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Fortress Lido

My homage to Stephen King

   Pulling into the parking lot for the first time, my new home sure looked like a formidable structure.  Having just moved with my sisters from the flat plains of a midsize Midwestern city; I was already impressed by much of what I saw.  The blackish green vegetation and the hills everywhere leading away from the airport; and then there was our new home in Hollywood (!).  It was early in the summer of 1979 and I was taking up residence in a building called The Lido.  We joined our mother in an apartment she had had for a few months.  We unpacked the green Dodge Omni my mom drove (surely the worst insult in a long line of them from Chrysler in the ‘70’s) with its diagonal hatch angled just so it would remove any extra space that should have been provided behind the back seat.

See, toldja it was like Laverne!

The building was a two tone brown, with the first floor painted a dark brown and everything above a really light brown. Apparently two tone colorations were a really big deal in the 70’s.  On the roof a few floors above what would turn out to be our very apartment on the second floor, stood a tall metal lighted sign.  It simply said “Lido Apts.”  This was the coolest thing; to me it was as much an announcement of intention as it was fact.  The “L” looked just like the “L” on every garment that Penny Marshall wore in “Laverne & Shirley.”  I always liked that sign because the only other one I ever saw was on the Broadway on Hollywood Boulevard.  I didn’t know why more buildings did not announce themselves like this.  I was gonna love this place!

None of these people were still here when I lived here.

We walked into the lobby and something seemed familiar, I asked my mom.  She said there was a famous photo in a recent album, one that I happened to spend a fair amount of time looking at and listening to back in Oklahoma.  I knew then that this was the only place I’d ever lived where the walls talked.  It had a two story lobby, on the second level, Moorish style windows with a catwalk behind them.  This place had little nooks everywhere.  It had an elevator, which made it seem important.  There were a few old people sitting in the lobby.

Everything there was thick, the walls seemed to be made out of masonry, the building itself was shaped like a trident missing its handle and with the three tines blunted. Or like a big capital ‘E.’ It looked like a castle, presenting rounded corners to Wilcox and Grace Avenues, it had entrances on both that had long been sealed up.  We went in and out of the building between the second and third tines. Between tines 1 and 2 on the other side of the building was a weirdly terraced overgrown courtyard with a defunct fountain.  It looked like a failed experiment, like maybe something went wrong there once and it was abandoned. We had a pool that was maintained nicely but had what I thought was an unnecessarily thick six-foot high wall with iron spikes on top; separating us from Wilcox Avenue.

The hallways on each floor all connected so you could head down one and take a left and find a surprise!  Or just an empty hallway.  At the turns were windows facing out. The vertical and narrow windows, combined with the fact you could, through them, see how thick the walls really were (was it 2 feet?); gave the place the appearance of a fort.  I imagined cannon placements there; maybe they were there to keep something out.  Maybe in case a war was declared with Cahuenga Avenue.  In fact everything about the place gave the appearance of a buttressed structure, ready for a last stand.  Over the next 2 years I learned that that feeling of keeping something out could go the other way too.

The building either had 4 or 5 floors, I was always getting a different number when I remembered or bothered to count them, which seemed strange.  I thought maybe they were like the expansion joints of a bridge; making a structure incrementally larger or smaller depending on the weather. I was told from the top floor you could see the Hollywood sign, a little on a tilt, with the ‘H’ closer to us and the rest of the word trailing away smaller on the hill (I never learned the name) it was on.  I wondered if we could calculate the azimuth, which would let us fire a cannon at the sign.  In the time I lived there I never went upstairs to see all this for myself, for reasons that will become evident later.

Our apartment itself (238) was also nook-heavy.  You opened the door to the kitchen, with the living room to the left.  All further rooms went down to the left.  There was even another door leading out to the hallway.  But it, like the ones downstairs had been sealed up long ago.  There was a room I’d never heard of before, called the vanity.  Located next to the bathroom it had a table built into the wall and a really big Hollywood mirror on the wall facing.  It had big round bulbs all along 3 sides.  As it was easily the oldest building I’d ever lived in til that point (1922), I imagined stars or starlets sitting there in the 30’s and 40’s getting ready to go to an audition or a shoot.  Maybe some of the old people downstairs could speak on that.  The overall feel of the apartment was one of safety, a feeling that prevailed the whole time we were there, unlike other parts of the building.

The Lido became our base of operations that summer as we went on fun trips to Universal Studios, the Queen Mary, and the Hollywood Wax Museum.  We’d unwind back home after long drives through the Hills, keeping wary of the Star Maps vendors; or from short hops to Griffith Park and the Observatory.  We learned the lore of Hollywood and soaked it up like a sponge; at breakfast I’d reflect on it all in wonder while staring at a dark green, lonesome palm tree out our kitchen window (located between tines 2 and 3).   It turned out several of the old people downstairs were retired actors, some of them even worked in silent films!  They thought my little sister and I were the cutest, they loved our curly hair, but they’d call us close and weirdly try to smooth it out (like ‘Waldo’ in the “Hot for Teacher” video a few years later).

There were even a couple of small earthquakes while we lived there, nothing happened but the rabbit ears on the TV swaying back and forth.  The Lido sheltered us and protected us, even in the middle of a neighborhood that was becoming a little seedy.  Shady characters would come out of Pla-Boy Liquors (located catty corner) or the Lemon Twist Lounge (right down Yucca) and loiter on the little stairways leading up to the sealed off building entrance/exits.  We always saw people in the lobby, but oddly almost never anybody in a hallway; except for the Scientologist couple that lived on our floor.  They came over for dinner once and the man talked about holding onto motorcycle grips and being regressed and going back to his being a fetus in his mother’s womb.  I thought that was silly, I didn’t even like thinking back just a couple of years, when I was a little dumbass, let alone being an inarticulate proto-baby.

The empty hallways afforded my sister and I the opportunity to run up and down, or else to just slowly explore the Spanish (or Italianate) detail.  We’d walk along the hallways on the second floor that had the windows looking down to the lobby.  I always loved buildings that gave you many different viewpoints, and looking out the windows or looking down the hallway with them all lined up, made me think I was in a Spanish Monastery or something.  We’d go to the elevator, thinking we were in a different building altogether and just ride it down to the basement or up to the 4th or 5th floor, whichever was the top, and peek out, never getting out, never seeing anybody either.  Most of the building felt strangely unpopulated.

My first month there, and owing to my mother’s liberal interpretation of MPAA regulations, we got to see the new movie “The Amityville Horror.”  One warm night in July we walked up to the Pacific Theater to see a movie that I personally was really pumped for.  I loved horror movies, rather, I loved the idea of them, I wasn’t allowed to see anything scary when I lived with my dad in Oklahoma.  The movie was great, really scary, goose bumps type stuff.  The night seemed colder and darker when we walked back to the friendly confines of The Lido.

That night as I futilely tried to get some sleep, I reflected that I may have personalized some of the contents of that movie (maybe it was due to my lack of experience in the horror genre).  I thought about our building’s downstairs area that night.  The basement of our building was a mysterious place and one I had recently explored.  It wasn’t just a room where we did our laundry, it, like the upstairs floors, was a place with winding passageways.  One day, bored with the routine of watching the dryer spin, I tried to scare my sister by telling her that some guy had hung himself down there.  We recently saw “Halloween” on TV and I would walk around slowly and robotically a-la Michael Myers while my sis squealed in terror.  If questioned about these activities later I would probably say I did it because I could.

The basement had weird really thick metal doors that one could scarcely even move, sitting ajar every 30 feet or so.  I felt like they were pressure doors in a submarine and they always gave me a little case of the willys, I didn’t know why.  But the strangest thing, and the thing that kept me up that night in July, was the fact that every single inch of that basement was painted a dark blood red color.  Hmm.  Wasn’t there an important sequence in “Amityville” where they go down to a blood red colored basement?  And didn’t really bad things happen there?  I was starting to get a little creeped out about my new home.  I found myself looking over my shoulder quite a bit while trying to scare my sis down there on laundry day.  I started to kind of stay away from the basement.  The walls were definitely talking now.  My concern was later underscored and kept alive by the viewing of the movies “The Howling” and “When A Stranger Calls.”

One night the following year we piled into our capable yet fugly Dodge Omni and headed to the Chinese Theater to see a really anticipated movie, “The Shining.”  We had seen the trailer for it, it seemed to have been running for months now.  In it, a camera went slowly down a weirdly familiar looking hallway towards an elevator at the end.

“Wait, that elevator looks kind of like the one at the Lido!” I whispered to my older sis.  I wasn’t going to worry about that though; I wasn’t a baby after all.  The doors slowly opened and a cascade of blood poured out of them, knocking over little hallway tables and lamps.  Cool!  For I had (mostly) gotten over my fear of our basement. I tried to get out of doing laundry for other reasons, like I wanted to watch “Get Smart.”  But the empty hallways (but strangely always full parking lot) took on a little more sinister aspect, just in general.

The Lido in the Roaring 20’s

At the movie itself we had a great time, definitely one of the scariest movies I had ever seen.  But aspects of the movie had a strange relevance to me; weird similarities between the Overlook Hotel and The Lido.  The long hallways, empty, the turn around the corner, the not knowing for sure what’s in the other hallway.  Maybe it’s 2 identical twin girls holding hands and just wanting to play.  Maybe it’s something else.  By the way, I confirmed while watching the movie that the elevator was in fact an exact match with ours.  Down in our building’s lobby was a closed down counter that reminded me a lot of the long bar in the barroom sequence of the movie.  I earnestly hoped nobody felt like MY sisters and I needed ‘correction.’  Our lobby had high walls and ceilings, ideal for bouncing a rubber ball off of.  We weren’t in Colorado so there was no snow and that was good; but every once in a while the chaparral on the Hollywood Hills would catch fire and we down below would get a light dusting of ash, lasting sometimes quite awhile.  Hmmm.

All this had me back into scaryland, the place I visited last year after “The Amityville Horror.”  But the thing that sent me to a place that was new and definitely NOT awesome was this.  In the movie, some really bad things happened to “Doc” (who was close enough to my age to pass muster, I thought)at the hands of a really bad naked old woman in room 237, a room he had, after all, been warned to never visit.  We lived in apartment 238. Wasn’t that right across the hall?  I was really scared now; I realized all of these similarities on the ride back from the theater in the claustrophobic Omni.  As we passed N. Cherokee my mom leaned back and said,

“You know, that’s funny, an old actor was murdered upstairs in our building quite awhile back.”

It was true, a B-Movie and Character actor of some renown named Victor was murdered at The Lido; and they never found the killer.  Weeks later, researching this at the Hollywood Public Library, not long before it burned down, I found the LA Times story on microfiche.  Apparently my mom had left out an important detail or two.  Maybe she forgot, or maybe she really DID care that hearing this might send me into an unrecoverable place of terror.  It turns out old Victor wasn’t killed “awhile back,” he was murdered a scant few weeks before my mom moved in there.  And it wasn’t “upstairs somewhere” (this was what ruined my plan to go look at the Hollywood Sign from upstairs), it was on our floor.  He was bludgeoned to death in the doorway of what may have even been our very own apartment.

Already the basement and all of the upstairs was off-limits, now my own floor?!  There I was already a stressed, scared little guy, what with being bullied at school and now developing a creeping fear of my own building, the walls of which were in a filibuster.  I rapidly went through the bottles of Tylenol 2 that our kind doctor had prescribed to calm my nerves.  I also stopped trying to scare my sister.  I needed a lot of pool therapy, at least nothing bad had happened at the pool, or so I hoped.

By this point in time, it seemed to me that Fortress Lido, so good at keeping the scary outside world out; was now keeping all of us in, and that it had a few secrets of its own.  Don Henley once said, “you can check out anytime you like, but you can never leave.”  I was starting to mentally check out and was definitely wondering if any of us would ever leave.  At least we didn’t have a topiary maze in our parking lot.

I was in a rarified environment, a new dark land.  I went on like this for awhile; but I DID catch up on a lot of TV, interrupted by days where I’d quickly scurry down to the pool.  Then I realized something; and it was a breakthrough.  I loved this place too much to just go out like this.  The Lido was too cool to just hide out in the apartment all day.  The nooks, the niches, the historical Old Hollywood feel of it, the sign on the roof, lit up at night; even the Buster Keaton wannabees downstairs won me over again; slowly but surely.  By the time we moved out of the building I had kind of recovered to a place where I was when I moved in, more relaxed, though I still took my time rounding hallway corners.  I was also off the drugs for good, and most importantly I had learned not to take horror movies so seriously.

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