Wining, Dining and Sight-seeing:
"Books are for people who wish they were somewhere else."
Reading, from left to right...
In 1994, the city of Los Angeles finally got around to honoring one of their most respected writers. The corner of Hollywood and Cahuenga boulevards in Hollywood is now, officially, the Raymond Chandler Square. The square is located at the the site of Philip Marlowe's fictitious Hollywood office on the 6th floor of the Cahuenga Building (actually the Pacific Security Bank building). Granted, Mrlowe did little more than bitch about the place when he was there, spending most of his time there pondering the decline of Western Civilization, shuffling his mail from the door slot to the trash, doing battle with assorted house flies, taking an occasional nip from the office bottle, listening to the phone not ring and waiting for trouble to come walking in the door. But still, it's about the best place I can think of to start the P.I. world tour...
This atmospheric office building in downtown LA, full of ornate metalwork is "a marvel of Gay Nineties style and engineering...twin open-grille elevators (and) an impressive vaulted roof wih a central skylight," according to Raymond Chandler's Los Angeles, by Elizabeth Ward and Alain Silver. It's actually described by Chandler in his novel, The High Window, although he calls it "The Belfont Building." It's got a truly amazing interior, all lights and shadows and grillwork, sorta instant noir, and a totally bland exterior. Chandler described its exterior as "eight stories of nothing in particular." Okay, it's only five stories, but Chandler must have been on to something -- it's since been used as a setting, usually for private eye offices, in such classic and not-so-classic hardboiled and noir detective flicks as D.O.A., Marlowe, Chinatown and Blade Runner, and TV shows, including City of Angels, Banyon and Bosch. John Shannon's private eye Jack Liffey drops by there often, and Max Allan Collins' Nate Heller has the L.A. branch of his A-1 Detective Agency operating out of it in Angel in Black. It's even been featured in comic books, such as the recent revival of DC's Human Target.
Pretty much mecca for any true hard-boiled crime buff is a pilgrimage to San Francisco to take Don Herron's guided tour of all things Hammett. For over thirty years, Herron has been keeping the faith, leading fans on a merry chase through the fog-shrouded hills that The Continental Op, Sam Spade and Hammett himself called home.Oh, sure, you could buy the Guidebook (In fact, do! It's great!) but wouldn't you rather take the actual tour? If so be sure to visit the Don Herron's Official Website.
In The Maltese Falcon, Sam Spade asks the waiter at John's Grill (at Powell and Ellis) to "hurry his order of chops, baked potato and sliced tomatoes' because he's in a rush to go rescue Brigid O'Shaughnessy. The restaurant's still there, and you can now order Sam Spade Chops and a Bloody Brigid to drink in the Brigid O'Shaughnessy Room. The place is decorated with photographs and memorabilia of private eyes, cops, mystery writers and, of course, Dashiell Hammett. As an added bonus, the actual Maltese Falcon, the prop used in the Huston film, has been known to be on display as recently as 1995 (although if it's really the real one is open to debate).
Those familiar with Hammett's life know that the Baltimore branch of Pinkerton's National Detective Agency, where he worked as an operative from 1915 to 1918, was located in the Continental Trust Building, and almost certainly served as the inspiration for the name of his fictional Continental Detective Agency. Not to mention the nameless detective who worked there, best known as The Continental Op.
Private eye buffs Bill and Karen Palmer's New York restaurant was the Big Apple hangout of choice of several P.I. writers and, sometimes, their ficticious detectives, especially Rob Randisi's Miles Jacoby. I believe the PWA was founded at a meeting held there. Alas, from latest reports, the restaurant has closed for good, and Karen and Bill have moved on to running Bogie's Mystery Tours.
Whether he should be considered a private eye or not is moot. Any fan of the mystery genre owes the old cokehound a debt of gratitude. It's been suggested that 221B Baker Street is the most famous address in the world.
Varg Veum, the private eye hero of Gunnar Staalesen's immensely popular P.I. novels, is immortalized in bronze on the sidewalk in front of the Strand hotel in Bergen, Norway, where the detective's office is also supposed to be. In fact, the hotel bar has had its own Veum section now, full of various memorabilia not just from the novels but also props and stills from the popular films and TV show. And of course the bar serves Veum's favourite drink: Simmers Taffel aquavit.
Just in case you miss the point, a life-sized cutout of a man in a fedora with a pistol in his hand points the way to the entrance to the Bibliothèque des Littératures Policières (Library of Crime Literature). Tucked away behind a firehouse in the Latin quarter, the BILIPO, as it's known, houses about 70,000 novels, 7,000 documents, 3,500 reference books, 3,000 press reviews, 2,000 comics, 50 subscriptions, movie posters, manuscripts, pulp magazines, clippings, essays, studies and clipping from all over the world all related to suspense, crime, murder or detection. It's arguably the greatest collections of crime fiction in the world. There's a reading room, open to all, where fans can sit and read to their heart's content. Mostly in French, of course, but there's more than enough English here to while away more than a month of rainy afternoons. The staff are all knowledgable and eager to chat, and admission is free. Is this cool or what? For more info, go to "Old Tricks, Fresh Goose Bumps", a 2006 article by Julie Pecheur that originally appeared in The Paris Times.
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