Book Map: Nathanael West & Los Angeles

By Maryann Yin 

View Nathanael West & Los Angeles in a larger map

Ever wish you could visit the locations in your favorite novels?

In our new Book Maps feature, we will interview an author or biographer about locations in their book. We will also create a special Google Map about the interview so you can take a walking or driving tour through the book in real life. Email GalleyCat if you have other Book Map suggestions.

For our first installment, we asked Joe Woodward to share the places where novelist Nathanael West lived and worked in Los Angeles in the 1930s. Woodward took us on a book tour of Alive Inside the Wreck: A Biography of Nathanael West. The Google Map is embedded above–click on the blue pins for more details about a specific location.

Nathanael West & Los Angeles: A Book Map by Joe Woodward *

Union Station / Santa Fe Super Chief / 800 N. Alameda Street Los Angeles, CA: West arrived by train at Union Station from New York in early July 1933 aboard the Santa Fe Super Chief. He had just sold a movie option for $4,000 on his novel Miss Lonelyhearts to Darryl F. Zanuck for his newly established studio Twentieth Century Pictures. West had also secured a four-week contract to write for Columbia Pictures, which is why he came to Los Angeles. “The Super Chief” was sometimes called “The Train of the Stars.”

Knickerbocker Hotel / 1714 Ivar Street Hollywood, CA: S.J. Perelman, West’s brother-in-law, met West at Union Station when he arrived. Sid, Laura (West’s youngest sister) and West stayed temporarily at the Knickerbocker Hotel.

5734 Cazoux Drive / Los Angeles, CA: Sid, Laura and West moved in together in this rented house in the Hollywood Hills.

Columbia Pictures / 1438 Gower Street: West’s first day of work at Columbia was on July 7, 1933. West’s contract was terminated at Columbia on August 26, 1933. He stayed on in Hollywood for a short time, but returned to New York in the fall.

Parva-Sed-Apta Apartments / 1817 North Ivar Street Hollywood, CA: West next returned to Hollywood in the summer of 1935, alone and without a job lined up. He moved into the Parva-Sed, a seedy apartment house full of backlot employees and movie extras. The Parva-Sed was his model for Tod Hackett’s building in The Day of the Locust. The apartment building is just up the street from the Knickerbocker Hotel. From the top of North Ivar Street you can see the HoLLYWoOD sign.

Musso & Frank Grill / 6667 Hollywood Blvd. Los Angeles, CA: A now famous restaurant and bar on Hollywood Boulevard, which West frequented.

Stanley Rose Book Shop / 6661 ½ Hollywood Blvd. Los Angeles, CA: Located next to Musso & Frank’s and across the street from the Screen Writers Guild (then on Cherokee). West was a devotee of the shop. Bookstore regulars included William Faulkner, F. Scott Fitzgerald, John Fante, William Saroyan, John Sanford, Dashiell Hammett, Budd Schulberg and others.

Republic Productions (RKO Pictures) / 4024 North Radford Avenue Studio City, CA: West finally got a contract after months of waiting and reported for work at Republic on January 17, 1936. He would do most of his film work for this studio and those connected to it. The most famous of the films he worked on (in some capacity) include The President’s Mystery, Gangs of New York, Five Came Back and Stranger on the Third Floor (considered by many to be the first film noir ever produced).

6614 Cahuenga Terrace / Studio City, CA: West lived here alone, and then later with his wife Eileen McKenney and her young son, Tommy.

Disney Studios / Hyperion Avenue in Silver Lake District of Los Angeles, CA: Eileen worked here as a secretary prior to (and after) meeting and marrying West.

Chasen’s Restaurant / 9039 Beverly Blvd. Beverly Hills, CA: West was married to Eileen McKenney on April 19, 1940 by a judge in Beverly Hills. They held a reception dinner at this famous Hollywood restaurant. This was the site of the Academy Awards Party for years.

12706 Magnolia Blvd. North Hollywood, CA: With the sale of two original film properties in the fall of 1940, together totaling $35,000 (split with his writing partner Boris Ingster), West and Eileen moved in early December 1940 into a large, rented home on two acres of grounds in North Hollywood. On the Friday night before their tragic weekend—Friday the 13th—they hosted a dinner party to which were invited F. Scott Fitzgerald and Sheila Graham, Dorothy Parker and Alan Campbell, Hilaire Hiler, Albert Hacket and Frances Goodrich, and others. They still had some of their belongings in moving boxes.

Hotel De Anza / 233 W/ 4th Street Calexico, CA: West and Eileen checked into the hotel for their last hunting trip on Friday, December 20, 1940. Saturday and Sunday they crossed the border into Mexico to hunt. West stayed at this hotel regularly on such trips.

Leon d’Oro Bar / Mexicali, Baja California Mexico: The owner of this bar, Jimmy Alvarez, was well known and friendly with Hollywood types. He was the one who suggested to West that the hunting was good and that he should come down before Christmas—not that West would have needed much convincing.

Intersection of Route 111 and U.S. Highway 80: The intersection, just outside El Centro, CA, is where Nathanael West and Eileen McKenney were killed in an automobile accident on Sunday, December 22, 1940 at five minutes to 3:00 p.m.

Lemon’s Mortuary / El Centro, CA: This is where the bodies of West and Eileen rested after the accident, and where the Coroner’s Jury took place on December 24, 1940.

Pierce Brothers Mortuary / Santa Monica Blvd. Hollywood, CA: West’s and Eileen’s bodies were brought here from the desert. Eileen’s body was cremated and placed inside West’s casket. In another Pierce Brothers’ location, on West Washington Blvd., lay the body of F. Scott Fitzgerald who had died of a heart attack while reading his Princeton alumni magazine on December 21, 1940.

Union Station / Santa Fe Super Chief / 800 N. Alameda Street Los Angeles, CA: The remains of West and Eileen were loaded on the train on the evening of December 26th, accompanied by Sid who had flown out from Pennsylvania. Eileen ashes were secretly placed inside West’s casket and they were buried together in Mount Zion Cemetery in Maspeth, NY.

Before his death at the age of 37, Nathanael West wrote four novels, two plays, a score of short stories, and worked on nearly 30 Hollywood films. Two of West’s novels are considered by most to be classics of the American canon, Miss Lonelyhearts (1933) and The Day of the Locust (1939).

* NOTES: A few of these historical locations now sit on “newly named” streets and within newly designated municipalities. For example: Ivar Street (now Ivar Avenue); Cazoux Drive (now Cazaux); Magnolia Blvd near 101 Freeway is in North Hollywood, near Studio City (over hill from Hollywood), etc.