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Guide to Los Angeles Cultural History

Historic Landmarks, Pop Culture, Sites and Celebrities Integral to LA


Novels and Non-Fiction Books About Los Angeles

If you want the real scoop on Los Angeles, ask a journalist or writer. Raymond Chandler painted his owned literary rendition of LA with his noir books. Other writers have brought the city to life with historical books about Los Angeles. To get an understanding of LA's history and pop cultural landscape, why not start with a great novel and then progress to some historical non-fiction?

LA Book Recommendations By Local Writers, Editors and Publishers

Rock History in Los Angeles

Beyond the hair metal days of the 'Sunset Strip' Los Angeles--and most notably its Hollywood Hills neighborhood of Laurel Canyon--was home to some of classic rock's top musicians and stars. A history lesson on LA is not complete without the city's rock history.

Throughout the decades, from the '60s on, rock star dreams have been made and dashed in Los Angeles. Discover this town's personality through the debauched and crazy tales of its early 'rock settlers.'

LA's Famous Rock n' Roll Neighborhood Laurel Canyon and Its Celebrity Residents

Famous LA Celebrity Murders

It's gruesome and a bit macabre, but famous murders are a big part of Los Angeles' cultural history. From the city's infamous (and seemingly endless) celebrity murder trials--O.J. Simpson, Robert Blake, etc.--to the slaying of the so-called 'Black Dahlia'--these stories are a major part of LA's story.

Famous Celebrity Murders and Crime Mysteries in Los Angeles

Crime Tours and Alternative Tours of LA

Speaking of the Black Dahlia, if you are curious about following in the footsteps of investigators, murderers and such, the alternative tour company Esotouric offers such off-beat bus tours of LA. Beyond LA Noir tours, you can also visit scruffy author Charles Bukowski's favorite watering holes on Skid Row and environs.

Esotouric Bus Tours of Los Angeles

The Los Angeles Times

Our very own newspaper of record has been in existence since 1881 (in 'LA years' that's virtually pre-historic). The Los Angeles Times was most famously owned, for decades, by members of the Chandler family (of Dorothy Chandler Pavilion renown). It was sold and is today owned by Tribune. It is possible to visit the building that has housed the newspaper since 1935 as part of a free group tour.

Chavez Ravine

In the same general vicinity as Bukowski's escapades--on LA's East Side--lies Chavez Ravine. This area is famous for the Battle of Chavez ravine (which resulted in the forced removal of the Mexican-American community in the area to make room for Dodger Stadium in the '50s).

Chavez Ravine has also made its way into musical and pop cultural history at large as it inspired albums and tunes by Ry Cooder and The Clash' Joe Strummer

Olvera Street

Olvera Street is another important Mexican-American point of historical interest in LA. It's part of the El Pueblo de Los Angeles historic monument and is located in the oldest part of the city. There are 27 historic buildings on site.

Today, the area is home to a colorful street vendor culture which sees ponchos, Mexican food and such sold on the marketplace, which attracts locals and tourists alike.

Olvera Street About.com Guided Walking Tour

The Chateau Marmont

The Chateau Marmont's infamy spans generations. It has its roots in classic Hollywood (Greta Garbo and other luminaries stayed there). Its dark chapter was comedian John Belushi's untimely death there in the early '80s. And most recently, it was immortalized as the temporary home of Lindsay Lohan in a cover feature in Vanity Fair magazine.

History of the Chateau Marmont in Los Angeles

The Hollywood Sign

No historical primer on LA would be complete without some mention of its iconic Hollywood sign. Located in the Hollywood Hills above Beachwood Canyon, the sign once read 'Hollywoodland,' named after a housing development.

Its most infamous chapter, was the suicide (from atop the sign) of Wizard of Oz actress Peg Entwistle in 1932.

More recently, Hugh Hefner came to the sign's rescue when he donated $900000 to prevent developers from getting their clutches on it.

Best Views of the Hollywood Sign

The Magic Castle

The Magic Castle is a magical spot to experience, if you're lucky enough to know a member (or find out about a fundraiser). This private club for professional magicians, built in 1908, is something of an LA relic. Tucked away in the Hollywood Hills, it boasts great magic shows, a ghostly player piano that takes requests that you shout out to it, and bookshelves that open on command to reveal hidden passageways.

Magic Castle Hotel and Club

The Pantages Theater

A little piece of classic Hollywood, Hollywood's Pantages Theater was first built in 1930 as a home for vaudeville and first-run movies. Today, the art deco building continues to be a home for the performing arts as an operating space for theatrical productions

Pantages Theater Architecture and Overview

The LA Conservancy

Interested to know more about LA's historic architecture, and how to protect it? The folks at the LA Conservancy make this their priority #1. The organization backs initiatives to help preserve sites it deems architecturally and historically vital to the city. You can also get involved in its events and group-related activities. For instance, its splinter group ModCom meets up to discuss 20th century architectural landmarks (such as Bob's Big Boy in Toluca Lake and other mid-century landmarks).

Lake Shrine at the Self-Realization Fellowship

Less known to the average Joe, the Self-Realization Fellowship and its Lake Shrine in the Pacific Palisades have much historical significance in LA. Yogananda's Self-Realization Fellowship was established in LA in 1925. This was decades before yoga culture hit the mainstream in California.

Later, in 1950, the Lake Shrine was built. There, some of Mahatma Gandhi's cremated ashes are held in a stone monument.

Lake Shrine at the Self-Realization Fellowship

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