I Found My Dream Apartment in L.A.’s Dumbest Neighborhood

I Found My Dream Apartment in L.A.’s Dumbest Neighborhood

The trade-off for living in the historic Villa Bonita was being a few blocks from the chaos of Hollywood Boulevard—knockoff superheroes and all.
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Welcome to You Lived Where?—a series about compromise, creativity, and the places people have called home.

I never wanted to live in Los Angeles, but I did want to work there. I’m a comedian, and after years of hashtag hustle and hashtag grind in the New York and Philadelphia stand-up comedy scenes, in late 2016 I finally achieved my ultimate goal: a TV writing job. But getting that job meant relocating, within one week, to a city I’d only ever visited once and had not particularly enjoyed.

For the first year I landed in Echo Park, which is on L.A.’s Eastside and has become just as gentrified and hipster-trendy as the Silver Lakes and Williamsburgs of the world. It’s probably the nicest neighborhood I’ve ever lived in, and my building was pretty ideally located: within walking distance of restaurants and grocery stores on Sunset Boulevard, but secluded high up in the hilly streets, and minutes away from hiking in Elysian Park. The apartment itself, however, was nothing special. When I first went to look at it, I was so wowed by all the space compared to the studios and one-bedrooms I’d lived in on the East Coast that I completely missed strange details that would eventually drive me crazy, like the kitchen cabinets sloppily painted a depressing dark brown and the weird, in no way structural faux-Roman columns in the corners of the living room. (Who put those there? Why??)

That first year was rough. I loved my job, but I didn’t feel remotely settled or comfortable on the West Coast, and I couldn’t imagine L.A. ever being a city that would feel like home. Plus, those columns were really getting to me. So when my lease was coming up, I decided I needed a change of scenery, even if it meant leaving my bougie neighborhood. And I quickly learned that it would definitely mean leaving my bougie neighborhood, because I’d apparently really lucked out with the $1,700 rent on that ’90s-meets-Pantheon one bedroom. (Not exactly cheap, but cheap for L.A.) After not much luck scrolling the go-to apartment search sites like Apartments.com and Westside Rentals, a friend recommended I try Craigslist. I was extremely skeptical at first, but it turns out that in L.A., Craigslist is actually a legit source for finding an affordable apartment and not just a good way to get murdered trying to buy a used couch. That turned out to be how I found a really fantastic, reasonably priced apartment that to this day is my favorite place I’ve ever lived.

The photos in the listing didn’t immediately blow me away—they were dark, and didn’t capture a lot of the apartment’s best details. But when I got there, I fell in love before I even walked in the door. Villa Bonita, as it’s called, is a seven-floor Spanish Colonial Revival built in 1929 for formative Hollywood filmmaker Cecil B. DeMille’s cast and crew members, and now a Los Angeles Historic-Cultural Monument. Over the years it’s been home to all sorts of artists and creative types, including Errol Flynn and Francis Ford Coppola. It sits behind an iron front gate leading into a lush little courtyard. Ivy crawls all the way up the building, framing windows and winding around fire escapes.

Inside, the vibe is what I’d call Old Hollywood meets Disney’s Haunted Mansion: fancy foyer and long hallways, but also weird Gothic sconces, thick burgundy carpeting, a rickety, old-timey elevator that never landed exactly in line with the floor, and a creepy basement laundry room that had a distinct air of "someone at some point died here very violently." (Though as far as I know there’s no connection between Cecil B. DeMille’s Villa Bonita and Downtown L.A.’s Hotel Cecil, which is notorious for actual creepy deaths and disappearances).

My one-bedroom unit on the third floor was a light-filled 750 square feet with hardwood floors and high ceilings, tall swing-open windows, an adorably vintage kitchen, and a bathroom with a pedestal sink and original tiling. There was an extra closet in the living room with a built-in vanity that I used as my desk/office. It felt a little glam and a little weird, and it was exactly what I didn’t even know I wanted. But there was a reason it was still within my budget: Because it’s right in the middle of Hollywood, baby! And to be honest, Hollywood is kind of a cesspool!

To be fair, the exact street where the Villa Bonita is located, at the base of the Hollywood Hills, is a tranquil, tree-covered oasis—but it’s basically at the intersection of Hollywood Boulevard and Highland Ave, which is what I lovingly refer to as the "dumbest" part of Hollywood (and possibly all of L.A.). It’s tacky and touristy and dirty, and just trying to walk the few blocks to CVS or Trader Joe’s requires Frogger-like dodging skills to avoid all the bootleg Spider-Men and knockoff Jack Sparrows (Sparri?) standing outside the Chinese Theater trying to get you to take a photo. My strategy was to move quickly, keep my eyes forward, and in one instance mean-mug an approaching Batman so hard he was visibly thrown and swerved hard away from me. (Yes that’s right, I scared Batman—I’ve never felt more powerful.)

Still, for all its quirks and all the Hollywood Boulevard chaos a block away, inside that apartment, I felt like I was in a place I could really settle into and turn into a home. After I moved in, I decided to start upgrading my furniture and decor from cat-scratched, mismatched Ikea to a more eclectic personal style I would describe as midcentury-modern maximalism. I collected a lot of my furniture from Hutch Vintage and Melrose Trading Post (two great L.A. spots for scoring gently worn MCM decor under $300), covered the walls with weirdo art prints by Lisa Hanawalt, Angela Deane, and Kristina Micotti, and splurged on a crazy patterned Aelfie rug. It was a transformative space at a very transformative time in my life: That apartment was where I entered my thirties and really came into myself, where I got two of my dream jobs, where I proposed to my now-husband, and perhaps most importantly, where I got my first decent vibrator.

Unfortunately, I only actually got to live at the Villa Bonita for around two-and-a-half years. My mom had early-onset Alzheimer’s and was in assisted living back in South Jersey, and during the pandemic she started declining much more rapidly. My monthly flights back home were no longer safe or practical, and with my TV job made fully remote, it just made sense to leave. So in October 2020, my now-husband and I packed up our stuff and our two cats and relocated to Philadelphia. And I love Philly, but I still really miss that old apartment.

I don’t know that the Villa Bonita would make sense for the life I have now, mostly because since moving to Philly we’ve added one dog and, against our better judgment, a third cat. But if I ever move back to L.A., I’ll probably at least look to see if they have any vacancies. In the meantime, I have a tattoo memorializing one of the building’s gorgeous ivy-covered windows on my left arm, and the lesson that having a space I love is more important to me than being in a "desirable" location.

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Alison Zeidman
Alison Zeidman is an Emmy-nominated and WGA Award-winning TV writer and comedian. You can read more of her work at alisonzeidman.com & alisonzeidman.substack.com




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