The city of West Hollywood recently launched a new nighttime shuttle service: the WeHo PickUp Line. Although the branding makes it clear that it's meant to be thought of as an "entertainment shuttle," primarily used to transport riders to bars, nightclubs and restaurants (nothing wrong with that), they certainly don't frown on using it for other purposes, such as taking in West Hollywood's impressive collection of whimsical public art, ample neon signage, beautiful architecture, and great people watching -- all of which I did on a recent Friday night.
In the decade and a half that I've lived in Los Angeles, I've visited West Hollywood on surprisingly few occasions. Nearly all have involved a frustrating search for parking, followed by a show at some Sunset Strip venue or other, by performers who'd seemingly find much more receptive audiences somewhere east of Hollywood rather than west. In short, it usually left me cranky and tired.
It was only when visiting a housesitting friend and exploring WeHo on foot that I finally began to appreciate its charms and unique character. Walking is almost always the best way to explore, and this is especially the case in West Hollywood. Just walking on the sidewalks I felt a bit like I was in some kind of large, open air gym, as super fit people passed me by. Walkscore even ranks West Hollywood's walkability above that of such famously walkable cities as New York and San Francisco. They also rate transit and bikability, although not jogging while pulling along a dog on a leash and talking on the phone -- which I also saw.
West Hollywood strikes me as having a rather tribal vibe, like a small village where outsiders cannot go unnoticed, or where a guy with a dog can unexpectedly run into friends and ask them to watch his dog while he goes somewhere else (dogs are everywhere). West Hollywood's character is largely due to its having been an island of unincorporated county land, surrounded by the incorporated cities of Los Angeles and Beverly Hills, throughout its history. Free from the strong-arm tactics of LAPD's vice squad, the community attracted movie stars, architects, interior designers, rock stars, hippies, gays, and other sorts of libertines, and thereby acquired the reputation of being something of a louche, Bohemian playground. At the same time, large numbers of Jews -- mostly from the Soviet Union via Fairfax or Hollywood -- moved to the community, especially its eastern end.
West Hollywood also has a special place in local transit history. From 1896 until 1924 the area was known as Sherman, named after General Moses Sherman, who along with Eli Clark was one of the developers of the Los Angeles and Pacific Railway. In fact, the railway's operating and maintenance yards were located at the corner of Sherman and Clark -- now Santa Monica and San Vicente Boulevards. That operation was absorbed by the famed Pacific Electric Railway, and the rail service remained in the area until 1954. The last of the rail support buildings were only demolished in 1974 to make way for the Pacific Design Center and LASD's West Hollywood Station.
Today the city is served by many lines of the LACMTA's Metro, as well as the LADOT's DASH. West Hollywood has itself operated a free daytime shuttle, Cityline, since 1992. In fact, in the past it had a another nighttime counterpart, the Nightline, which was defunded way back in 1997, before social media, when WeHo had only been incorporated for thirteen years, and when even the oldest Millennials had no choice but to go car-free (or get a ride from a licensed driver).
Although I wasn't here in the 1990s to take the Nightline, I suspect that the PickUp Line, billed as a "flirtatious take on public transit," is being branded and promoted quite a bit differently. I'm almost certain that Manila Luzon didn't ride the Nightline. The PickUp's Facebook page packs more sexual innuendo and double entendres into a week's posts than an entire season of the old BBC sitcom "Are You Being Served?" Board the bus and where you might normally pay fare, there's a container full of condoms and perk cards, providing bearers with perks at local establishments. Where the Cityline looks like (no offense) a typical airport shuttle, the PickUp Line looks like one of Laguna Beach or San Pedro's trolley buses, if they'd been painted by the late Roy Lichtenstein. Although the PickUp is operating on a pilot program until December, it already seems to be a big success, averaging between 1,300 and 1,400 riders per weekend.
Riding the trolley, which I hopped off and on between 8:00 p.m. and about 11:30 p.m., thankfully turned out to be quite a pleasant way to be chauffeured around town. The music was played at an entirely reasonable volume -- although I personally would've loved to have heard some bus-oriented tunes (e.g. The Hollies' "Bus Stop," The Replacements' "Kiss Me on the Bus," The Fatback Band's "(Are You Ready) Do the Bus Stop," or Jonathan Richman "You're Crazy for Taking the Bus"). From all appearances, however, most riders seemed to enjoy Kat Graham and other performers I'd never heard of, which Shazam couldn't discern through the conversation. The crowds were social but polite, and best of all the trolleys were squeaky clean -- hooray for cloth-free seats! It even smelled great -- like vetiver, cedar, and bergamot, although that was presumably due to the riders and not some hidden room diffuser.
The PickUp's route is centered along Santa Monica Boulevard with two trolleys traveling in a four mile loop, hitting each of the route's twenty stops every fifteen minutes.
Stop 1, Crescent Heights, is located next to the Matthew Shepard Human Rights Triangle. The park includes several monuments and drought tolerant landscaping, but it's undoubtedly best viewed during the daytime. I began with dinner at the Hudson, a newish gastropub whose mix of Edison bulbs, Britpop oldies, PBR, and numerous TVs showing sports, was slightly confusing but made up for somewhat by the attractive building itself. Just a little north of the stop and the Hudson is Villa Italia, an historic Italianate apartment constructed in 1931 that was supposedly once home to the great Louise Brooks. It's also where Stop 18 was just moved to.
Stop 2 is located near Connie & Ted's, another newish joint that occupies the space that was previously home to The Silver Spoon. Thanks to a Googie-esque roof, courtesy of a remodel by (fer) studio, the once nondescript building is now an distinctive, luxurious space age crab shack.
Stops 3 and 17, at Sweetzer, are close to a much older neighborhood eatery -- Irv's Burgers, establised in 1950. Sadly, the Hong family (who've operated the restaurant for the last thirteen years) are closing shop at the end of the month. In the meantime, burger-seeking PickUp riders should note that Irv's closes at 7:00 p.m., an hour before trolley service begins. Across the street is West Hollywood's very '90s city hall, which most days closes even earlier than Irv's, at 6:00 p.m.
Stops 4 and 16, at Kings, are located near Kings Road Municipal Parking Structure, which is the best place to park for visiting motorists who wish neither to pay for valet parking or traffic tickets. Just west of that is the Emser Tile Building, a 7-story structure with Gothic and Tudor elements that was designed by Niebecker & Jeffers, and built in 1925. On the night that I visited firefighters were climbing onto the roof and a small crowd was gathered below, although none could more than speculate as to what was going on. One passerby told me that the building's roof was featured in a key scene in the film, "Lethal Weapon," and that I should look it up to confirm what he said, which I later did. Nearby are a group of pink sculptures by William Sweetlove, called "Cloned Bulldogs with Water Bottle."
Just a little further west are the Sal Guarriello Veterans' Memorial, commemorating all five branches of the U.S. armed forces. Behind that is the West Hollywood location of Barney's Beanery, which opened in 1925 and was for many years a sort of a bastion of homophobia, with a sign and matchbooks stating "FAGOTS - STAY OUT!" remaining there for decades. The sign was removed in 1984, and the restaurant is seen by some as a piece of civil rights history. Although today it's still supposedly favored by a mostly heterosexual crowd, it seemed to me a bit off -- like I'd entered a David DeCoteau film. As I drank a beer I watched several guys play air guitar and drums to the likes of Rush, Free, and Alice in Chains, my attempt to find respite in the restroom was shattered by TVs above the urinals featuring sweaty, mostly naked men in close contact (i.e. boxing and MMA).
Hopping back on the PickUp, I next arrived at Stops 5 and 15 -- across from one another at La Cienega, an intersection which struck me as not obviously interesting except for the fact that La Cienega is the street most frequently cited as being the dividing line between Central Los Angeles and the Westside.
Stop 6, Ramada, is located in front of Ramada Plaza, which is situated on the former location of the famed Tropicana Motel. The Ramada was built in the 1980s, includes some public art, including Peter Shire's "Torcheres" for the 1984 Olympics, and is supposedly only slightly less Dionysian than its predecessor.
Stops 7 and 14 are located at Westbourne. At the northwest corner is an interesting Spanish Gothic Revival-style building designed by Morgan, Wall, and Clements, and built in 1928. Just north of that is Spanish Colonial Revival-style building that was home to West Hollywood's public library from 1929 until 1941, and is currently home to the V Wine Room. It was here that I heard a group of guys discussing the PickUp Line as if it had always been there.
A bit west are Stops 8 (at Hancock) and 13 (at Huntley). On the north side of the street is the Koning Eizenberg-designed Hancock Mixed Use Housing project, that was the recipient of a 2011 AIA Housing Award.
Stops 9 and 12 are at San Vicente, at the site of the old Sherman Yard, and now the site of many celebrations and protests. South of San Vicente is West Hollywood Park, at any time home to several public art installations, including currently: Ramiro Gomez's "The Caretakers (Los Cuidadores)," Cosimo Cavallaro's "Love Your Bean," Liz Craft's "Temple of Folly" and "Five Hairy Guys" and murals by Kenny Scharf, Shepard Fairey, and RETNA. There was also basketball being played on the park's court. Next to the park is the current WeHo Library, which closes at 7:00 p.m. most days, but is an eye-catching enough structure to warrant a gander, even after hours. Across the street is the impossible-to-miss Cesar Pelli-designed Pacific Design Center.
Stop 10, at Ramage, is the last westbound stop before the trolley bus turns south down Almont Drive, turns east on Melrose Avenue -- passing through an area known as The Avenues (West Hollywood's Art, Fashion and Design District) -- before heading north again on La Peer Drive, and then heading eastbound down Santa Monica Boulevard. The first eastbound stop, stop 11 (La Peer/Robertson), is located between two famous venues -- The Factory (located in a building constructed in 1929), and The Abbey.
Back at the eastern end of the loop, the route turns north up Crescent Heights, and Stop 19 is located at the intersection with Fountain Avenue. Nearby is La Fontaine, a French Revival-style residence built in 1928 that looks, to me, a bit like Totoro smiling. Just west of that is a real gem of West Hollywood, the North Harper Avenue Historic District. There one can enjoy a sizable collection beautiful, historically significant homes built in various period revival styles (but especially Spanish Colonial Revival), dating from the 1920s and '30s.
At Fountain Avenue the trolley turns east before turning south on Fairfax Avenue and then west again on Santa Monica Boulevard. Stop 20, Fairfax, is located at the edge of vibrant Central West Hollywood and the West Hollywood East, which isn't served by the trolley and appears to be much quieter, but surely has its own gems waiting to be appreciated.
Maybe the eastern half of town it will get its own free shuttle or other some other mode of transportation. Hopefully other neighborhoods will get theirs too. Just imagine a P-Town Jeepney, Chatsworth stagecoach, or Crescenta Valley hayride!
Photos by Eric Brightwell unless otherwise noted.