There's Rodeo Drive and Santa Monica Boulevard, but few L.A. drags stir pop culture's raucous imagination like the Sunset Strip, the onetime lawless dirt road of speakeasies and gambling joints that now is a glitzy commercial corridor of rollicking clubs and cinematic haunts.
Problem is, hardly anyone in sprawling Los Angeles knows exactly where the Sunset Strip begins and ends anymore, aside from somewhere along Sunset Boulevard, the locale for many a movie and TV show.
So, in this land where marquee claims are serious business, the 19-year-old city of West Hollywood, Calif., has declared itself the sole home to a strip that often is the setting for celebrity mischief during a night about town.
That proclamation has left many tourists and locals scratching their coiffures, especially in the more established Los Angeles community of Hollywood.
Up and down West Hollywood's 1.7-mile segment of Sunset Boulevard are 120 streetlight banners, put up about a month ago, asserting "Sunset Strip -- Only in West Hollywood." Sunset Boulevard runs more than 20 miles from downtown L.A. to the ocean; the Strip is the portion that runs through West Hollywood, adjacent to Hollywood, according to West Hollywood city fathers.
To some, such billing is crass grandstanding even for the nation's entertainment hub. But to Brad Burlingame, president of West Hollywood Convention and Visitors Bureau, it's a matter of historical fact -- and good business.
"The history of the Sunset Strip is pretty simple," Burlingame said. "In the 1920s, West Hollywood was not part of the city of Los Angeles. Never was. It was unincorporated land that was part of the county.
"The strip or the road was basically a dusty farm road connecting Hollywood to Beverly Hills," he said. "Over the years, because of the popularity of the Sunset Strip, people have referred to the Sunset Strip other than as West Hollywood, like Los Angeles, Hollywood and even Beverly Hills. That can be frustrating. It's an effort to brand the Sunset Strip and its association with West Hollywood."
For the many landmarks on the boulevard, West Hollywood's claim threatens a loss of status, something Hollywood doesn't take lightly.
"I think they could have come up with a better name for it," said Leron Gubler, president of the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce. "They could have said, 'West Hollywood -- the Home of the Sunset Strip.' "
No one is planning any lawsuits, but owners of hot nightspots have complained angrily to West Hollywood business leaders about their name grab.
"I absolutely believed it was outrageous. It was crazy," said Jamie Masada, founder and owner of the Laugh Factory, a Hollywood comedy club. His 25-year-old club has billed itself as being right on the Sunset Strip but, according to West Hollywood's definition, it's a pretender by a block or two. Before the club's creation 25 years ago, comic Groucho Marx led brainstorming sessions in the building, using an address of 8001 Sunset Strip, Hollywood, Masada said.
"They're trying to do something that is not theirs," Masada said. "I'm really predicting that West Hollywood is going to claim that they're the real Hollywood, and that Hollywood is East Hollywood."
In response to Masada, Burlingame said, "He's a good guy and I actually told him, 'Hey, if you want to keep using the Sunset Strip, go right ahead. This is not an effort to create litigious situations.' "
Sunset Boulevard's central portions undulate with curves and hills as it rises above the Los Angeles basin and into the steep foothills of the Santa Monica Mountains. As it passes Beverly Hills and the UCLA campus, the boulevard becomes a lush residential corridor of gated mansions.
The boulevard and its famous segment, the Strip, have been at the center of many entertainment productions, including the 1950s-60s television show "77 Sunset Strip" and the 1950 film "Sunset Boulevard." More recent movies such as "Almost Famous," "L.A. Confidential" and "Lethal Weapon" have been shot partly on the strip. "Ocean's Twelve," which did filming in the Chicago area earlier this summer, is filming now at the Standard Hotel on the Sunset Strip, Burlingame said.
The boulevard has been home to stars such as John Wayne and Marilyn Monroe, and it was where actor River Phoenix died outside a nightspot in 1993. And comedian John Belushi died of a drug overdose in 1982 at the Chateau Marmont, an upscale hotel.
News reports have said the hotel was on the Strip, but under West Hollywood's worldview, it's an outsider by a stone's throw.
Across the street from the Chateau Marmont, newsstand clerk Chris Chang, 22, sat recently under an umbrella right on the West Hollywood-Los Angeles line, tapping his black combat boots on a tabletop to the tunes of Megadeth's "Tornado of Souls." A parapet across from him stating "Welcome to West Hollywood" showed he was straddling the border.
But the ponytailed Chang hardly rides the fence on the matter of where lies the real strip. He agrees that West Hollywood and its music venues are its real heart.
"There's a lot of nice places, but there's trashy places too. There are strip clubs in West Hollywood," Chang added, pointing to one such joint a block away.
Farther down the strip, two brothers from Venezuela were strolling through West Hollywood, in awe of the luxury sports cars, provocative billboards for women's underwear and the noisy vibrancy of commerce. The brothers bore names evocative of a Gabriel Garcia Marquez novel: Simon Octavio Echeto, 22, and Simon Ernesto Echeto, 19, named after their father, Simon Octavio.
The brothers didn't care where the real strip lay. They were enamored of the boulevard's upscale boutiques and mansions during their walk from Los Angeles to West Hollywood to Beverly Hills.
"Look, that's a beautiful car that I've never seen in my life," Simon Ernesto said, pointing to a silver Corvette convertible.
"It's really like it is in the movies," Simon Octavio added. "You have all kinds of people with tattoos and piercings and people dressed in suits. You have a rainbow of people."