hollywood is weird. It was always a lame dream of mine to buy one of those star maps on the side of the road and spend the afternoon coasting from celebrity home to celebrity home, up Sunset, down Wilshire, and end up at the Chateau Marmont for a $25 mimosa. Except my dream has been a little more offbeat. Don’t get me wrong, if you’re down to drive to Calabasas and find a Kardashian, I’m down too. But what’s more of a draw is the super creep factor that is Hollywood. So much sun, so much money, so much sex, so much mystery. I’ve seen enough E! True Hollywood Story to know that Natalie Wood didn’t just fall off that boat. And so, about a year ago, I was visiting my boyfriend’s family in Los Feliz and after some research, we did a little Hollywood tour of our own, one that involved famous crimes and murders. While we couldn’t hit them all due to the whole gated community thing, here’s what was on the itinerary.
10050 Cielo Drive
The Manson Murders
Perhaps the most famous (or infamous) of Hollywood gone bonkers is Charles Manson and his Family. Before moving to San Francisco, Manson led a life of crime and punishment, spending most of his time in prison cells — and liking it. Once in Northern California, he kept moving his Family around in order to keep them occupied, finally ending up in Los Angeles, taking shelter in various rundown ranches and old film sets. An aspiring musician, Manson recorded with the likes of Beach Boy Dennis Wilson, eventually getting nowhere. Jaded and also absolutely nuts, Manson who had complete control of his Family, spearheaded the March 1969 bloody effort that eventually took the lives of Sharon Tate, her pregnant belly, and four others at 10050 Cielo Drive in the Benedict Canyon area. Years later, Trent Reznor of Nine Inch Nails rented the house and recorded much of Downward Spiral there, dubbing the studio “Pig” in reference to the message the Family left on the door in Tate’s blood.
5609 Valley Oak Drive
Ramon Novarro House
An up-and-coming sex symbol, a devout Roman Catholic, an accused Communist, and a closeted homosexual, Hollywood could not have written a more intriguing and ultimately sad story. Ramon Novarro ostensibly had it all. By 1968, he had dozens of movies under his belt and his looks were envied by even the most handsome of men. But this was not enough. After hiring two young men to come to his Los Feliz home for sex, he was beaten to death and robbed. While the house no longer exists, his earlier home, a beauty designed by the one and only Lloyd Wright (son of you know who), was subsequently owned by Diane Keaton and Christina Ricci, which has crazy written all over it.
1700 S. Grandview Drive
Phil Spector & Pyrenees Castle
Phil Spector, the record producer responsible for the Wall of Sound (so elegantly displayed in Bruce Springsteen’s Born to Run) is in prison. In 2003, Spector had invited B-movie actress Lana Clarkson over to his house, a sprawling mansion now dubbed Pyrenees Castle, for drinks. When an apparent sexual attempt was not reciprocated, Spector shot Clarkson in the mouth. According to The New York Times, Spector had displayed a history of threatening women with guns over decades of time. Red flag! After a few hung juries and six years later, Spector was found guilty of the murder and sentenced to 19 years in prison. The Pyrenees Castle itself still remains with major creep factor. After reading reviews of it on Yelp — weird, it has its own Yelp page — children in the neighborhood have created scary rumors about it with “tales” of murder and suicide. It has definitely become that house on the street.
8763 Wonderland Avenue
All sorts of crazy things happened in this one. When scrolling down Laurel Canyon Boulevard on Google Maps, I passed right by this gem of a townhouse. The most famous occupant in the early '80s was porn star and Boogie Nights inspiration John Holmes. This house became a hub for drugs and drug dealings at the time and eventually ended with a day of bloody murders, apparent revenge for a major burglary that took place a few days prior. The detailed account of all that went down in this house is endless. Luckily for all of us, they made a movie about it in 2003 called Wonderland, and instead of Marky Mark, it stars Val Kilmer as John Holmes, so it’s obviously not as good.
5121 Franklin Avenue
John Sowden House
Elizabeth Short, a Hollywood Boulevard adventuress was allegedly tortured, maimed, and ultimately murdered in this home in Los Feliz, according to the prime suspect’s son. Dubbed the John Sowden House, it was designed by architect Lloyd Wright (again!), and has Mayan Temple-like features including an opening that resembles the jaws of a shark. Short, who was later found bludgeoned and disfigured in the Leimert Park district of Los Angeles, had become sensationalized in the papers as “The Black Dahlia” in reference to The Blue Dahlia, a popular movie at the time. Whether or not the Sowden House was the site of such a horrific act is up for debate, but, from the eccentric facade, it's safe to say it at least has a story to tell.
And for the record, we did end up at the Chateau Marmont. No major murders here, but we ate burgers and fries and watched Gus Van Sant woo a twink. Weird!