Michael Portillo arrives in Los Angeles and heads for the Warner Brothers studio, founded on Sunset Boulevard at the same time as his Appleton's guide was published.
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I have crossed the Atlantic to ride the railroads of North America,
with my faithful Appleton's Guide!
Published in the late 19th century,
it will direct me to everything that's novel, beautiful,
memorable and curious
in the United States.
As I travel through this vast continent,
I'll discover gold and silver,
movies and microchips,
oil and oranges,
and learn how America's most famous railroad
conquered the wild landscapes of the west.
My journey has brought me to southern California.
The major cities of this state were named in Spanish on Catholic themes.
I will soon arrive in the City of the Angels,
where many a young actor prayed miraculously
to be raised to the level of the stars.
I will be interested to see whether in this city of the freeway,
there's a future for the railway.
I'm making a 1,000-mile trip from
Reno, Nevada, through California,
to San Diego, just short of
the Mexican border.
This time, I'm in the home of the movies, Los Angeles.
I'll travel to the north of the city,
to the neighbourhoods of Van Nuys and San Marino,
and visit an iconic studio at Burbank.
I'll head downtown to Wilshire Boulevard,
before finishing on the boardwalk at Venice Beach.
On my travels, I bring Christmas to LA...
-Pretty cool, huh?
-Ha! It's cool, indeed!
..I discover the Metro's plan to tempt Angelenos from their cars...
You're going to be able to go from downtown to Westside in 25 minutes -
that's unheard of during the rush-hour period.
..and become an all-action Hollywood hero.
Appleton's confirms that Los Angeles was settled
by the Spaniards in 1780,
and by 1890, the population was 50,000,
and the adobe buildings of which it was originally composed
are fast giving way to larger and more imposing structures.
And that process was accelerated,
as homes were built for movie moguls and matinee idols.
Whether you love it or hate it,
Hollywood has given a common culture to the world.
People in every country, especially the young, share icons and heroes,
from Mickey Mouse to Wonder Woman,
from Marilyn Monroe to Tom Cruise.
How absolutely magnificent!
I've been looking forward to Los Angeles' Union Station.
It's built in Art Deco and Mission Revival style,
which means you get travertine marble and you get terracotta,
and you get these hints of the Mexican and Spanish worlds.
It was opened in 1939, really the last of the great railroad stations
of the United States,
and from here, the stars would travel on
the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railway to Chicago,
their gateway to the east.
Los Angeles is the second-biggest city in the United States.
From golden beaches to palm-lined boulevards,
jam-packed freeways to teeming tourist hot spots,
Greater Los Angeles is in every way larger than life.
On the Hollywood Walk of Fame,
more than 2,500 stars have been tattooed into the sidewalk
to honour the greats from the world of entertainment.
How are you doing?
I'm just hanging out here - do you know what I mean?
Why are you dressed as Spider-Man, Spider-Man?
Erm... Besides fighting crime, you mean?
Yeah, yeah, besides that, yeah.
I'm here to have a good time - do you know what I mean?
It's hard to get your head around the sheer scale of this conurbation.
The metropolitan region is one of the largest in the world,
with a population of over 18 million,
and one of LA's tallest skyscrapers promises
an impressive bird's-eye view.
Very tall buildings have a magnetic attraction to me,
and I've been zoomed to the top... LIFT CHIMES
..but I have a feeling I'll soon be on the slide.
I can just about make out the smudge of the ocean there,
and the high-rise buildings I think are Beverly Hills
and the mountains beyond,
and, of course, pointing to each one, fingers of freeway.
Here on the 70th floor, 1,000 feet up, is the Skyslide,
offering thrill-seekers a unique way to see the city.
Hello! My name is Michael. What's yours?
Nice to meet you. My name is Ellen.
-It's very nice to meet you.
-Whoa, this is exciting.
-I go down there, do I?
Push forward, and you're good to go!
And I'll see north-east Los Angeles shooting by the window, will I?
-Yes, you will!
Good fun. Not easy to be elegant, but good fun!
I'm taking the Metrolink north to the neighbourhood of Van Nuys.
Along with its film stars,
Los Angeles is known for its year-round sunshine,
so keeping cool has long been big business.
The Union Ice Company is the oldest ice-producer in California.
It's a warm late summer's day in Los Angeles,
but I've brought a coat,
because I thought there might be a cold snap.
Pete De Grandis is the senior plant manager.
-Hello, Pete. I'm Michael.
-Michael, nice to meet you.
Looks like we're in an ice world, a winter wonderland here.
You and I take it for granted that we can manufacture ice at will,
but in the 19th century, when they needed ice, what did they do?
Originally it was transported from the east coast, as far as Boston,
where it was cold enough.
The problem was, the cars themselves,
they weren't refrigerated, so the weight that
they originally started with wasn't the same once they
reached the west coast.
What they eventually did was find lakes in the Sierras or in Alaska -
that was the origins, really,
of the ice industry on the western United States.
So, what they would do is start sawing or cutting big sections
out of the lakes.
And then at more of a local level,
you had the ice man that would load up blocks of ice
in his horse-drawn carriage and deliver it to the houses.
Union Ice was founded in 1882 by Edward W Hopkins,
nephew of Mark Hopkins,
one of the Central Pacific Railroad's Big Four.
By the late 1880s,
there were more than 200 commercial ice-making companies
in the United States and, thanks to mechanical refrigeration,
the business grew rapidly.
Here, they now sell an extraordinary 86,000 tonnes of ice annually.
Michael Munn oversees production at the factory.
Hi, Mike. Good to see you. What goes on in this huge room?
Here is where we produce our 300-pound block ice.
It's basically dropped down into a huge brine tank
with extremely cold water.
We mix it with salt so that the water doesn't freeze,
and basically it freezes the blocks.
300-pound blocks of ice - who wants blocks that big?
We'll do movie studios. We'll do television shows.
We have a lot of cement companies that use it
to cool down the cement, as well.
The ice blocks are lowered into a dip tank of lukewarm water to
It's just like trying to get the ice out of a container
-in your freezer - you've got to loosen the edges.
We're getting an idea now of the size of these 300-pound blocks.
How many did you produce there?
-12, that's 3,600.
-That's heading for two tonnes.
Very close to two tonnes.
Amazing. This is, if I may so, ice of a titanic proportion.
And ice isn't the company's only frozen product.
This is our snow maker,
and basically what we have is a machine here that will take
a 300-pound block of ice and literally pulverise it down to snow.
This would be used to snow down boltholes for the fish industry
or train cars for vegetables.
As time went on, the special effects industry, they would bring us to,
let's say, the backlot of one of the major studios,
and we would just cover down New York Street, for example.
What about having instant Christmas, like, now?
That's something that's really gotten big, and especially in LA.
So, you have a holiday party,
and we'll come in and cover your front yard.
-That's a big hit.
-Can we make it Christmas just now, you and I?
Let's do it - as long as you're going to hold on to the hose.
-I'll hold on to the hose.
Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow!
MUSIC: We Wish You A Merry Christmas
-This is pretty cool, huh?
-Ha! It's cool, indeed!
I'm heading east to San Marino in Los Angeles County
to uncover the legacy of one of the city's best-known businessmen
This is such a Los Angeles scene.
The rail tracks are threaded between 12 lanes of freeway,
and as you stand on the platform, the noise is deafening!
In more peaceful and leafy surroundings, a mile south,
lies the Huntington - a cultural research and educational centre
founded in 1919 by Henry E Huntington.
It includes one of the finest research libraries in the world,
with a collection of more than 420,000 rare books,
three galleries of European and American art, and more than a dozen
Jim Folsom is one of the directors.
Jim, on my travels, I came across Collis Huntington,
who was one of the Big Four
who developed the Central Pacific Railroad -
is Henry Huntington related?
Huntington's father and Collis were brothers,
so he was Huntingdon's uncle.
You might say that he became his protege.
Certainly Huntington relied on his nephew to follow through
with projects around the country.
When Collis died, he left a portion of his estate to Henry.
Huntington moved here in 1903.
With interests spanning real estate, utilities and electric streetcars,
he became the de facto metropolitan planner for Greater Los Angeles.
He built trolley lines, so dictating the layout of many neighbourhoods.
In a period of 20 years, he did an amazing amount of things -
not only building this estate and his collections,
but building the largest urban railway in the country,
and essentially being responsible for the creation of
17 different towns in southern California,
practically inventing the suburbs.
Jim, it seems to me an unusual combination,
a man who's interested in logistics and infrastructure, and collecting.
Quite a fellow.
I think so, and I think that the library, the gardens,
the art collections, the cities established, the roads,
those were all part of a single vision for
what southern California might be.
At the age of 60, Henry Huntington retired to
devote his time to building his collections.
Today, 750,000 people visit the Huntington each year.
Jim is in charge of the estate's botanical gardens,
including this display of over 5,000 different cacti
and succulent plants.
Jim, as a layman, I'm astonished at how beautiful
a desert garden can be.
Did Henry Huntington appreciate how beautiful it could be?
Not at first.
-Huntington was not especially
supportive of the idea of a cactus garden.
He had had bad experiences with the railroad,
building it through desert regions,
but William Hertrich, Huntington's landscape gardener,
convinced him that the soil on this slope, which is an earthquake fault,
is so rocky and unuseful for general horticulture
that this would be the perfect place for a collection of cacti.
And in these gardens today,
you are engaged in serious botanical research?
We intend to take this collection and use it to establish real,
sustainable conservation techniques that can be used around the world.
Let me show you some of the kinds of things we do.
So, one of our practices is to test the viability of desert plant seed
after having been stored in liquid nitrogen.
That means running a viability test on the seed beforehand,
plunging them in liquid nitrogen at minus 196,
and then running a second test to see if they germinate.
If you can get plant tissue into liquid nitrogen
and then out, recover it,
you can leave it there hundreds of years.
-It's a permanent form of storage.
So here, for example, we have seed of agaves, and we're finding that
80% of the species can take that incredible treatment.
-So, some of the ones in the collection
have not been tested, including this one.
To do that, we just go out into the garden and collect seed.
Give it a shake...
-It's raining down on us, and into the sheet!
We've got a good collection there, Jim.
And if they survive this incredibly low temperature in liquid nitrogen,
what is the significance of that?
There is a huge, huge extinction crisis looming,
and it's going to happen perhaps even in our lifetime.
But these, then, might survive whatever?
We will have, in a very small way, hedged our bets.
As I make my way back into the city, the famed evening rush hour begins,
and dusk settles on my first day in Tinseltown.
This morning, at downtown Pershing Square,
I'm taking the Red Line north to explore the roots of
a business that would transform this city.
At the turn of the 20th century, the population was around 100,000,
but within three decades, it had grown to over 1 million,
as aspiring actors, producers, directors and technicians
flocked here to follow their dreams.
And so, I arrive in Hollywood, not on my push-bike,
like so many aspiring singers, actors and dancers in the past,
not in a limousine, like a studio owner,
but by metro, like a train-obsessed British tourist.
This train's final destination is North Hollywood Station.
About three miles on, in Burbank, lies Warner Bros Studios.
Built in 1926, it stretches over 110 acres
and has been the location for more than 100 feature films,
from Casablanca to La La Land.
I've just emerged from the New York subway,
but there are no trains down there.
And this... HOLLOW KNOCKING
..is just a bit of carpentry.
And this isn't New York City,
because we are in a world of make-believe.
We are in Hollywood!
John Kourounis is a studio guide.
So, John, surrounded by production trucks as we are,
this is New York City.
-And behind me...?
How was this area of Hollywood first settled?
Well, originally, you had Harvey and Daeida Henderson Wilcox,
who travelled here from Topeka
on the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railway.
He was a shoemaker turned real estate agent,
and he decided to buy her favourite plot for 150 an acre,
and tried his hand at farming,
because it was a fig and apricot orchard,
but it wasn't a success,
so he started to sell off the land at 1,000 a plot,
and his wife Ida invented the name Hollywood.
And what attracted the film industry here?
The film industry had started on the east coast,
and Thomas Edison, who owned the patents on so much of the technology
that was being used to make film,
he had created the Motion Picture Patents Company, or the Trust.
So, people realised that, with his attempt to monopolise
the film industry, they had to get away,
so people flee west,
and they kind of landed in Los Angeles
because the weather was perfect.
You could have a factory, you could have a downtown, you had a beach,
and it was all within a day's reach for filming.
It was very conducive for film.
In 1911, the first studio opened on Sunset Boulevard,
and soon around 20 companies were producing films here.
The Warner Bros - Harry, Jack, Sam and Albert -
started out as movie projectionists and distributors in Ohio
and Pennsylvania, but then moved into movies and headed west,
setting up Warner Bros Pictures in 1923.
So, they came out to Los Angeles to establish their first studio in
Hollywood, and eventually, we got this studio after we made
a 1927 picture called The Jazz Singer.
The first talkie?
That's exactly right.
You have other studios that just have catalogues of silent film,
and starting to worry that if this thing takes off,
what are we going to do?
So, everybody starts to pass it off as a flash in the pan,
and it's not going to last.
I think somebody was quoted saying,
"People don't care to hear actors speak."
But the movie is such a success that, overnight,
it turns the Warner Bros from a struggling studio
to a top-tier studio.
In this world of fantasy, I feel that anything could happen.
Now, getting behind the scenes of an action movie will be my next stunt.
Banzai Vitale trains stunt doubles to stand in for Hollywood A-listers
at the Stunt Performers Academy.
Hey, Banzai. I'm Michael!
Hey, Michael. How are you?
Looks like I arrived at a violent moment.
A violent moment - always a violent moment.
You're rehearsing a fight scene.
We're rehearsing a fight scene for you.
-Hey, how are you doing?
-Great to see you.
-So, what's made you interested in going into stunt performing in the movies?
For me, I love learning and training,
and the adrenaline and excitement for that is just...
And you have to be, do you not, very physically fit to do this?
Yeah, I was, like, an athlete my entire life growing up,
and all I loved was, like, being active
and after graduating college,
I kind of realised a nine-to-five probably wouldn't work for me.
-Yes, sir, Michael.
..any chance of creating some illusions today?
Let's do it.
The camera can't see depth, right?
So, basically, if I keep the camera there and I come here,
and I'm going to throw her a right cross, right,
and she reacts...
Look at the distance we have here.
You're a mile away!
-A mile away!
-Let me try punching Courtney now.
OK, so go ahead and try that, and just remember, don't...
There you go. Good.
SHE SCREAMS, GUNFIRE
And cut! Yeah!
-Michael's a hero!
I'm heading back into downtown LA on the Metro's Red Line,
changing at Wilshire and Vermont.
I've always thought of Los Angeles as the ultimate car city,
without much public transport, at least by rail,
and for much of the 20th century, that was true,
but from about the 1990s, billions of dollars have been spent,
both local and federal, to create this Metro system,
which is now the third-largest in the United States
after New York City and Chicago.
Now arriving at Wilshire/Western Station.
Here on Wilshire Boulevard,
they're engaged on a 6.3 billion project to extend the service west.
With seven new stations,
they estimate it will be used by 49,000 commuters.
Dave Sotero is one of LA Metro's managers.
Dave, this is an extraordinarily impressive construction site.
How long has it taken you to do this?
We started construction in 2015,
so this is only two years' worth of work.
And is it possible to go down?
Sure, I'll be glad to show you.
This is the first phase of the Purple Line extension.
It's one of only two underground routes on the six-line Metro system.
So, Dave, a very beautiful, very well-engineered station box -
what sort of dimensions?
This station is 900 feet long, 60 feet wide and 65 feet deep so far.
What we're doing now is we're excavating the soil -
they call it muck.
We're excavating upwards of 200,000 cubic yards of muck
in this one station alone.
So, the tunnel boring machine will be lowered into here
and will then set off down its tunnels?
Absolutely. This is the first phase,
and this is the station that is the most complete so far.
And this is part of a project of what length?
This is a nine-mile subway extension.
It was critically needed to connect downtown Los Angeles with
the Westside, two of the most dense areas in Los Angeles County.
You're going to be able to go from downtown to Westside in 25 minutes -
that's unheard of during the rush-hour period.
I think a lot of people will be surprised that there is a Metro
in Los Angeles, because we think of this as being the city
where a car is needed.
We've been known as the car capital of the world,
but we want to change that.
Right now, we are engaged in a transportation revolution.
In the last quarter century,
we've built 105 miles into Los Angeles County.
We have local sales tax funding that will enable us to build
40 transportation projects in the next 40 years.
Are you persuading Angelenos to abandon their cars?
Well, it's a daily struggle,
but I think, with the more options that we provide the public
and the better connections we make for them to reach transit,
we're going to see a groundswell of new ridership on the system.
How long before I see a train swishing through this station?
We plan to finish this by 2024.
I shall be back for the opening.
Absolutely. We'll be glad to have you.
To experience LA at its most colourful,
and for a spot of people watching,
there's really only one place to head.
Venice Beach is wonderfully zany, a magnet for the young -
for skateboarders, for rollerbladers,
for artists, for eccentrics,
and all enveloped in a cloud of pot smoke.
In many places, skateboarders are considered a nuisance,
creating mayhem in public places.
Not in Venice Beach -
they've created a kind of Olympic course for them,
and the skills on display are amazing!
Look at this guy! Hey, man, let me help you.
Oh, yeah, yeah.
MICHAEL LAUGHS Oh, thank you, thank you!
You have a lovely coat!
Thank you very much indeed.
Are you a visitor to Venice Beach?
No, I am a resident.
It's an amazing place, isn't it?
It's great, man.
It's still the melting pot of LA.
-What are you shooting?
-Erm, I'm a livestreamer.
-What does that mean?
-So, I livestream on YouTube.
I have all these people talking to me right now.
It's kind of... It's like...almost like a daily vlog but live,
so, like, they, like, interact with you.
-Somebody got it?
-Yeah, somebody got it.
-Oh, that's good.
Listen, it was nice to talk to you.
-Yeah, nice to talk to you, too.
Why has California been such an economic success
compared with Spain's other former colonies in the Americas?
I think because the United States' federal government provided such
It gave the railroads land,
not only to build their tracks but also to sell on to settlers.
It allowed prospectors to keep the gold and silver that they found.
And people like Harvey and Daeida Henderson Wilcox could simply
get off the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railway
and found a community like Hollywood.
For Californians, self-reliance and risk-taking are in the DNA.
Next time, I discover what put the zest into California's economy...
Citrus fruit, really, Michael,
became THE source of wealth in the early 20th century for California.
..attempt to create a local delicacy...
You did very well, as a first time.
It could easily be my last.
..and take to the beach to indulge my artistic side.
MICHAEL CHUCKLES I didn't realise how well I was doing!
Armed with his Appleton's guide to the United States, Michael Portillo arrives in Los Angeles to delight in the 'city of dreams', from its glorious Union Station to its golden beaches and palm-lined boulevards. Like many a Hollywood hopeful before him, Michael heads for the Warner Brothers studio, founded on Sunset Boulevard at the time of his Appleton's, with dreams of stardom ahead. His role as a fearless all-action hero is assured. For the view from the top he takes the Skyslide from the 70th floor of one of LA's tallest buildings before striding out on the Walk of Fame.
At the pioneering 19th-century Union Ice company, Michael discovers how Californians have kept their cool. He sees how ice blocks of titanic proportions are made and brings Christmas to LA with a giant snowmaker. Outside the city, Michael heads for San Marino to visit The Huntington, a cultural and research centre with fine libraries, art galleries and more than a dozen botanical gardens. In the cactus garden, Michael discovers more about the founder, nephew of a railroad baron and himself a pioneer of street cars and trolleys. Michael explores the city's latest initiative to break the legendary rush hour gridlock on Los Angeles freeways - a rail link with seven new stations on the LA metro.