Capturing L.A.'s disappearing landscape

In the early days of Hollywood, dreams of stardom began for aspiring actresses upon arrival from small-town America, when they took up residence at one of the neighborhood's romantic and exotic-sounding hotels such as the DuBarry, Las Palmas or Ravenswood.

Jim McHugh, a photographer and third-generation Angeleno, pays homage to these landmark buildings, along with other disappearing landscape remnants, in his collection "Let's Get Lost: Polaroids From the Coast," at Timothy Yarger Fine Art in Beverly Hills.

McHugh is the grandson of songwriter Jimmy McHugh who, along with Dorothy Fields, wrote standards for Frank Sinatra, Bing Crosby, Judy Garland and Billie Holiday, including "I'm in the Mood for Love" and "On the Sunny Side of the Street." He borrowed the title of the Chet Baker song for this show as the one he most identifies with his hometown, a Los Angeles he sees slipping away.

"It evokes a sense of wandering in L.A. and how easy it is to get lost in anonymity here in both an urban and natural sense," said gallerist Timothy Yarger.

Of the more than 40 images on display, a great many focus on the residential buildings in the Hollywood and Wilshire districts such as the Lido, Perino, Asbury and Knickerbocker apartments. He was particularly fond of the ambience and the buildings along the Wilshire Corridor, as they evoked the spirit and fantasy of early Hollywood.

McHugh found the color, composition and the surrounding elements of these once transient hotels visually interesting, radiating the dreams of the residents, who included his mother, actress Shirley O'Hara. She stayed at the Studio Club on Wilcox when she first arrived from Minnesota. "That's where the starlets lived when they came to town. It had a curfew," said McHugh. "These buildings hold a narrative history and mirror the lives of the people that came here."

McHugh began shooting the series of photos in the early 1990s, long after many of the buildings lost their original luster. And some eventually were demolished, including the Cocoanut Grove restaurant in the old Ambassador Hotel. The partially obscured views were shot mostly at night, when neon lights glow brightest against shadowy skies, suggesting a novel by Raymond Chandler, who himself lived for a time in the Los Altos apartments.

McHugh, who is known for his celebrity portraits for publications such as People and Entertainment Weekly and for the cover of longtime friend David Hockney's book "That's the Way I See It," used a hand-held Speed Graphic press camera for his images of L.A.

McHugh and Jim Heimann, executive editor for Taschen America and the author of "L.A. Portrait of a City," will be at the gallery Sunday for tea and conversation from 2:30-5 p.m. The exhibit will be on view through June 30.

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