City of Stars

For the record, I really, really tried to come up with a clever title for this post- something original, ingenious, and unrelated to La La Land. Clearly, I failed.

The first day that Katelyn and I were in Los Angeles, we split up, and neither of us was actually in the city for a large portion of the day. Katelyn went to visit an old high school friend, and I was whisked off to Long Beach. Serendipitously, my father and my brother, Kevin, were visiting L.A. to tour universities in the area during the exact same period of time that Katelyn and I were staying in the city of angels. It was a terrific surprise that we all ended up in the same city at the same time. So on June 11, I was able to spend the day with them.

That evening, the three of us met Katelyn at the Santa Monica Pier. Each of us interpreted the microcosm of the pier in our own way. One compared it to Key West, while another likened it to New Orleans’ French Quarter. However, the Santa Monica Pier is its own entity. The mélange of everything atop the wooden boards of the pier creates a carnival that occurs every day, one that people flock to from all over the world. It bears an indoor carousel, miniature amusement park, and an arcade, and that is only the beginning. And at the far end of the dock, beyond all the ruckus of rollercoasters, overpriced funnel cakes, and sunscreened sightseers, there is a part of the pier designated simply for fishing. In the middle of everything, street vendors and performers take up residence along the length of the pier, making it difficult to casually walk down. Strolling leisurely becomes jostling between California-themed knickknacks and strangers speaking languages from far-off lands. The Santa Monica Pier is a full experience. One thing that must not be forgotten in its mayhem is its setting. The most delightful thing about the pier is what lies beyond it: the ocean, stretching into the distance and lined by the shore, punctuated by multicolored beach umbrellas, blankets, and the tanned skin of beachgoers who have spent too long on the sand. The Santa Monica Pier is a spectacle in more ways than one.

On our second full day in Los Angeles, Katelyn and I donned our metaphorical tourist hats and made a beeline for the historic Chinese Theatre and the Hollywood Walk of Fame. We saw the cemented signatures, hand- and foot-prints of many great actors and filmmakers of the past century, such as Cary Grant, Frank Sinatra, Humphrey Bogart, and Helen Mirren, as well as actors made famous more recently like Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson, and Rupert Grint of the Harry Potter franchise, and Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling, the stars of last year’s La La Land. We followed the Walk of Fame for several blocks, looking for the stars of some of our favorite celebrities. Some have more than one star, because they have been awarded stars in more than one concentration. Sinatra, for example, has a star for each of the categories music, film, and television. When cruising down the Walk of Fame, it is difficult to focus on reading the names on the stars and walking straight at the same time. Thankfully, Katelyn and I only bumped into each other.

In the afternoon, we toured the Warner Brothers Studios film lot. Much of cinematic and television history has been filmed on the Warner Brothers property, including Casablanca, Friends, La La Land, and even Ellen. Perhaps the most thrilling part of our tour was seeing the sets used for the television series The Big Bang Theory, which has just finished its tenth season. Because the series is still in production, there were strict rules regarding photography and videos of the set, so I unfortunately have no photos of it. I do, however, have photographic evidence that I visited the provincial Connecticut town Stars Hollow from Gilmore Girls. On the tour, we learned the secrets of Lorelai’s house, Luke’s Diner, Mrs. Kim’s antique shop, Ms. Patty’s dance studio, and of course, the town square with its iconic gazebo. Walking around Warner Brothers Studios’ “Anytown, USA,” as it is known on the lot, was like stepping into an episode of Gilmore Girls.

The tour concluded with a trip through the prop house (the most bizarre items we saw were numerous manufactured life-size stand-ins for Hugo Weaving used in The Matrix), followed by a visit to a warehouse containing every single version of the Batmobile that has appeared in the movies, and a walkthrough of displays of items from specific TV shows and movies that have brought Warner Brothers Studios particular acclaim throughout the years. These are works such as the Harry Potter and Lord of the Rings franchises, and the television series Friends and Pretty Little Liars. It was fascinating to learn about the filmmaking process, and to see the tools, props, and costumes used throughout it.

My favorite item that we saw on the whole tour, despite the closeness of Gilmore Girls, Harry Potter, and The Big Bang Theory to my heart, was a microphone used during the production of The Jazz Singer. The Jazz Singer was the first “talking picture,” in which actors’ dialogue was recorded and used as the audio track for the movie, rather than a film being silent with written words projected onto the screen and an orchestral soundtrack as audio accompaniment. The Jazz Singer launched the film industry into a new age, and without it, film and television would not be what we know it as today. The Jazz Singer also was a Warner Brothers film, and was instrumental in the studio’s prosperity and expansion. The microphone on display as part of the Warner Brothers Studio tour is an object that contributed to a monumental change in the course of artistic history, and that was incredibly amazing and humbling to see.

Katelyn and I paid a visit to Griffith Observatory, which watches over Los Angeles from the hills much like the Grinch who stole Christmas keeps an eye on Whoville from the top of Mount Crumpet. Griffith Observatory has a lengthy history of being featured in films, and was most recently highlighted in La La Land. Because of its connection to the film, which won multiple Academy Awards, the observatory was crowded during our visit. However, the observatory is a fantastic place even without any claims to film fame. On a sunny day like the one on which we visited, it was a wonderful place to learn about the stars and eat a cupcake on the lawn in front of the observatory with a view of the “HOLLYWOOD” sign in the distance.

While we were at Griffith Observatory, we witnessed a demonstration of a Tesla Coil and watched a show at the planetarium about the Northern and Southern Lights. The show began with a quote from The Lord of the Rings. Upon hearing this, the audience laughed tentatively and exchanged wary glances with one another, clearly all having the same thought: “Why are we hearing about a fantasy franchise at an observatory?” Fortunately, the narrator went on to explain that J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings drew inspiration from Richard Wagner’s Ring Cycle operas. With a presentation that was still not clearly about stars, space, or science at all, we audience members were growing more perplexed by the minute. However, the narrator brought the subject around to the Northern and Southern Lights (Aurora Borealis and Aurora Australis, respectively) eventually, and we were all reassured. The show utilized a narrative based around the mythology of Wagner’s Ring Cycle, because ancient Norse peoples believed that the Northern Lights were caused by the gods. Of course, by the end of the show, we had learned a scientific explanation for the lights.

Our last evening in Los Angeles, Katelyn and I watched the sunset on a rooftop in Venice Beach. Alas, the sun was the only star that we spotted during our stay in Hollywood- but that was anything but a disappointment. As the final ichorous light of day melted into the umbrae of palm trees on the shoreline, we charted our course up the coast. Next stop: San Francisco.

famWiese family on the Santa Monica Pier


The Chinese Theater- an operational cinema as well as historic landmark


“Anytown, USA” on the Warner Brothers film lot


Many stand-ins modeled after Hugo Weaving’s character in The Matrix


A chandelier used in Casablanca


A microphone used in the 1927 film The Jazz Singer


The “Hollywood” sign in large white letters is a bit smaller when viewed at a distance.


Griffith Observatory overlooks Los Angeles from the hills



The Hollywood sign can be spotted above and to the right of Katelyn’s left shoulder.


Sunset in Venice Beach


3 thoughts on “City of Stars

  1. Hi, Erika,
    I am enjoying reading your blog and tracking your adventures vicariously. I was especially impressed by the verbiage in your description of the Santa Monica pier. Save it for your novel you are going to write some day!
    Mrs. D.


  2. Wow! I have definitely traveled now to LA via your literary journey. I don’t feel I need to ever go there in person now!!! Just suck astounding, rich descriptions ….


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