The Hollywood tour with an edge. You can forget about seeing Betty White’s house along the way. I was driven into some of the most dangerous neighborhoods in Los Angeles on a hip-hop based tour brimming with cultural and historic landmarks. From the childhood homes of legendary gangsta rappers to the flashpoint of the LA Riots, from the beautiful houses in affluent Baldwin Hills to the projects in Watts, the LA Hood Life Tour is electric from start to finish. This tour provided a unique opportunity to see things and go places I’d not dare on my own. It also puts a human face on the hood. I wasn’t watching a movie or show or music video. I saw real people out there, flesh and blood – we live, we die, we love, we hate, we’re all the same.
As I exited the 101 Freeway onto Highland Ave. in Hollywood I realized I’d forgotten my camera. This costly mistake set off a chain of events which would eventually work in my favor. I parked next to Hollywood and Highland mall where TCL Chinese Theater (aka Grauman’s Chinese Theater) is located. It was a three-quarter mile hike to the pick-up point. I began down Hollywood Blvd. desperately seeking a camera that could run on alkaline batteries. No luck. Photo 3 – This mountain of a man is Hodari Sababu, the boss at LA Hood Life Tours. He was kind enough to reschedule my appointment for later that day. I signed on for a private tour to guarantee my spot.
I hiked back to my car, drove to a Best Buy and bought a camera. Learning to use it on the fly meant I had a few minor issues. On foot I headed east down Hollywood Blvd. one more time. I had time to kill so I took in a few nearby landmarks.
The Hollywood Tower Apartments – it may look familiar because Disney modeled their Twilight Zone Tower of Terror ride on it’s French Normandy design. It was also in the great Brian De Palma flick Body Double.
Around 2:30 my tour began. I hopped into the front seat of a gold SUV. Because I booked a private tour it was just me and my tour guide Steve. Steve knows street life first hand. If you’re going to tour the inner city then you’d best do it with an expert, someone who can recognize and avoid bad situations before they develop. To be honest I don’t recall feeling truly worried at any time. If I was ever in danger I was oblivious to it, cheerfully whistling past the graveyard.
Photo 1 – My first blog focused on finding the best hamburgers in Los Angeles. I remember researching Master Burger off of West Adams Blvd., known for it’s two pound burger. Photo 2 – Are you a fan of movies like Colors, Training Day, White Men Can’t Jump and The Wash? Numerous filming locations are profiled including this building. Now a Bank of America and formerly a Fatburger, this is where they shot bloody revenge scene at the end of Boyz ‘N The Hood.
We made a quick stop by Baldwin Village, a.k.a. The Jungle. You may recognize the area, the stone facade and the yellow “END” sign in particular, from the movie Training Day.
Please forgive my sad photos of Griffith Park. Photo 1 shows Burbank Peak on the left and Cahuenga Peak on the right. Directly to the east sits Mount Lee and the HOLLYWOOD sign.
The skyscrapers of Downtown L.A. – from a distance they appear disjointed and unsymmetrical, like a row of rotten teeth.
Back on the road, Steve points out another movie landmark, this time from Menace II Society. This is the Jack in the Box where Caine and his cousin Harold were going before they got carjacked. The carjacking scene was filmed just down the street at the next intersection. I love the movie so this was exciting to see.
Tupac mural by the side of the road.
We waited at a red light at the intersection of Florence and Normandie, ground zero for the 1992 LA Riots. Anger sparked by the Rodney King verdicts led to five days of chaos which left 63 dead. The assault on truck driver Reginald Denny happened right here as well. The brick that shattered Denny’s skull was taken from the flower bed at this ’76 gas station (Photo 2).
I listened as Steve broke down which gang owns which territory in fine detail. We came to an intersection where a Blood gang owns three of the corners and a Crip gang owns the fourth. One gang owns one street and if you drive thirty seconds you’ll be in a different gang’s turf. Drive another thirty and it may change again.
Photo 3 and 4 – A fascinating fact: Centennial High and Compton High are rival schools. Centennial’s color is red and Compton’s blue. All the Blood kids go to Centennial and all the Crip kids go to Compton. Are these schools’ colors the origin of red vs. blue?
Photo 1 – We made a quick stop at Tam’s Burgers. It was here in 2015 that Death Row Records co-founder Suge Knight ran over and killed a man with his truck. The case is still pending. Photo 2 – Compton City Hall has a really cool sculpture sitting in front. Photo 3 – Heading down Greenleaf Blvd., made notorious by the Dr. Dre song Let Me Ride. “Bodies bein’ found on Greenleaf with their f**king heads cut off”, the song goes. Dead bodies were once dumped at a nursery on Greenleaf with a disturbing regularity.
We checked out several homes and neighborhoods of famous rappers such as Coolio, The Game, MC Ren, Ice-T, etc. Photo 1 – Eazy-E was raised here. N.W.A. recorded their first album inside the tiny garage on the right. Photo 2 – Just a couple of minutes drive brought us to Dr. Dre’s former home.
Here’s something I don’t see everyday (or ever, actually). The Compton Courthouse had just released this couple. Upon arrest the county jail takes possession of inmate belongings, such as clothing. Inmates are shuttled to the courthouse wearing orange jumpsuits. Should an inmate be released directly from the courthouse the orange jumpsuit is taken back. The now former inmate is given a fashionable, black jumpsuit made of paper. They must then return to jail on their own to collect their real clothes.
As we leave Compton we pass Angeles Abbey Cemetery and it’s Moorish-style Mausoleum.
Heading back now on the 110 Freeway, which divides South LA into the West and East sides.
After driving through the skyscrapers of Downtown, we passed Echo Park and it’s pretty, little lake.
Back in Hollywood my tour comes to an end. I must give a big shout out to my tour guide. Steve reminds me of a popular teacher from school, one who makes learning fun and interesting, never boring. Maybe in some alternate universe that’s exactly what he is. Thanks, great job!
LA Hood Life Tours:
Website: LA Hood Life Tours
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