On our way into Universal Studios this week to take photos for yesterday’s construction update, we passed through CityWalk as we always do. It suddenly dawned on us that, while delightful, we rarely ever talk about this shopping and dining mecca.
Universal Studios Hollywood didn’t always have a CityWalk. In fact, Universal Studios wasn’t always a theme park. It was a working movie studio that gave tours via tram through its backlot and slowly added attractions to its upper and lower lots over time. As the crowds grew, Universal adapted. In 1988 the large Cineplex Odeon movie theater was was constructed just outside the gates of the park. A shrine to cinema, this location faced a large, flat, barren parking lot that serviced the theme park. Boasting 18 screens, the largest west of the Mississippi River at the time, it struggled to lure park goers.
Universal connected the theme park and the theaters by constructing the first phase of Universal Studios CityWalk. Opened in 1993, the multi-story retail, restaurant, and entertainment corridor was an instant hit. So much so, that in 2000, an expansion was built to meet demand. That in turn, inspired the expansion of the Universal Orlando Resorts with the addition of CityWalk there.
A standard for entertaining guests the minute they stepped out of their cars had been set. The Disneyland Resort quickly followed suit by creating DownTown Disney Anaheim and building a similar entertainment district that connected two existing hotels, a brand new hotel and a new theme park. The idea works.
However, Universal did not rest on its laurels. Universal Studios Hollywood CityWalk has evolved to meet the evolving demands of a growing market. This entertainment complex offers a surprising amount of stuff to do, much of it free, with only the $15 parking fee to pay for.
SCHEDULE OF SUMMER ENTERTAINMENT:
Universal is presenting an entire summer concert series in the 5 Towers area of CityWalk and holding ‘Dance Nights” every Thursday, Saturday and Sunday from now until August 31st.
(All events will take place from 6-9pm (subject to change)
- Sunday, July 13 – West Los Angeles Children’s Choir
- Thursday, July 17 – Megan Nicole – YouTube pop sensation
- Saturday, July 19 – Local radio station 102.7 KIIS-FM – hosts live remote and station giveaway
- Sunday, July 20 – The Mariachi Divas – multi-award winner, including Latin Grammys
- Thursday, July 24 – Jana Kramer – country singer and actress known for “One Tree Hill”
- Saturday, July 26 – National Dance Day – Flash Mob America will teach choreography to guests and capture video to celebrate National Dance Day at CityWalk
- Sunday, July 27 – Gospel Night – local gospel choirs
- Thursday, July 31 – Project 46 – electronic dance music DJ act
- Saturday, August 2 – Local radio station 97.1AMP Radio– hosts live remote and station giveaway
- Sunday, August 3 – School of Rock – the Burbank chapter
- Thursday, August 7 – Heffron Drive – pop/rock group with lead singer Kendall Schmidt of “Big Time Rush”
- Saturday, August 9 – J & J Soulful Steps – 90-minute line-dancing lesson
- Sunday, August 10 – Descarga – annual series from Telemundo and Mun2 featuring today’s top Latin acts
- Thursday, August 14 – EC Twins – electronic dance music duo
- Saturday, August 16 – J & J Soulful Steps – 90-minute line-dancing lesson
- Sunday, August 17 – USC Thornton School of Music
- Thursday, August 21 – Nadia Ali – trance/electronic dance music artist
- Saturday, August 23 – J & J Soulful Steps – 90-minute line-dancing lesson
- Sunday, August 24 – Descarga – annual series from Telemundo and Mun2 featuring today’s top Latin acts
- Thursday, August 28 – Far East Movement – hip-hop group
- Saturday, August 30 – World of Dance featuring JabbaWockeeZ – season one winner of “America’s Best Dance Crew”
- Sunday, August 31 – Descarga – annual series from Telemundo and Mun2 featuring today’s top Latin acts
One way to save a bit of money on parking is to go see a movie. Simply present your parking receipt when you purchase a movie ticket. After paying for your ticket, they will give you the rebate so that parking ends up only costing $2. It’s a neat little perk that really works out if you were planning on catching a movie anyway.
The collection of the Museum of Neon Art:
Many take the chaotic decorations of CityWalk for granted. But they were actually carefully thought out. In fact, many of the wonderful neon signs that grace the heavens of CityWalk are actually leased from the Museum of Neon Art.
Below are a few of the pieces from the museum that are on display in CityWalk. There is a history in some of the decor that most folks are completely unaware of. Keep an eye out for them on your next trip.
These three female figures are the oldest pieces in the Museum of Neon Art’s collection. Lit with incandescent light bulbs, their construction predates the introduction of neon to the United States in 1924. For 50 years they stood atop the Melrose Theater as part of an electric spectacular designed in a fanciful Babylonian style with flickering light bulbs. From both sides of a central female face, a ribbon of flickering lights flowed to douse rising flames. Its electric waterfall then poured into the raised urns of semi-clad women who wear stars on the hems of their dresses. By 1974, the sign was aged and unused and the theater’s new owners considered the 30’ by 45’ rooftop marquee an eyesore. Richard Jenkins and Lili Lakich, who would later found the Museum of Neon Art (MONA) together, saved the sign from the scrap heap and spent two days lowering its major elements from the roof of the four story theater with the help of Gayle Rendleman. Lakich later donated the three incandescent Melrose Theater ladies to MONA in 1985.
Pioneer Market Neon Cars
A flashing series of neon cars was installed at Sunset Boulevard’s Pioneer Market in 1948 in order to direct motorists to its parking lot off of Echo Park Avenue. When the store was slated for demolition, Echo Park resident and Museum of Neon Art volunteer, Paul Rayton, jumped into action. By January of 1984, the market was gone, but its six neon cars were saved. Although their painted backgrounds were badly deteriorated, they were painstakingly restored using original paint chips and photographs taken in the sign’s better days.
Stan’s Drive-In Car Hop
Sign preservation has always been a goal of the Museum of Neon Art, but not every historic or exceptional sign can be saved. In 1970, Hollywood lost one of its first drive-in diners, Stan’s. For 30 years, its neon carhop stood on the corner of Highland and Sunset Boulevards. The original sign was unfortunately destroyed but later recreated for MONA by Richard Jenkins’ Neon Design and Fabrication Classes. Although she retains her vintage 1940s look from her jaunty cap down to her ankle strap pumps, this 10-foot-tall beauty is a reproduction from 1982.
This profile Indian-head medallion became the trademark of the General Motors Pontiac automobile in 1928. This particular double-faced sign dates to the 1940s and was installed at the Holmes Tuttle Pontiac dealership at 250 South La Brea Avenue, Los Angeles. By the 1970s, its neon logos were removed by the Luminart Sign Company, stored and later donated to the Museum of Neon Art in 1982. Due to a generous donation by Bob Tuttle, both signs were fully restored to their original bright colors. Their incandescent bulbs once again chase in a ten foot diameter circle around the ruby red glass of the Pontiac Indian silhouette.
The International Warbabies boutique is closed, but the animated neon sign that lit up the Melrose Avenue facade was preserved by the Museum of Neon Art in 1992. Donated by its owner Diane Thomas, the saluting baby and paratroopers logo was inspired by a dream and fabricated for the Los Angeles store in 1983.
Steele’s Motor Lodge
Originally located at 13949 Ventura Boulevard, the Steele’s Motor Lodge signage is one of the most popular signs in the Museum of Neon Art’s collection. It was fabricated in the 1950s for a 1934 motel built by cowboy movie star Bob Steele. No expense was spared in the sign’s construction which shows a rare four-part animation of a female diver executing a pike and somersault under the shade of a neon palm tree. The base of this 20-foot-tall sign is an arrow of flickering incandescent bulbs supporting a grand total of 16 neon-lit words, front and back. In 1988 the motel was leveled for the construction of a bank. Thankfully, its sign was donated to MONA by Pinecrest Schools.
The neon logo of the Richfield eagle was recognized across the southwestern United States when this sign was constructed in the 1940s. Practically every Richfield gas station featured this classic graphic but not all of them were rendered in porcelainized enamel like this one. The glossy coating of baked on porcelain intensifies the neon’s luster. California State University Fullerton acquired this Richfield eagle sign and displayed it in 1973 in one of the country’s first exhibitions of neon. After years in storage, the sign was donated to the Museum of Neon Art in 1992 and restored.
Ben and Raymond Conde opened their Gardena, California restaurant in 1960 and topped it with this 20 foot long neon sign decorated with flickering neon flames. Both brothers alternated the duties of chef and restaurant manager and periodically repainted their sign so its neon cook would resemble the brother in charge of the kitchen. This semiannual repainting kept it in great condition through the day the restaurant closed and the sign was donated to the Museum of Neon Art.
There’s quite a bit of fun to be had at Universal Studios Hollywood’s CityWalk beyond the quirky collection of shops and restaurants. Are you a CityWalk fan?