Thursday, July 27, 2023

Melrose Sense of Place

Wendall-- every other Thursday

I have lived on the same street in Los Angeles, in four different apartments, since 1987. This weekend, James and I are moving “over the hill,” and I am becoming what used to be known as a Valley Girl. Anyone familiar with my lifelong devotion to Nicholas Cage will, no doubt, have seen this coming.



So before I say goodbye, I wanted to write a bit of an ode to the neighborhood where I have been so happy for so many years and to all the great places that have come and gone during that time.


The "flats" of Los Angeles are full of houses like this.

I’m originally from North Carolina. Before I landed in LA, I’d lived many other places, from Gainesville, Florida, to New York City, from Estes Park, Colorado, to Deerfield, Massachusetts. But in the end, the place I’ve lived the longest has been here, in this two-block radius. 


David Lynch filmed part of Mulholland Drive in this building.

When I arrived in  LA, I stayed with friends until I found my first apartment, a shared two bedroom in the Melrose/La Brea area, which is tucked between Hancock Park and West Hollywood. At that time it was candy-colored, with turquoise, pink, and bright white stucco apartment buildings scattered between the faux Tudor facades and faux Italianate courtyards. 


Haha. About to head to the Emmys circa 1993 in front of my pink and turquoise building.

It was walkable to Larchmont Village, at that time a charming and quiet oasis, complete with a funky breakfast joint, an old time barber shop, unbelievable jerk chicken and plantains at Prado, and my favorite ever hardware store. They are all gone now. Happily, the wonderful Chevalier’s Books, which supports local authors like crazy, is one of the few small businesses that has survived.


MIE alum, the wonderful Tim Hallinan, cracking me up at Chevalier's.

Me and Naomi Hirahara at Chevalier's on Independent Bookstore Day.

My street was also walkable to the old, Original Farmer’s Market, half of which was razed, then Disney-ized into “The Grove” in 2002.


The "Original" Farmer's Market at Fairfax and Third.

I was next to La Brea Avenue, which I’d previously only known from Ricki Lee Jones’s “Woody and Dutch on the Slow Train to Peking.” It was mostly warehouses then, but there were a few memorable places, including Samy’s Camera—which I watched burn down from my window during the LA Riots— and CITY Restaurant, one of the earliest of famous chefs Mary Sue Milliken's and Sue Feniger’s LA spots. 


The dearly departed Border Grill

The first, tiny iteration of their Border Grill was also only a few blocks away—on famed Melrose Avenue, which at that time, was one of the most vibrant streets in LA. It was the best kind of low brow/high brow mix— Aron’s Records, the Melrose Diner, and Wacko’s gift store beside L.A. Eyeworks, the original Tommy Tang’s, Chianti/Cucina, Angeli, and Denzel Washington’s gorgeous gourmet soul food restaurant, Georgia, of which I can now find no digital trace. 



Greatest silly gift store, ever.


Still have so many records from Aron's.

Best pizza in LA for many years.


Chianti/Cucina had two sides -- old style Italian and nouveau. I miss it.

Farther east on Melrose was Xiomara, the Cuban restaurant famous for their mojitos, made with a vintage sugar cane press, and where I witnessed a Faye Dunaway meltdown, firsthand. I was such a regular there, they actually had a fifteen per cent discount button on their cash register with my name on it. It still makes my heart hurt to pass the old location. The sign is still there, outside the empty, dusty space. If James and I thought we could get away with stealing it, we would, but it’s soldered on pretty tight.


Beloved Xiomara.

Sugar cane ready for the press. 


"Are you eating my LUNCH????!!!!"

All of these places have so much to do with why I have loved my adopted home, but in the end, it’s the palm trees and the sky and the houses I’ve passed on my daily walks I will miss the most. Goodbye, Mid-City Los Angeles, I knew you when.


--- Wendall


  1. What a beautiful window into your LA adventures. How I wanted one of those vintage Spanish style apartments! Moving is stressful but it seems like you've got the whole thing in the bag!

    1. Thank you, Sujata. Yes, I have been so lucky to have the life I've had here. Onward. xx

  2. I've been over the hill for a very long time!!

  3. Welcome to the Valley. We've do have our own vibe but admittedly, not the mystique. Sadly I've lived here for over 20 years and I have not experienced one Nicolas Cage sighting! I'm, like, so bummed.

  4. OMG, I began my collection of tiny wind-up toys at the store you pictured! What fun!

    1. PJ, it was my favorite store to go into, ever! And they had a great selection of the wind-ups.

  5. This is lovely, you have me feeling nostalgic for life in this place I've never been. All the best with the Valley and Nicolas Cage!

    1. Oh Ovidia, you couldn't have said anything nicer. Thanks for the good wishes. Now I just need Nicolas Cage in CON AIR to move all my books!