26 Nov Hollywood Walking tour
Published in Hollywood Independent; By Leigh Bailey Clipboard securely in hand, Christian Moralde waits patiently in front of Mann’s Chinese Theatre on Hollywood Boulevard for his 10 a.m. appointment to arrive.
Unlike his tour-guide brethren, Moralde isn’t hawking to the throngs of camera-toting out-of-towners who pack the famous theatre’s plaza. To have Moralde escort you down the boulevard, you have to book in advance.
Earlier this year, Moralde started P.A.A. Tours with the goal of cornering a niche market. An Angeleno by way of Arizona, Moralde felt he had a feel for what tourists wanted to see, what kinds of information they wanted to have about Hollywood.
Acting classes took him to Hollywood Boulevard frequently, he says, “Every time I came down here, I’d see tourists wandering around kind of aimlessly, taking pictures of the stars on the Walk of Fame.”
Clearly, he says, those visiting Hollywood were naturally drawn to the city’s most famous boulevard, but once here, they weren’t sure what to do, where to go or what to see.
Bus tours were all well and good, but most tourists seemed to want to get a look at Tinseltown up close and personal. Moralde was willing to bet they would pay to have someone take them through the process step by anecdote-filled step.
Moralde’s tour is simultaneously low key and packed with information. Beginning at the Mann’s Chinese, he gently guides his charges attention from Marilyn Monroe’s footprints to Carole Lombard’s.
Down the way a bit, he speaks knowledgeably about Hollywood and Highland, the TrizecHahn development, and the new Metro Red Line system.
“Yes, it’s true. We have a subway system in Los Angeles,” he says.
While Much of Moralde’s patter seems canned – he frequently glances down to check his notes – he does seem to know what he’s talking about. Moralde points out the site of a former high-profile hangout – a bar where Bette Davis might have rubbed elbows with William Faulkner. He indicates the spot where a former fleabag hotel once stood and claims Faulkner wrote one of his most famous novels there, though he doesn’t say which one.
Perhaps the highlight of the tour is a brief dodge inside Frederick’s of Hollywood for a look at the Museum of Underwear, tucked displaying the undies of some of Hollywood’s most luminous stars.
“Even a lot of people who live here don’t even know this is here,” he says. Given the fact that the entrance to the museum is free, a chance to see Paul Newman’s boxers is both amusing and worth the price of admission.
Moralde does know his stuff. He discusses the construction dates of most of the important buildings the tour passes and tells a few things tourists hadn’t known about the Hollywood Sign (that Hugh Hefner started the fund to restore it, for example, and Billy Crystal threw in $17,000 of his own money). He tells of Marilyn’s ghost and David Hockney’s pool at the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel and the history of the Pantages Theatre. And points out locations where a variety of TV shows were shot.
The tour isn’t entirely about yesteryear, though. Moralde points out a newsstand across the street from Dean and Deluca’s, where he claims Nicolas Cage eats regularly. “When I have teenage girls on tour, I tell them that Gwyneth Paltrow and Brad Pitt shop there for their magazines,” he says. On whose authority he has this information he’s not entirely clear.
He is, he says, a stickler for accuracy and insists that his three employees know what there are talking about before attempting to guide anyone.
“I give them the information I want them to know, the history and the significance of certain buildings,” he says. “Then I test them on it.”
If either he or his employees don’t know the answer to a question from a client, he says, then they won’t answer. “I have one rule, really,” he says. “Don’t give out misinformation.”
Instead, he says his company offers to do the research and respond with a followup telephone call or postcard, something no other tour company is currently doing.
While buisness isn’t currently booming, Moralde says the company is catching on. He says he’s getting an assist from the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce, which allows him to leave his literature in their lobby, and is beginning to see word-of-mouth trade coming in. By next summer, he hopes to be firmly established as the only walking tour in town.
His prices are reasonable. Moralde charges $10 a head for a stroll that takes an hour to an hour and a half, which discounts offered to senior citizens and students. At that price, it’s an hour well spent, even for a native Angeleno who can bone up on Hollywood history for the next visit from the in-laws.