Read an Excerpt
A Guide to Sites of Scandal, Mayhem, and Celluloid in the Golden State
By Kristan Lawson, Anneli Rufus
St. Martin's Press Copyright © 2000 Kristan Lawson and Anneli Rufus
All rights reserved.
McDonald's Massacre Site
Final score: James Huberty 21–Police 1.
Now the Southwestern College Education Center at San Ysidro, 460 W. San Ysidro Boulevard, about a mile north of the Mexican border. The monument to the victims is near the front door of the center. (619) 690-6083. Yum-Yum Donut Shop is at 482 W. San Ysidro Boulevard, just a few yards away. (619) 428-9221.
Repressed madman James Huberty awoke on July 18, 1984, and announced calmly to his wife that he was going out to "hunt humans." He loaded up on bullets and walked over to a nearby McDonald's. Then he started shooting. In short order he had massacred twenty-one total strangers. Police quickly surrounded the place and positioned snipers in the nearby Yum-Yum Donut Shop and in a post office. After a standoff a sharpshooter felled Huberty with a single shot, thus obviating the spectacle of a trial. Huberty's record-setting spree remains one of the all-time worst mass shootings in U.S. history, its sheer scale untouched by the spate of shootings that followed in the 1990s. Fearful of bad vibes, McDonald's never reopened the restaurant; instead they tore it down and gave the land away. A new branch of a local community college was built in its place, and the school was thoughtful enough to erect a circular monument with twenty-one columns, each in memory of one of the victims. But the Yum-Yum Donut Shop is still standing. (Note: There is a different McDonald's a few blocks away that is unrelated to the Huberty incident.)
Hotel Del Coronado
Where they filmed Some Like It Hot.
1500 Orange Avenue, directly on the beach in Coronado. (619) 435-6611 or (800) HOTEL-DEL.
From Lucy and Desi to LBJ, a phalanx of celebrities has lapped up the sun at the West Coast's largest beach resort since it opened in 1888. L. Frank Baum wrote some of his Oz tales here. And legend has it that this is where in 1920 Edward, Prince of Wales, may have first seen the woman named Wallis Simpson, whom he later married and for whom he abdicated the throne. The guest list stuns: Charlie Chaplin; Charles Lindbergh; a spate of presidents including FDR, Nixon, and Reagan. Ray Bradbury has been a regular Christmastime guest for more than thirty years. In 1958 Billy Wilder chose the hotel as a location for Some Like It Hot with Jack Lemmon, Tony Curtis, and Marilyn Monroe; the actress's pathological lateness drove her director crazy. Other productions, including Peter O'Toole's film The Stunt Man and Baywatch, have been filmed here, and stars spotted staying here include Madonna, Jack Nicholson, Demi Moore, and Dustin Hoffman. Palm-fringed and palatial, "the Del" offers guided walks for those who can't afford to stay.
Hotel del Coronado
Chow down with Leroy Brown.
850 Fifth Avenue, at F Street, in the Gaslamp District of downtown San Diego. Jazz Bar and Jazz Restaurant open daily 5:00 P.M.–midnight; Blues Bar open daily 11:00 A.M.–1:45 A.M.; Blues Restaurant open daily 7:30 A.M.–3:00 P.M. and 5:00 P.M.–midnight. (619) 233-4355.
In the early 1970s Jim Croce tried to rescue the Top 40 from the musical doldrums with raucous hits like "Bad, Bad Leroy Brown." But like Buddy Holly before him, Croce died young in a tragic plane crash, ending his career just moments before he reached superstardom. In a valiant attempt to save time in a bottle, Jim's wife and onetime musical partner Ingrid founded Croce's Restaurants and Nightclubs in his memory (it's actually four separate venues rolled into one: two bars and two restaurants, one of each devoted to jazz and blues). The walls of all four display Jim Croce memorabilia, including photos, his jacket, his guitar, and (of course) some used guitar picks.
THE ANDREW CUNANAN TOUR
He always wanted to be famous. As a teenager he vowed he would be. Later to kill five men and then himself at age twenty-seven, Andrew Cunanan spent nearly all his life amid the sun-splashed landscapes of San Diego. As his parents' favored child, living in a ranch-style home at 5777 Watercrest Drive in Bonita (a suburban area of San Diego, southeast of downtown near National City and Chula Vista), he attended Sunnyside Elementary School, where teachers found him clever. He had a passion for fashion even then. After Bonita Vista Junior High he went on to tony Bishop's School in La Jolla. There he acted flamboyantly and told his wealthy classmates lies that made his family seem fabulously rich. Upon graduation he was voted "least likely to be forgotten."
When his stockbroker dad ditched the family and went home to the Philippines, Andrew dropped out of the University of California at San Diego, where he had been majoring in history. After a stint in the Bay Area (where he proudly told friends he had met Gianni Versace) he moved back south. Living with his mother in a Rancho Bernardo apartment, he clerked for three years at the nearby Thrifty Drugstore. He hid these plebe details from friends at gay bars in San Diego's Hillcrest district (north of downtown), where he was known as Andrew De Silva, a bon vivant who flaunted cash and connections. Some who socialized with him at the lively night spot Flicks (1017 University Avenue, at Tenth Avenue) and chic California Cuisine (1027 University Avenue) say he dealt drugs, did drugs, and was a procurer and part-time hustler who specialized in May–September (not quite December) sex. His fancy clothes and ability to talk about art charmed some, but Cunanan's fibs (about working for Israel's Mossad, for instance) left others cold. Champagne flowed at his going-away party April 24, 1997, at California Cuisine. The heavily-in-debt Andrew lived a couple blocks away in a 1960s-style apartment complex at 1234 Robinson Avenue.
Unrequited love for a Minneapolis architect may have been what launched Andrew eastward on what would become a three-month killing spree. A gigantic manhunt ended when Andrew shot himself in a Miami houseboat on July 23. Today Hillcrest wants very much to forget him.
Unarius Academy of Science World Headquarters
145 S. Magnolia Avenue, at Main Street. Open Mon.–Sat., 10:00 A.M.–5:00 P.M. (619) 444-7062.
After Ernest Norman met his future wife Ruth at a psychics' convention in 1954, the pair founded the Unarius Academy of Science. Members believe that by the year 2001 thirty-two spaceships will have come to Earth from the planet Myton. At that point the aliens will invite Earth to join the Interplanetary Confederation of Planets. Claiming hundreds of thousands of adherents worldwide, Unarius has published well over a hundred books — many of them authored with "help" from beings on other planes, and many recounting past lives. Ruth Norman claimed to have lived previous lives as the Buddha, Mona Lisa, King Arthur, Socrates, Ben Franklin, Henry VIII, Charlemagne, Confucius, and dozens of other people. Ernest claimed to have lived before as Osiris, Jesus, and Satan. Today the roomy headquarters are adorned with members' paintings and other artwork depicting what they call "the nature of consciousness substantiated by an interdimensional science of life" — on the planet Vixall, for example. Though the Normans are no longer on this planet, you may see headlines about Unarius in 2001, when Ruth predicted Space Brothers would land on Earth (with luck, at Unarius's own landing site in nearby Jamul). If Ruth is wrong, the group will have to reexamine itself. If she's right — hey, we might all be Unarians by 2002.
Elsewhere in San Diego County
RANCHO SANTA FE
Heaven's Gate Cult Suicide Site
Former address: 18241 Colina Norte.
New address: 18241 Paseo Victoria.
The unincorporated town of Rancho Santa Fe is in northern San Diego County, just inland from Encinitas. From Highway 5 in downtown Encinitas, take Encinitas Boulevard 3 miles east, turn north on Rancho Santa Fe Road for 1 mile, then turn east on El Camino del Norte. After about 1½ miles, look for a small street called Paseo Victoria on the north side of the road.
Thirty-nine decomposing bodies were found here on March 26, 1997, all wearing identical outfits: black shirts and pants and Nike sneakers, all covered with purple shrouds. Baffled at first, police soon discovered a videotape explaining what had happened. All thirty-nine were members of an apocalyptic cult called Heaven's Gate who had intentionally "shed their earthly containers to achieve a higher level of being" — in other words, they'd committed suicide. The arrival of an eagerly anticipated but ultimately disappointing comet named Hale-Bopp triggered the cult's end-of-the-world mood. They believed a UFO was waiting in the comet's tail to take them all away to a better place. But the only way to board the UFO was to get rid of those pesky earthbound bodies. So they did. The group's leaders, "Do" (Marshall Applewhite) and "Ti" (Bonnie Lu Nettles), had in recent years transformed their confused, moribund twenty-year-old spiritual commune into a space-age UFO cult, using the Internet to recruit new, computer-savvy members. By the mid-1990s they were making a nice income designing slick Web pages, using as a front a consulting company they named Higher Source. Millions of earthlings were glued to their TVs watching coverage of the largest-ever mass suicide on U.S. soil. Satellite uplink trucks clogged the streets of Rancho Santa Fe, and TV news anchors were elbow-to-elbow on the sidewalks. Residents couldn't take it anymore; not long after the suicides, in an effort to discourage gawkers, local officials changed the street's name to Paseo Victoria. The house was sold in June 1999 to a new owner who announced plans to tear it down and build a new one in its place.
Where the Heaven's Gate members ate their last meal.
5980 Avenida Encinas, off Palomar Airport Road, next to Highway 5. Open Mon.–Fri., 7:00 A.M.–9:30 P.M.; Sat.–Sun., 8:00 A.M.–9:30 P.M. (760) 438-3929.
They dressed alike, they talked alike — sometimes they even ate alike. On a mild spring evening in 1997 thirty-nine members of the Heaven's Gate cult politely ordered and ate identical meals at this branch of the pie chain. All had turkey pot pie. ("Pot pie to die for," restaurant staff later joked.) Then they went home and killed themselves, believing a spaceship hidden in the Hale-Bopp comet was going to take them somewhere nice.
Lawrence Welk Museum
8860 Lawrence Welk Drive, off Champagne Boulevard in the Welk Resort, 6 miles north of Escondido, off Highway 15; enter the museum through the lobby of the Welk Resort Theatre. Open Mondays and Fridays, 9:00 A.M.–4:30 P.M.; Wednesdays and Sundays, 9:00 A.M.–1:00 P.M.; Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays, 9:00 A.M.–1:00 P.M. and 4:30–7:00 P.M. (760) 749-3000.
Today few under fifty still remember Lawrence Welk's lilting brand of "champagne music" and his voice chanting, "Wonderful! Wonderful!" as the band played gentle melodies. Welk bought property in pokey Escondido circa 1965, ten years after launching his famous TV show. Today it's a resort better avoided by those who dislike golf carts and musical theater. The museum has relics from the show including photos, instruments, a bandstand, and the world's largest champagne glass, six feet high and five feet across. Also here is Welk's accordion — viewers went wild when he played it.
Peg Leg Monument
Where a fortune in gold was found and lost.
At the intersection of Henderson Canyon Road and County Road S-22. From downtown Borrego Springs, go east 2 miles on Palm Canyon Drive, past the airport, and follow the road as it turns north until you reach the Y-shaped intersection with Henderson Canyon Road. The monument looks like a pile of rocks on the north side of the intersection.
Around 1850 a one-legged rascal named Peg Leg Smith claimed to have found gold nuggets scattered profusely on the ground somewhere in this section of desert. The problem was, he said, he had made his discovery many years earlier while carrying a load of pelts to California. After a decade or two of intervening adventures he returned and tried to find the field that was littered with hunks of free gold — to no avail. Several expeditions in the 1850s came home empty-handed. So Peg Leg retired to a life of drinking and schmoozing, embroidering his tale ever more extravagantly with each passing season. The story of Peg Leg's gold spread throughout the West. As the years passed, hundreds of men wasted the better part of their lives searching for the elusive treasure, but all they ever came back with was more tall tales. This monument marks the approximate site of Peg Leg's supposed discovery. A sign at the site encourages seekers to add rocks to the pile that constitutes the focal point of the monument. On the first Saturday in April (or a week earlier if Easter falls on the first Sunday in April), fibbers convene here from all points for the Peg Leg Liars' Contest, to spin the least believable mining-related tales they can concoct.
Palm Springs Area
Browse the bronto's bowels.
Dinosaur Delights: 50800 Seminole Drive, at Main Street, north of Highway 10, Cabazon; open daily 9:00 A.M.–7:00 P.M. (closing time varies). (909) 849-8309. Wheel Inn: 50900 Seminole Drive; open daily 24 hours. (909) 849-7012.
Claude Bell had big, big dreams when he purchased around seventy-five acres of desert and opened his Wheel Inn coffee shop in 1958. In 1964 he started building a big hollow steel-and-concrete brontosaurus right nearby, air-conditioned and actually larger than life. When that was done he started building a fifty-five-foot-tall Tyrannosaurus rex to keep it company. But Bell died before this second beast was completed. Perhaps you saw the enormous pair in Pee-Wee's Big Adventure, National Lampoon's Vacation, or in many a music video. While you cannot enter the T. rex, a gift shop thrives in the belly of its long-tailed companion — which is, to be hairsplittingly precise, an apatosaurus. Peek at the desert through portholes in the animal's flank and peruse saurian-themed T-shirts, magnets, cards, novelties, rocks, fossils, jewelry, and educational toys.
The Cabazon dinosaurs
Palm Springs's Walk of Stars
Like Hollywood's, but hotter.
Along Palm Canyon Drive, downtown Palm Springs.
Many a Hollywood sun worshipper has been lured out here to the desert. Palm Springs gloats over this, and manifests its gloating with star shapes set into the sidewalk. Sound familiar? On the town's main shopping drag this Walk of Stars immortalizes Bob Hope, Frank Sinatra, Sophia Loren, Ginger Rogers, and many others.
Where Churchill indulged.
257 S. Patencio Road, just south of Palm Springs Desert Museum, at the far western edge of Palm Springs. (760) 864-6411.
Occupying two villas tucked against a mountainside, this romantic retreat is so popular that at last report Brad Pitt had called repeatedly in search of lodgings but found the place fully booked every time. The whitewashed 1924 Moroccan- style villa was home to Scots artist Gordon Coutts, who was nostalgic for days spent in Tangier. One early visitor was Winston Churchill, who took advantage of its serene surroundings to practice his hobby, painting. The art studio he enjoyed is now outfitted as a guest suite. Formerly owned by early screen star J. Carol Nash, the adjacent Mediterranean-style villa boasts a mosaicked pool. Elisabeth Shue has been spotted here, as have Laura Dern, Randy Quaid, Christina Applegate, and many other notables. Keep trying, Brad. (Continues...)
Excerpted from California Babylon by Kristan Lawson, Anneli Rufus. Copyright © 2000 Kristan Lawson and Anneli Rufus. Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
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