Re: The Lido

Waking up the morning of Tuesday April 1st, 2014; I had no idea how deeply fulfilling the day would turn out to be.  I was in San Diego with my wife, and as she was busy all day at an Art Teacher’s Convention downtown; I thought I’d head up to LA to make yet another attempt at the Lido.

I lived at the Lido Apartments for 3 years with my mom and two sisters, starting back in 1979.  The old building was a refuge to both me and my little sister in particular.  We had just moved from a “tumultuous family in disorder” situation in Tulsa, Oklahoma, stuck inside a small house with an enraged bullying teenager who had an embryonic drug problem and was not yet able to accept her differing sexual preferences (Oklahoma in the late 70’s was not a very safe haven for gay people or for people of any race other than white, for that matter [things are changing quickly for the better now, and thank goodness]).  Delivered safely a few states to the west, I was grateful to find security behind the Lido’s thick walls.  Years later, after first moving out of the building, and then the state, I always vowed that one day I would step back inside.

It had just never worked out.  In ’89 my friend Jordan and I did a drive by, in 2000 and in 2009 I stood outside the walls, waiting, but could never gain entry.  There was nobody I knew there and no one ever seemed to come in or out.  My random buzzer attempts were ignored. The more I was turned away the more I wanted back in.  I guess, having left so suddenly and finally back in the early 80’s, I wanted back in one more time so I could just leave at my own pace.

It may have been a silly dream, but one of my dreams was to simply step back into the Lido lobby and remember that time from my youth when the highs of living were not artificially rendered and the lows of familial discord were never quite that serious (though it seldom felt like it at the time).

Speeding north on I-5, I was making great time, and then came the Freeway Widening project south of Anaheim.  In my best case scenario I knew I’d only have maybe 3 hours in Hollywood before I had to head back south to San Diego to pick up my wife, newly laden with bags of free art supplies.  This traffic jam was a killer.  A couple of times, if I’d been close enough to an exit and could change lanes, I would have just turned around and headed back south, thwarted again.

Other times, stuck staring at the noise cancelling walls on the side of the highway, I thought about my time in Hollywood and the history of buildings like the Lido.

The Lido was built in the 1920’s as an apartment and hotel for struggling and not so struggling actors and actresses.  It was positioned like a semi-circular fort, perhaps unwisely holding the low ground at the bottom of the Hollywood foothills.  For a while Carol Burnett lived there, I’m sure from the roof she could see the Hollywoodland Sign.  It had housed, at different times; a bar, a beauty parlor, and a gym on the ground floor.

The walls were weirdly thick, the lobby ceiling a rich dark mahogany.  The Lido has hosted at least one murder, several suicides, suicide attempts and fatal drug overdoses, séances and Scientologists.  As it slid into seediness, its reputation was forever damaged.

If the walls above ground were unnecessarily thick, the basement was surely built to be bomb-shelter strength.  Down there it seemed weirdly airless and claustrophobic.   Odd metal doors sat rolled back into the walls, ready to slide out and close off parts of the building.  Above ground the hallways led to windows, looking off through the fire escapes to the Warners Theater (where Burnett worked as an usher for a time) to the south on the corner of Wilcox and Hollywood Boulevard.

Stuck in the parking lot also known as I-5 I thought of all this and decided to stay the course even if it meant only a 15 minute stay in Hollywood.  I didn’t know when I could make the attempt again. Then suddenly it cleared, they opened more lanes and I was on my way, nearing the Hollywood Freeway.

A couple of weeks before I had decided to be proactive and call the Lido management, asking if I could take a look-see.  I was filled with anticipation as my call went….unanswered.  So I emailed, getting what read like a reluctant approval to come in and look around when I was in town.

I realized later that it wasn’t hesitation on management’s part, it was indifference.  I mean, who cares if some middle-aged dude wants to walk around in the Lido Apartments (and now condos), one of many, many residential buildings scattered throughout Greater Hollywood?  They didn’t care, and they wouldn’t go out of their way to help me.  I wasn’t a prospective renter and they could have cared less that I used to roller skate up and down, in and out of that place, or that it was where I’d once scared the bejeezus out of my mom, who returning from work one day found a skeleton in blue jeans sitting on my preferred spot, a bean bag in front of the always-turned-on television.

They wouldn’t have cared about my rolled up sock wars I had with my little sister behind our bed barricades or the satanic voices we made and then played back on our tape recorder, accompanied by our riotous and annoying laughter.  For us, when we were kids, and the probably thousands of those just like us before and after, the Lido sat as an unchanging fortress-like host.

I parked in a garage behind Hollywood Boulevard on Vine Street and made my way towards the pale corpse of the Pacific Theater (nee Warners), sitting there slowly fading away, now empty.  I turned the corner of Wilcox and there it was, the Lido Apts sign on top of the recently painted building.  I walked up Wilcox, next to the wall that separated the street from the pool, where we had once run out of the building to catch a glimpse of Cheryl Ladd filming a TV movie.  The pool is long gone- filled in -and now serves as parking spots for about a dozen cars.

Standing outside the building at various other times of my adulthood, I always felt the same vague wonder about the place.  Though my relationships with family had evolved or devolved over the years, I wondered if the one I had with the Lido would be any different.  After all, except for new paint and no pool, it seemed from the outside that nothing had changed.

You can always trust a building like that; add a coat of paint every once in a while and it just keeps on keepin’ on.  It’s why you can go back to a childhood home and just feel like a kid again.

I walked around the corner and stood by the door on Yucca St, inspecting the intercom box.  I peeked into the half oval window on the door, there was a Laverne and Shirley ‘L’ etched into the glass and it looked dark inside.  I looked over across the street at Pla-Boy Liquors, still there; it used to be a stop off for Director Ed Wood on his way to the Lido Bar, now it just serves Hollywood’s current down and outs.

Out of the corner of my eye a guy walked up to the door, groceries in a hanging plastic bag in one hand, a key in the other.  He was a few years older than me and had sleeve tattoos; I wish I’d caught his name.  I told him that no, I didn’t know anyone there but that yes, I used to live there myself as a kid.  By his similarly graying hair I could tell he knew about how long ago that was.

“Well, if you promise not to kill anyone I’ll let you go in and take a look around” he said.  I eagerly took him up on it and just like that the door opened and I stepped inside.  I thanked him as he headed towards the elevators and stood there waiting for my Transitions lenses to lose their sunglass tint so I could see.  I had my camera in one hand and my iPhone in the other.  I was finally in.

The Lido was the photographic stand-in for the Eagles album Hotel California and though I had once checked out I guess in some ways I had never left.  No smell of “colitas” though, it was more one of lacquer with a faint whiff of bug spray.

My glasses went back to normal, and I activated the camera on my phone.  Where to go, what to photograph…..  I thought, “it seems smaller, no wait, it seems the same or even bigger.  Man, it looks pretty nice!”  Memories flooded back, I had to call my sisters in Florida and tell them… (No wait, I’ve gotta walk around and take pictures!  Who knows when I’ll be back?)

Same high ceilings and chandeliers, I looked over to the fireplace where someone had set the Christmas tree on fire one December morning in 1980. Same ornate elevator doors.  But everything looked vaguely renewed, nicer than I remembered.

(Stairs to the hallway, right, that’s where that was!)  Things were a little wobbly from the years but the memories righted themselves really fast.

I ran upstairs, all four floors up, two steps at a time, like I used to when I was chasing my sister around (or being chased) 35 years before.  I walked to the end of the hallway, the elbow turn that led to another wing of the building and looked out the window.

(There it is, the Hollywood Sign, right where I remembered it!)

There were things I hadn’t remembered, like the narrowness of the hallways and the squeak of the hardwood floors underfoot.  When we left that day late in ’81, I never got a chance to, for the last time, explore my favorite apartment building ever, to say goodbye to the Hollywood sign, or look down the Spanish Style windows on the second floor catwalk.  We just had to go.

32 ½ years later I guess I could do it.  I’ve never liked being told I had to leave some place, though it seemed to happen again and again in the future.  Those sudden life stops leave something undefined, unfulfilled.

I walked up and down all three hallways on three different floors and then arrived at the elevator bank on the third floor.  The only person I saw was my sleeve tatted friend from outside.  He asked me how it was going.  I started to tell him about the drugs, the arson attempts, the scuzziness that I had somehow ignored yet taken in close as a kid.  I was astonished to hear him tell me he’d read something on my very website about Lido’s arsons.  However I still didn’t catch his name.

I took the elevator down to 2 and walked to my mom’s (and our) old apartment.  I looked down the hall and imagined Victor Kilian fumbling for his door keys, minutes before he was killed there back in ’79.  I looked at the door, I wanted to knock but didn’t.  After all, if I was this timid over the years about getting in the building I probably wouldn’t go knocking on a stranger’s door.  I imagined myself a few feet away and many years before eating Kraft Macaroni and Dennison’s Chili (they couldn’t touch each other on my plate) with no onions while waiting for Benny Hill to come on.

At the end of the hall I looked out the window, the closest one to the back bathroom we had.  I always wanted to try to jump out of it and into the pool.  Years later a resident a couple of floors up did just that and landed on the metal gate above the pool wall, killing herself, one of the Lido’s suicides.

I headed to the basement, my little sister had asked me to call her if I ever made it down there again.  As a girl she was really afraid of the Lido basement, it just creeped her out.  I went downstairs, still having not seen anyone except Tatted Guy, and yup the basement was still the same.  It was painted Mellow Yellow instead of the old Amityville Red.  I called my sister but of course she is an adult now.  Like me she has a family and other concerns, but unlike me she has no time this day to trip down memory lane.  That was alright.   The good thing is she’s not scared of the basement anymore.

I called my older sister for the second time that day and she continued to be really excited about my visit.  I kind of wished she was there with me, uncovering the old memories.  She wanted to go too but couldn’t.  We chatted for a few minutes and I sent her a picture.  By then I had headed back upstairs and was sitting on a sofa in the lobby.

Though Tatted Guy was the only person I saw here I could hear a couple of people walking overhead or nearby behind the second floor landing.  It was nice to hear the sounds of people living there now, I hadn’t really accounted for that in my old memories.  I seemed to remember mostly sights, some smells but not sounds. But all in all this place was in great shape, it seemed to be throwing away its old bad rep.

I sat there on the sofa and mused, surprised that my visit to the Lido was as good as I’d hoped it to be.  I thought about how people change and get more complicated as they get older.  How all the stuff in life piles up and changes a person.  Then eventually you find you don’t feel the same as you used to.  It’s easy to forget how simple it all once was.

The Lido is still that living reminder, staying the same as always.  On that level it could only impress me.  Though it doesn’t change it doesn’t mind if the people in it DO.  I trust it to stay unchanging, to continue to house my old memories of Hollywood.

Knowing it was time to get going, I left out the same door I entered, a little reluctantly because I knew I didn’t have a key to get back in.  This time I wasn’t leaving for a bit to go to the store for mom or to go to Rock City Arcade and lose all my quarters.  I was leaving, maybe for good, but this time I was leaving by choice.

4 replies
  1. Luis Zea
    Luis Zea says:

    Great story. Revisiting the places we’ve lived certainly can trigger a very powerful time warp effect. I remember going by the site in Tulsa where I first lived as an infant and toddler–great-great Grandma Howell’s house. Some of my earliest and most vivid childhood memories transpired there. But the sprawling two-story house–along with every other home for blocks around–were demolished in the early seventies to accommodate a loop of downtown expressway.

    I would give almost anything to be able to walk the halls of that old house on Sixth Street. For a brief few years it provided shelter and comfort for representatives of five generations of our mother’s side of the family. I remember the air of excitement back in the early sixties when a cache of Civil War-era letters were discovered in some remote cranny of the house; I wish one had survived the passage of another half-century so you could read the musings of a lonely and homesick Confederate soldier.

    I’m glad you had the opportunity to visit the Lido. Perhaps in the future we’ll be able to visit other places where we both lived, like the house on Hood Street in Wichita, Kansas.

  2. Isabelle
    Isabelle says:

    I love your last line. It captures the feeling of your story. I remember the day you made it to the Lido. You were ecstatic because you were finally able to get inside and explore. Great story!

  3. Doug
    Doug says:

    Thanks so much for the wonderful story and photos. My venture to the Lido was a lot like others probably, to take an iconic photo of the lobby, with me standing in it. I stood outside and wandered the lot for about 10 minutes until I finally found a very nice young gentleman that would let me in. He asked me why I would want to enter. I told him that the lobby was where the Eagles “Hotel California” inner album pic was taken and that as a youngster growing up, I was fascinated by that pic. He let me in, graciously and I had one, JUST one pic left on my digital camera to take a similar angle shot with me in it. As I entered the lobby I was confused and disoriented at first trying to figure out the angle they shot at. The lobby was much smaller than I had envisioned. After a few minutes I thought I had it right so I took my pic. Leaving and hearing the door shut and lock, I just prayed that I “got it right”. Well, after arriving back home from vacation I did get a very similar shot and was so thankful to that young man who let me in. One of my favorite vacation pics ever! As it turned out, he was from the same state I was and had just moved to California a few years earlier. Coincidence, luck, or help from above , who will ever know? Maybe just another mystery from the Hotel California!

  4. Bill
    Bill says:

    It seems like that huge hooded fireplace is entirely missing in the Hotel California lobby photos. Maybe it was added between 1976 and the Christmas tree incident in 1980 when you arrived?


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