Excerpts from Secret Los Angeles: A Guide to the Weird, Wonderful, and Obscure

by | Nov 23, 2020 | Great Escape

These excerpts are taken from Secret Los Angeles: A Guide to the Weird, Wonderful, and Obscure by Danny Jensen. Jensen is also the co-author of 100 Things to Do in Los Angeles Before You Die, 2nd Ed. Both books can be purchased at www.secretlosangelesbook.com.
What happened to the original Venice canals? Where can you find the oldest tattoo parlor in the country? Where is the “Statue of Liberty of Los Angeles” perched? With Secret Los Angeles: A Guide to the Weird, Wonderful, and Obscure by local author Danny Jensen, you’ll discover the surprising answers to these curious mysteries and more.
Los Angeles is a city full of hidden histories, strange sculptures, and wonderful oddities that are often overlooked by locals and visitors alike. Secret Los Angeles will serve as your guide to many of the most magical places across the city and surrounding county—places that you may never have noticed before or perhaps always wondered about. Discover a grapevine older than the state of California, find the inspiration for Disneyland nestled within Griffith Park, uncover the history of Central Avenue’s jazz legacy, and plenty more.
Purchase your copy of Secret Los Angeles and find out about upcoming events here: www.secretlosangelesbook.com

Celebrate the Lighting of the
Capitol Records Christmas Tree

The Capitol Records Building is an instantly recognizable Hollywood icon, towering a block north of the intersection of Hollywood and Vine. But most people don’t realize that the blinking light atop the circular building’s 90-foot rooftop spire has been sending out a secret message for decades—unless of course you’re a very observant reader of Morse code.
To promote Capitol Records’ status as the first record label with a West Coast home, then-president Alan Livingston decided that the red light at the top of the building’s spire should continuously blink the word “Hollywood” in Morse code. To commemorate the occasion, they even invited Leila Morse, the granddaughter of Samuel Morse, to throw the switch.
During the holiday season, the roof of the Capitol Records Building also features a Christmas tree made of 4,373 bulbs (25 watts each), strung up to the top of the tower’s spire. The tree, the first of its kind, has made an appearance every December since 1958 except in 1973 (due to an energy crisis). Designed by Ollsen Lighting, the tree of lights is usually illuminated around Thanksgiving and remains through the holiday season. In years past, the families of Frank Sinatra and Nat King Cole have thrown the switch to light the tree.
1750 Vine St, Los Angeles, CA 90028 • www.capitolrecords.com

Holyland Exhibition

Discover Rare Middle-Eastern Artifacts at the Holyland Exhibition
In the hills of Silver Lake stands a hidden museum dedicated to Antonia Futterer, an Australian-born explorer, evangelist, and lecturer who went in search of the Ark of the Covenant, the sacred chest thought to hold the tablets engraved with the Ten Commandments. Sound familiar? Thought to be one of the real-world inspirations for Indiana Jones, Futterer may not have found the Ark, but he did bring back a wealth of artifacts from the Middle East that can now be explored at his former home by appointment.
The roughly two-hour guided tour features five rooms filled floor to ceiling with artifacts, furniture, tapestries, photographs, and more collected from Egypt, Palestine, Syria, and elsewhere in the region. And what better time to explore artifacts from the Holyland than around the holidays? (Be sure to call ahead for an appointment.)
2213 Lake View Ave, Los Angeles, CA 90039 • (323) 664-3162

Explore Hidden Staircases All Over LA

Hundreds of hidden staircases are scattered throughout Los Angeles, yet most are overlooked by the untrained eye. Many of the stairways were built in the early 20th century, particularly during the 1920s when LA had the largest trolley system in the world, thanks to the iconic Red and Yellow Cars. The stairs offered Angelenos convenient and direct passageways in hilly neighborhoods from their homes to the transit lines, shopping areas, and workplaces.
While many of the stairs are concentrated around the steep hills of Echo Park, Silver Lake, and Los Feliz, they can be found all over, from Pasadena to the Pacific Palisades. Winter offers a great opportunity to explore these hidden staircases, especially when we’re looking to burn off some of those extra holiday calories and get out of the house for some fresh air.
Multiple locations • www.secretstairs-la.com

Find Grape Vines Growing Behind Avila Adobe, LA’s Oldest House

As one of LA’s oldest thoroughfares, Olvera Street is a treasure trove of historic buildings, busy restaurants, and colorful stalls. But most visitors don’t realize there’s a bit of living history growing just above their heads.
Long before Napa and Santa Barbara became renowned for excellent vintages, Downtown LA was the heart of California’s wine industry—and you can still find evidence of this long-lost history.
While largely ignored for decades, three ancient grapevines grow above Olvera Street (at one time known as “Wine Street”) and behind Avila Adobe, considered the oldest house in LA. The vines are thought to have been planted around the time the house was built in 1818, making them older than the state of California, according to city archivist Mike Holland, who has become the enthusiastic caretaker of the historic vines. With the help of winemakers, Holland has been cultivating the vines to produce both more grapes and sweeter ones. He’s been using the grapes to make small batches of a fortified dessert wine called angelica, using a recipe from 1891, similar to what the Spanish missionaries might have made.
While Las Posadas at Olvera Street, the annual Christmas celebration, is likely to be postponed this year due to the pandemic, there’s a good chance there will still be festive decorations to enjoy in the area.
10 Olvera St, Los Angeles, CA 90012 • www.elpueblo.lacity.org