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  • Writer's pictureHank Kilgore

Lost Angeles - Exploring LA During the COVID-19 Pandemic



Preface


It’s Saturday, April 18, 2020, and I’m lying awake at two in the morning. I suppose it’s technically April 19 then. With over six weeks of sheltering-at-home in Los Angeles, my sleep cycle is broken, and time has become meaningless. I haven’t seen anyone I know in well over a month. My career in film post production had just begun to take off after two years of working an assortment of odd jobs before the COVID-19 outbreak. This momentum had come to a grinding halt, however, when Hollywood shut down. With no family in the city, roommates or work, I'm left alone with only my thoughts. Yikes. Before the pandemic, the mundane tasks associated with the “real” world kept me distracted from my own mind’s bombardments. There are no distractions now, and I find it hard to fall asleep.


I’m lying in bed listening to a story through the Calm app on my phone. The story is about a man exploring Paris during the rain. It was a wonderful, relaxing tale that inspired my already aching desire to travel. I’ve been lucky enough to explore the world a fair bit in my time, but I want more. Unfortunately, traveling to other countries right now isn’t the brightest idea, so I continue to lie in bed, aimlessly wandering in my mind, wishing for sleep to take me to the next empty day. I imagine the adventures I will take after a coronavirus vaccine is found and the economy returns to some form of normalcy. Then it hits me: I’m living in one of the most densely-populated cities in America, and almost everyone is indoors. What does that look like? As I finally start to fall asleep, I feel the slightest sense of excitement.


Here is where I welcome you, reader. For one week, I explored and photographed an isolated Los Angeles. It was exciting, unbelievable, heartbreaking and awe-inspiring. For those of you who have not visited Los Angeles before, the most important thing I can stress is the absolute lack of humans. The streets and sidewalks are almost aways packed with people and vehicles. The fact I was able to capture most of these images without vehicles passing or any humans in sight continues to leave me stunned. There are 317 images split among various galleries below for you to explore. You can click through the slides with the arrows, or click the images for a full-screen experience. This journey became an exploration of the City of Angels as well as my own existence in the loneliest metropolis in the United States. Almost 4 million people live in Los Angeles, and, for the first time since its founding, the city streets were empty.


Glendale


Glendale has been my home for the past 18 months. It’s a quiet and peaceful area that remains close to Hollywood, but without all the noise. A delightfully walkable area, Glendale has never appeared too crowded, at least not when compared to the rest of Los Angeles. Walking the neighborhood during the pandemic, however, revealed just how quiet it could be. There were many times I gazed down the middle of a street without a single person in sight. No one driving. No one walking. Most of this part of the journey was left experienced between myself and the city.


There was one moment, however, walking down Brand (the boulevard where most of the restaurants and bars are) that was particularly revealing. I was photographing an empty shopping center entrance. As I turned to leave, I noticed an elderly woman standing about ten feet away from me. She wanted to continue down the sidewalk, but was waiting for me to leave. I waved, muttered an apology through my face mask and quickly moved out of her way. Though the coronavirus is manageable for me, it is far less likely for someone like her.



The Americana at Brand outdoor shopping center was disturbingly empty. Typically packed with people shopping, eating, relaxing or riding the trolley, the Americana appeared ghostly. Only a handful of people lie in the grass. The majority of shops and restaurants were shut down other than a couple take-out locations. Oddly enough, the Frank Sinatra-esque music continued to play throughout the plaza, creating an eerie disconnect in this now-desolate spot. This would prove to be a foreshadowing of what was to come for the rest of my journey.

Hollywood


The rookiest mistake I have ever made in my life was moving to Hollywood when I first moved to Los Angeles. My twelve months’ worth of nights in Hollywood were filled with the shouts of homeless men and women accompanied by the endless sirens of police vehicles and fire trucks. I’d be remiss not to include the drunken banter and exclamations of hundreds of tourists night and day. Now, during this outbreak, those same streets were silent and still.


Hollywood was where the gravity of this pandemic set in for me. Walking the streets where hundreds, if not thousands, of natives, tourists, homeless, security, police, merchants, street performers, businesspeople, transplants and more walked, now void of life, left just one word repeating in my mind: Wow. The first observation I made was that I never really saw much of the sidewalks before as they were always covered by hoards of feet. The stars along the Walk of Fame seemed to stretch forever downward along Hollywood Boulevard.



The streets were not completely empty, though it certainly was not crowded. A fair amount of cars passed by as did the occasional runner. The majority of those on the street were homeless, but even so, there were far fewer than usual. One man in a blue jacket asked me what time it was. It was 2:33 p.m., but, for some reason, I told him 2:30. He thanked me and carried on. Another man was walking towards me. A fellow photographer. As we passed, we made eye contact (our eyes being the only part of our faces revealed), nodded and carried on. A silent understanding. As I reached my destination, the TCL Chinese Theatre, I found myself awestruck. One man was playing guitar in front of the empty theatre. I had to get closer. As I crossed the street, I was, once more, awestruck because heading towards me from the other side of the street was a Postmates delivery robot with the name “Keanu” printed on the side. There I was, standing in the middle of Hollywood Boulevard in front of the Chinese Theatre with just a single street performer and a food delivery robot named Keanu. At times, reality can be more fantastical than fiction, and this was one of those moments.


Now in front of the Chinese Theatre, I looked upon the design of the building’s exterior. The plaza was roped off, but I could see the many handprints of celebrities in the cement without distraction. To see this rather cheesy attraction devoid of all the typical sightseers made the whole area feel divine and important. A true monument to the history of film. This was always a part of Hollywood I avoided. I have found the tourism and merchants along Hollywood Boulevard to be frustrating and something to see once and never again. To be fair, I am from Louisiana, and this is in no way “my” city, but to see what I have always regarded as the birthplace of my dreams so disrespected by such relentless tourism leaves a bad taste in my mouth. The man playing the guitar continued to sing and perform. I asked him if I could take his photo. He laughed and said, “I should probably put my mask up now that someone’s here!” He rolled a black mask over the lower half of his face, and even with the mask covering his mouth, I could tell he was smiling as I took his photo.



Next, I walked south along N. Highland Ave. The streets leading into the many hidden Hollywood neighborhoods were almost completely empty aside from the flocks of parked cars in front of houses. I came across a Fat Sal’s where employees of food delivery services waited to pick up their customers’ orders; customers who were safe at home. With so many people stuck inside, food delivery has exploded, but what of the safety of these workers? As I carried on through various neighborhoods, I couldn’t help but notice how many beautiful plants there were. Some households continued to keep their lawns trimmed while others let nature run its course. Hollywood proved itself to be a beautiful place in its isolation: a far cry from its typical reputation.


Meanwhile, Melrose continued this trend of wavering between peaceful and eerie emptiness. Along the hip street, shops and restaurants remained closed, albeit except for a few take-out joints. I stopped by the offices of New Republic Pictures, one of the production companies behind hits like 1917 and Rocketman, and one of the first companies I had the pleasure of interning for when I moved to this city. Bittersweet memories led to a sadness within me to see it shut down for the outbreak. Though a few walkers were occasionally spotted, the majority of people I noticed, like at Fat Sal’s before, were food delivery workers. Further east along Melrose, I came across Paramount Pictures: a studio I know all too well from my combined 19 months of working on the lot. It was sad to see its gates closed-shut. A place where hundreds are workers moved about like bees in a hive was now completely empty aside from a few security guards. Across the street, Raleigh Studios, where I had the pleasure of working in one of their sound stages, also proved to be completely closed. The film industry, like most industries, has taken a major hit from this pandemic that could take years to recover from. Hollywood is a vicious and cunning beast, but for the majority of this outbreak, that beast will hibernate until it wakes once more in a frenzy. What that will look like, I honestly do not know.


Santa Monica