Lavender, Lilacs and Larchmont … The Sunday Drive by Colleen Bennett

May 17, 2010
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White roses and a beautiful home set back on a grassy knoll.

White roses and a beautiful home set back on a grassy knoll.

I used to really know my way around Los Angeles … all the great neighborhoods, clubs, eateries, and shopping. But now that our oldest has moved to mid-city/mid-Wilshire, I’ve got an excuse to explore and get reacquainted. So this week’s Sunday drive was to Larchmont Village, Hancock Park and Windsor Square.


It actually took a Wednesday and a Sunday to complete. You can reach Larchmont by exiting Melrose off the 101 Freeway, traveling west on Melrose, then turning south on Larchmont or you could take the Western exit off the Santa Monica Freeway, head north to 3rd Ave., turn west until you reach Larchmont Blvd., then turn north. Either way, it’s about 40 miles from La Verne.


Larchmont or Larchmont Village is a quaint , very hip and friendly shopping district, really not much more than a block long (from Beverly Blvd. to First Street), which draws business from Hollywood and the Paramount Studios to the north; tony Hancock Park, from the south and west; and equally elegant and exclusive Windsor Park, where Larchmont is actually centered.


Inside Bricks and Scones.

Inside Bricks and Scones.

The Village owes much of its development to Julius La Bonte, who had sold his ironworks business in Grand Rapids, Mich., and moved to Windsor Park, where he quickly realized the area’s commercial potential with booming Hollywood just up the street and new streetcar tracks that had been installed from the Third St. line along Larchmont to Melrose Ave. With his partner R. Ransom, he built 30 stores between First St. and Beverly Blvd., including the La Bonte Building which housed his La Bonte Building & Loan Assoc. offices.


It’s been a busy hub for business and a backdrop for movies ever since. “Keystone Cops’ chases were filmed on Larchmont Blvd. and “Abbott and Costello Meet the Three Stooges” was also filmed on Larchmont Blvd. I can just hear Curly going, “Nyuk, nyuk, nyuk!”

Street scene.

Street scene.



We didn’t make it to the Sunday Farmers market on Larchmont, but you can go every Sunday from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., between 1st and Beverly. It’s supposed to be wonderful. Our first stop was at Bricks and Scones, a cozy neighborhood café that recently opened inside a beautiful brick building at 403 N. Larchmont Blvd. The scones and pastries looked beautiful and the house coffee, Intelligentsia, which I had never tried before, was rich and bold with no bitterness.  Bricks and Scones also has a great Ivy restaurant-like patio that feels very intimate and private, but is still open and airy. Inside are comfortable brown leather couches and wood tables and coffee served in ceramic mugs, not paper cups, unless it’s to go. There’s a narrow, spiral staircase that leads to an upstairs study, if you please.


You should visit Chevaliers Bookstore at 126 N. Larchmont Blvd., which recently celebrated its 70th  anniversary. When Joe Chevalier opened it in 1940, the best sellers were “The Grapes of Wrath” and “For Whom the Bells Toll.” The legendary bookstore is still young at heart, offering free story hours for children every Saturday and Sunday at 10:30 a.m.

Another gem you’ll appreciate, and my favorite stop, was the Larchmont Village Florist at 234 N. Larchmont Blvd. The arrangements and bouquets were so spectacular and stunningly beautiful and creatively arranged. On one table were assorted  vases of sweet peas clustered together in every imaginable color. Never have I seen loftier and larger petals. If you’re a lilac lover like I am, you will be blown away by the deep dark purple and milky lavender gorgeous, incredibly fragrant bouquets they had. They’re hard to find but when you do, they’re worth the price at $40 a bunch.

If your kids are with you, drop into Kicks Dole Provider at 143 N. Larchmont, where you’ll find sneakers and “kicks” so cool you’ll wonder how you ever got around town without them. The shop was an early fitness trendsetter, and by the looks of the electric orange walls and the Lacoste leather tennis shoes and custom Nike “Dunks,” Vans and Converses, well, your kids are going to owe you big time.

The sweetest-smelling sweet peas.

The sweetest-smelling sweet peas.

Staying on the fashion trail, poke into Picket Fences at 214 Larchmont, a Larchmont Village hot spot since 1996, which looks like a general store where you’d expect to find barrels of saltwater taffy and red wagons, except that it’s stocked with all the designer duds from Diane Von Furstenburg, Rory Beca, Vince, Ella Moss and Cynthia Vincent, etc.

Larchmont will appeal not only to the material-minded, but also to your physical (Yoga Works, 230 ½ Larchmont Blvd. and Purely Pilates, 403 N. Larchmont Blvd.) and spiritual sides (Spirtuali, 120 North Larchmont Blvd.), a New Age clothing boutique that offers an impressive selection of clothes, jewelry, CDs and books to nourish your mind, body and soul.

There’s no shortage of inviting restaurants. We sampled a few, ordering an item or two off the menu to try to capture the flavor and essence of each eatery before moving on.

Our first stop was the Village Pizzeria at 131 North Larchmont Blvd., where we tried a small hand-spun garlic and clam pizza, one of the recommended house favorites, which came with a slightly charred chewy crust. It was interesting, very garlicky and I probably wouldn’t order it again.

When I worked in Hollywood in the ’70s, I used to eat at Chan Dara, a well-known Thai restaurant on Cahuenga Blvd and after all these years I never knew there was a second Chan Dara, at 310 N. Larchmont. So, of course, I was excited to see if it was as good as I remembered. Peter ordered two appetizers for some reason, Thai Toast, which is deep fried toast spread with ground pork and shrimp, and Mee Krob, a traditional dish of sweet-tangy crisp noodles with shrimp and tofu. The Mee Krob looked and even tasted a little like a marshmallow Rice Krispies fish cake … ick. Ryan had the Thai barbecue chicken lunch, which was flavorful, but he didn’t like the bone in chicken. I ordered the eggplant with chili basil, and it was incredible. No disappointment for me.0065

Our metered parking space was running low, and we still wanted to head back down the street to the try the highly rated Crumbs Bakery at 216 N. Larchmont Blvd. Peter has an insatiable sweet tooth so our trips without fail lead us to a sweetery of some kind. For a little background, you probably know that the cupcake wars in Los Angeles have been raging for quite some time. Included in any discussion of the top cupcake shops, such as Sprinkles, Cupcakery, Dots, and Auntie Em’s Kitchen, is Crumbs, which first opened its doors in March of 2003 on the Upper West Side of Manhattan. This cupcake oasis offers about 50 different varieties. Peter steered away from the really wild and decadent options, like an Oreo, S’mores, Banana Split, Tiramisu, Cotton Candy or Coffee Toffee, and ordered a simple chocolate cupcake with chocolate butter cream frosting and a chocolate mousse center. It was disappointingly dry and dull, surprisingly. 

Larchmont Village Wine Spirits & Cheese, across the street, is a boulevard institution famous for its great deli and makes delicious sandwiches. Because it was closed on Sunday, we revisited mid-week and tried the Soppressata Salami sandwich with Spanish manchego cheese, mixed greens, sundried tomato spread, extra virgin olive oil and balsamic vinegar. I swear they make the sandwiches in about 15 seconds … slice, slap and wrap! … Never seen anything like it! But with the lunch line they have, you’re glad to see them move so fast.

020We set out to walk in a few of the beautiful surrounding neighborhoods filled with Craftsmans, Tudors, California bungalows, Spanish, Colonial and traditional homes, downstream from the famous Hollywood sign that originally read “HOLLYWOODLAND,” when the sign was erected in 1923 to promote a new housing development in the hills above the Hollywood district.

We wandered into an open house on Plymouth. It was over-priced, had no charm, wavy wood floors, tasteless renovations and awful interior wall colors. The best thing about this house, was the house next door, which I didn’t even see and maybe an original interior door. Listed high at $2.5 million, it made me really appreciate and love my house, one-third the size. What’s amazing about so much of that area is the contagious spread of white wild rose bushes, adorning almost every home on every street.

Ducks seen wallowing in the water on Windsor.

Ducks seen wallowing in the water on Windsor Blvd.


Next time I’ll bring my pups and spend most of my time walking and gawking, have a cup of coffee at Bricks and Scones and a half-sandwich at the Larchmont Village sandwich place.

Reported May 17, 2010

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