Los Angeles Tours: As Much Rubble as Tinsel Sightseeing in City of Stars Now Includes the Unglamorous - Homes Destroyed by Natural Disasters

Article excerpt

The drive through the loping Santa Monica Mountains is breathtaking. The sky is silky and cloudless, the view round the curves cut into the rock is of scruffy pines anchored in loose soil.

Around the bend, signs of civilization reemerge. Shops and homes cluster near the Pacific Coastal Highway. But those worth noting lie in the distance. "That," points our guide, "is where Johnny Carson and Barbara Streisand live." All eyes in the Toyota Land Cruiser crane to the right to see the shapes and sizes, heights and colors, degrees of grandiose and gaudy.

This is, after all, L.A.

But to our left is where the Hollywood rich and famous used to live. There, on the top of a slope, easily missed while speeding down the highway, stand naked brick chimneys, with no roofs or walls to clutter the gaping distances between them. They are what's left of the homes burned in a blaze in the spring of 1994.

Los Angeles has long been a city of dreams. It's still a place where pools are as common as garages, guacamole is a staple at McDonald's, and waiters and waitresses are one-call away from see their name on a marquee.

But the fires that followed the mudslides that followed the earthquake last year have left grimy fingerprints on the easy-living lifestyle of Southern California. And that, in turn, has produced a new map of must-sees for visitors.

Disaster-viewing has become as much a part of the unofficial Los Angeles tour as star gazing. Along with trips to Rodeo Drive, Melrose, Bel-Air, and Sunset Boulevard, locals take tourists to see the scenes where man and nature have tussled, and often, nature has won.

Just up the PCH, as locals affectionately call this freeway, mangled steel and broken chunks of concrete still perch on the mountainsides. …