Starry Nights At The Dream Factory: Bedding Down A Piece Of Hollywood History At The Travelodge Hotel At LAX


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For most of its history, Los Angeles has been the Dream Factory, for those who already make their living from the entertainment industry, the countless thousands arriving each year hoping to do the same, and even those who know it only from its enduring myth and legend.

There’s history aplenty for those interested enough to seek it out, some in the most unlikely places. I’ve been a regular visitor for decades and even I find places and stories I never knew.

For just that reason, I would generally base myself in Hollywood; in one easily navigated area were so many of my favourite places, all steeped in history and still existing pretty much as they always had – restaurants such as Musso & Frank, and Miceli’s; bars – Boardners and the Frolic Room; cinemas – the Chinese and the Egyptian, and slightly more modern classics as the Cinerama Dome; bookstores and purveyors of entertainment ephemera – Larry Edmunds; and music and DVD stores – Amoeba Music.

Although it was more than a touch Midnight Cowboy with its hookers and hustlers, I was happy there, staying at a very humble hotel behind the Hollywood & Highland development. The facilities were basic but the staff friendly and breakfast included for less than $US100 a night.

As Hollywood gentrified, the sex shops and strippers’ outfitters gradually edged out by hip bars and cafes, prices edged up and my humble accommodation now runs towards $US250 including taxes. Even the formerly run-down 1960s motels along Sunset or on Hollywood Blvd east of the freeway, that used to rent out by the hour, are now made over with little more than a retro pallet and cost the same.

In terms of accommodation prices, LA is now the New York City of the West Coast. Anywhere worth staying is astronomical. Santa Monica? Forget about it. Beverly Hills or West Hollywood? The same. Even downtown, where squalid once-abandoned office buildings have been transformed into shiny minimalist loft apartments and there seems to be a Whole Foods on every corner

 

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On the last trip, I took a chance on a reasonably-priced airport hotel and really hit the jackpot. I knew the location – the corner of West Century (the main artery leading into the LAX terminals) and Aviation Boulevard, the price was right (about $US160 including tax and breakfast, about half the price of the anonymous big chain brands) and it had a retro look that piqued my interest.

If I’d paid strict attention to TripAdvisor, perhaps I’d have passed it by. Comments were pretty evenly split between “hidden gem” and “dump”, service between “friendly and efficient” and “cold and rude”. Even factoring in the “reading between the lines” factor necessary for TripAdvisor, something told me it was worth further investigation.

And, boy, am I glad I did.

The Travelodge Hotel At LAX is a charming retro throw-back, a low-rise (just two stories) mid-century survivor with motel-style units grouped around a large swimming pool. There’s parking on-site and a Denny’s restaurant with attached cocktail bar.

There’s a couple of aspects of the Travelodge that immediately impressed me. The first was the check-in. The front desk staff were friendly and personable; disregard the TripAdvisor complaints, put them down to the usual impossible-to-please whingers who tend to populate feedback sites.

The second was, considering the vintage of the property, just how well-maintained it was. Throughout the public areas, and particularly around the pool, the gardens were splashed with vivid colour. The neatness and tidiness spoke of an evident pride. The pool furniture was arranged just-so, the pathways swept clean, no rubbish or cigarette butts littering the garden beds.

 

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I was just as impressed with the accommodation. Over the years, I stayed at just about every LAX hotel and the Travelodge is now my favourite. Sure, it’s an older property but it’s clean, extremely comfortable and, perhaps most importantly, the bed was just as comfortable as a Westin or Sheraton.

The furnishings are plush and have an agreeably retro feel, quite in keeping with the property’s historic charm. During my stay, I posted on Instagram that my room was like staying in the Captain and Tennille’s pool cabana and that pretty much sums up the ambience.

And although the wing I was in ran parallel to Aviation Blvd, with the air-conditioning on, I couldn’t hear any traffic noise. For an airport hotel on a major intersection, it was miraculously quiet.

LA is the sort of city where a car is a necessity. However, if you’re there for a short stay, public bus stops are a short walk away; in the one direction, the Big Blue Bus goes to Santa Monica. In the other, a shuttle runs to the Aviation/LAX station, part of the Green Line of the city’s Metro Rail system. From there, it’s easy to access Long Beach, Downtown, Hollywood and as far north as Universal Studios and North Hollywood.

So there I was, happy enough that I’d found such a charming, cosy and comfortable, well-situated and reasonably-priced hotel with friendly and personable staff. What more could I ask for?

The answer was awaiting me tucked inside the guest compendium. It told the history of the Travelodge At LAX with quite a few surprises in store. For example, the little-known background to one of the country’s most prominent hotel chains (no, not the Travelodge).

 

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Although initially I was pretty sure the hotel was vintage 1960s. I was off by a decade. The hotel opened in 1953, built and operated by an LA businessman and man about town by the name of Hyatt van Dehn.

It was originally called the Hyatt House and was the first hotel to support an airport that had opened in 1930 as Mines Field. The city had a number of small private airfields and, by the time commercial airlines started operating following the end of World War II, the major airport was Lockheed Field at Burbank, now known as Bob Hope Airport. But, by the closing years of the 1940s, such major airlines as American, Trans World, United and Western switched across to Mines Field and in 1949 it officially became Los Angeles International Airport.

Business was good at the Hyatt House and added another wing in 1955. Hyatt was young, handsome and wealthy and, while a well-connected businessman, he was more frequently mentioned in the gossip columns for his love life. His second wife, Ginny Sims, was a singer and actress, a featured vocalist with the Kay Kyser Orchestra. In the 1940s, her records sold in the millions and she had a long movie contract with RKO studios, later moving on to MGM.

Hyatt and Ginny lived in a Beverly Hills home designed by renowned modernist LA architect, Paul Williams (incidentally, he co-designed the iconic flying saucer form of the Theme Building, part of the 1961 redevelopment of the LAX terminals as we known them today).

Hyatt and Ginny had what could best be termed a tempestuous relationship and by 1951 had been married and divorced twice. They remained friends, though, after the final separation and Ginny, who also embarked as a career as an interior decorator, was involved in furnishing the Hyatt House.

In 1957, a Chicago businessman by the name of Jay Pritzker was sitting in Fat Eddie’s, the coffee shop of the Hyatt House. He was the grandson of Nicholas Pritzker, who had brought his family from the Ukraine to the United States in the late 19th century and opened a law firm in Chicago in 1902.

 

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Ginny Sims and Hyatt van Dehn at home in Beverly Hills (credit: University of Missouri – Kansas City: Dave E. Dexter Jr Collection)

 

 

Jay’s own father, Abram, was prominent in the family business; something of a prodigy, Jay, graduated from high school at the age of 14 and took a managerial role in steering the company towards owning and managing extensive real estate holdings.

Jay was always on the lookout for investment opportunities; the Hyatt House was uncommonly busy and it got him thinking. Then and there, he decided the Pritzker family should get into the hotel business. He scrawled an offer of $2.2 million on a paper napkin and asked that it be forwarded along to Hyatt van Dehn.

The offer was accepted; Jay was in something of a bind. The impulse purchase of the family’s first hotel had him at a loss as to a name. It was well recognised as the Hyatt House so he kept it as such.

Years later, Jay told the Chicago Daily News that the Hyatt was “simply the first first-class hotel that I had ever seen at an airport”. He kept the strategy going along the West Coast. Jay’s second Hyatt hotel was at Burlingame, near the San Francisco International Airport. Within four years, there were six Hyatt hotels and the company went public in 1967 (it became a Travelodge, part of the Wyndham branding, in 1994).

Through the 1950s and 1960s, the Travelodge had its share of celebrity guests. Cowboy movie star Roy Rogers and his wife, Dale Evans, would stay in Room 131 when they were flying in and out for personal appearances. Greg Morris, an actor best known for his role as Barney Collier on the hit television show, Mission Impossible, preferred Room 232. Rock’n’roll performer Little Richard and actor Patrick Stewart were also frequent guests.

The history contained within the guest compendium gave me a deeper appreciation of the Travelodge At LAX. Although there is at least one whimsical detail.

 

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Ginny Sims

 

We’re told that Howard Hughes and Jane Russell occupied Room 225 during the filming of The Outlaw. It does make a good story, and that’s what the Dream Factory has always been about. Except for the fact that The Outlaw was filmed in 1941, twelve years before the hotel was built.

And Russell was one of the least likely Hollywood actresses to have an affair (discounting her association with actor John Payne in the early 1940s). She was extremely conservative, a devout Catholic and married her high school sweetheart in 1943, a marriage that lasted for 25 years.

The occasional fact-checking glitch aside, the Travelodge is still an endearingly authentic historic Los Angeles artefact, a piece of history that also a fun, comfortable, friendly and centrally-located hotel. And whenever I’m heading to the US, what else could I really ask for?

© words and photos 1,2,3,4 & 7 David Latta 2016

 

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Dead Set Favourites: Thoughts On A Final Playlist


Music is a very important part of most people’s lives so why shouldn’t the same be true in death? How many times have we attended funerals and known, without ever saying so, that the music played was wholly inappropriate for the life being mourned?

When it comes to choosing such musical interludes, sandwiched between oratory and final farewells, the deceased’s family generally have far more pressing concerns than making sure the song-list is appropriate. Amazing Grace for a committed rock’n’roll fan? Nearer My God To Thee for a card-carrying atheist?

So, just for the record, and to hopefully kick off an awareness campaign for well-organised music-lovers everywhere, the Top Five songs I want played at my funeral. This is by no means a comprehensive list; I’d prefer a Top 100 list but it may see the service extend a little long and people may run out of nice things to say, if indeed anybody does, before too long.

These Foolish Things – Bryan Ferry

Written in 1936 with music by Jack Strachey and lyrics by Eric Maschwitz under his pen name Holt Marvell. Maschwitz, who also wrote the lyrics for A Nightingale Sang In Berkeley Square, was one of the more interesting figures of British musical theatre. Aside from a long list of musicals and revues, he also worked in Hollywood, co-writing the adaptation of the 1939 film, Goodbye Mr Chips, for which he won an Academy Award nomination, and during World War II worked with MI6 and the Special Operations Executive (SOE).

He is reputed to have been involved with actress Anna May Wong and These Foolish Things was an attempt to assuage his grief over the end of their romance (Maschwitz was also later married to Hermione Gingold and had a long relationship with Judy Campbell, the mother of Jane Birkin.)

The song appeared in a London revue, Spread It Abroad, to little interest in 1936 but became a hit when it was recorded by Leslie Hutchinson. Since then, it’s been notably covered by such performers as Frank Sinatra, Billie Holiday and Ella Fitzgerald. Bryan Ferry nailed it so beautifully, creating a heartachingly coruscating rendition of loss and yearning that so many of us can identify with, on his first solo album in 1973.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NbSp_xEa3PI&ob=av2n

Beyond The Sea – Bobby Darin

Its origins go back to a French song, Le Mer, written by Charles Trenet in 1946; American songwriter Jack Lawrence, also responsible for Frank Sinatra’s first hit, All Or Nothing At All, composed entirely new lyrics and it became an international sensation for Bobby Darin in 1959. This is pure swingin’ Bobby, a wonderful evocation of a time before he tossed aside Sandra Dee and a particularly hideous hairpiece and remade himself as a politically-relevant folksinger.

Actor Kevin Spacey did a great version of Beyond The Sea in his 2004 Bobby Darin bio-pic of the same name. I’ve included two YouTube clips. The first comes from a 1960 Ed Sullivan Show which shows Bobby unsuccessfully wrestling with his lip-synching responsibilities. The second is Kevin Spacey’s performance from the movie.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=u_4_XI8flZU&feature=related

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GbcjW9SQabc

April Sun In Cuba – Dragon

There had to be an Australian song but I’m ashamed to admit I was quite the snob in the 70s and avoided home-grown music like the plague. It’s only in recent years that I’ve discovered so much good stuff. So it was a choice between Khe Sanh, in my humble opinion the best Australian rock song ever written (take a bow, Don Walker) and April Sun In Cuba (written by Paul Hewson and Marc Hunter). The latter wins out only because I had a grudging respect for Dragon back then and it perfectly encompasses the late 70s summers spent at Tamarama, when I’d head to the beach in August and not come back until March.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BHFFuukk9Y8

Disco Inferno – The Trammps

I worked in a Sydney disco in the late 70s and still love music of this period, when orchestrations were lush and lustily energetic, before disco fell victim to the plague of the synthesizer. I have many favourite disco songs but some, such as I Will Survive, are not quite befitting a funeral. Of course, Disco Inferno is not exactly a safe choice but it’s always been my all-time favourite so bugger propriety. Read into this choice what you will.

Disco Inferno was written by Leroy Green and Ron Kersey; Kersey was a member of The Trammps and also worked with such other Philadelphia disco groups as the Salsoul Orchestra and MFSB. It was a huge club hit in 1976 but gained wider popularity when an 11-minute version was included on the soundtrack of Saturday Night Fever. I hope the mourners will perform the Bus Stop around the casket when this plays.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=A_sY2rjxq6M

Theme from The Love Boat – Jack Jones

Lyrics by Paul Williams. That’s all you really need to know. Paul is one of my favourite songwriters, an all-round nice guy and gentleman and the subject of a future blog or three. I had the joy of meeting him when I was writing the liner notes for a CD retrospective of his work, Songs For The Family Of Man: A Collection 1969-1979, and it’s the one instance I can recall where it pays to meet one of your musical heroes.

Timeless television entertainment of the very best kind, The Love Boat originally aired from 1977 to 1986. As fans of Gopher, Doc and Captain Stubbing will already know, Jack Jones recorded two versions during its run, the best with a sensuously pulsing disco influence. In the final season, Jones was replaced by Dionne Warwick. The song has also been covered by such artists as Charo and Amanda Lear.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZmUlKPthrag&feature=results_video&playnext=1&list=PLB9F82C79012435FF

Words © David Latta. Photographs courtesy of the Glenn A. Baker Archives.

Tainted Love


Like most people these days, I’ve been guilty of Googling myself. Google is a little like sifting a peat bog with a fork. You know there’s something in there but you’ll never quite know what you’ll find or how long it’ll take.

In my defense, the main purpose is to find out how many of my articles have been misappropriated, with no fee to me, on the Net. But along the way I’ve discovered that, even with an unusual name like mine, just how many David Lattas there are out there.

It doesn’t help that there’s a surprising number of jocks with the same name. There’s David Latta, who was a renowned professional ice hockey player with the Quebec Nordiques in Canada’s National Hockey League. In New Zealand, another David Latta played rugby union for Otago and is referred to these days as a “sporting icon”. There are baseball and basketball players, golfers and lacrosse enthusiasts, BMX bandits and skateboarders. All with the same name as me.

The world is a wonderful and diverse place and dotted not-so-sparingly along the landscape is an unaccountable number of David Lattas ready, willing and able on multiple platforms to trumpet their love of albacore, Alcoholics Anonymous and actuaries, rough riding, rhododendrons and Rupert Holmes. OK, so I made up the Rupert Holmes bit but he did write the only hit song ever about cannabalism so there must be a fan page out there somewhere.

Trawl the on-line US white pages and some 80 David Lattas will pop up while 17 “professionals” are on LinkedIn in that country alone. Another 26 people with the same name can be instantly found in the UK, thanks to 192.com.

And that’s just the David Lattas who are still alive.

While I’m exercising a little vanity, I’m happy my books are listed in library holdings around Australia including the National Library of Australia, while there are numerous copies to be had, often for satisfyingly high prices, in on-line second-hand bookstores. There’s even a fair number of copies of a CD compilation of US singer-songwriter Paul Williams for which I wrote the liner notes.

And a recommendation I gave on a Queenstown, New Zealand, restaurant more than 20 years ago is an early mention on Google. While I doubt my considered opinion propels too many people through the doors, it’s pleasing to see the restaurant still operating.

I’m ever-vigilant for rip-offed articles. A few years back, I discovered a travel company which had reprinted many of my articles for its on-line magazine; the publisher who had originally purchased the articles had profited handsomely from the arrangement. I’m still waiting for the reprint fees.

And then there’s the Russian website which had scanned all 235 pages of my one of best-known books; as it was about Australian crime fiction, I’m not quite sure why they bothered. But it’s there and anybody desperate enough can spend a small fortune in ink cartridges to print it up.

Ultimately, though, is such cyberspace self- flattery worth the effort? Probably not, but it sure passes the time and you just might find something about yourself you don’t know.

Words and photos © David Latta