Those ubiquitous 'Star Maps' have been around since the 1920s, but outdated listings and a lack of fresh faces mean that tourists looking to meet up with celebrities often wind up getting the runaround

You know it's tourist season in L.A. when those well-worn yellow and blue plywood signs emblazoned with "Star Maps" start sprouting up on Sunset Boulevard.

The maps first began appearing in the 1920s to guide gawking out-of-towners to the locations of movie stars' elegant Hollywood homes. They were published by real estate agencies and chambers of commerce eager to attract folks to the city.

Not that much has changed in 80 years. The maps still spell out the location of celebrities' homes, both dead and alive, in Beverly Hills, Bel-Air and Holmby Hills.

Except the chambers of commerce aren't peddling them anymore. Nor are real estate agents. Nowadays, map sellers are often newly arrived immigrants who hawk their wares along Sunset Boulevard in Beverly Hills.

Alas, many a modern day visitor has never even heard of June Lockhart or Virginia Mayo, though that doesn't stop lookie-loos from snapping up maps at $8 a pop. They then wander through the maze of chic neighborhoods, hoping to catch a glimpse of an honest-to-goodness Hollywood Celebrity in their natural habitat behind high walls and tall gates.

Nervous sellers

Map vendor Gregorio Gonzalez was taking a nap on a concrete wall when visitors stopped to buy the 2001 winter issue of "List of Movie Stars' Homes," advertised on a cracked plywood sign that looked like it had been used since the days of Rudolph Valentino.

In Spanish, a nervous-looking Gonzalez says he had been working at this Sunset Boulevard and Charing Cross Road location for about a week, getting his job through a friend. Normally, someone arrives at 10 a.m. to drop off the maps and returns at 7 p.m. to collect the money. Gonzalez says he's paid $20 a day and typically sells seven or eight maps a day.

Down the road at another Sunset Boulevard location, a fellow vendor also seems apprehensive. With a white plastic chair and a two-quart plastic bottle of water parked under a large tree, he was ready for a long day of work. But he wouldn't talk about his job, only saying in Spanish that he had been there for three months. Then he walked away.

This doesn't surprise William Gordon, author of "The Ultimate Hollywood Tour Book," one of the few celebrity guides approved by the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce. (Another prominent mapmaker is Rockwell Enterprises in Carson, which bought the rights in 1991 to one of the "original" movie star home guides and now distributes between 30,000 to 50,000 copies of "Movie Stars Homes" to hundreds of locations, including the gift shop next to Mann's Chinese Theatre.)

Gordon, whose book is updated every year, includes several maps of stars' homes. "They keep a low profile," he notes of the map publishers, who often don't update their publications for years.

As a result, the maps show homes of stars who either have been dead for years or who have moved away some time ago. In the winter 2001 issue of one map, which claims to be updated every 90 days, Loretta Young is listed as living at 1308 N. Flores St. in Hollywood not bothering to mention that she died last year.

Searching for Britney

"I went undercover a few years ago with Channel 2 News on a tour bus that was relying on these maps for their information, and they were playing musical chairs with the homes," Gordon says. "I know many people are disappointed by these maps because they want to know where the young stars live, like Britney Spears."

One of the problems is that movie stars these days are more likely to live in Hancock Park, Brentwood or Malibu than Beverly Hills, where the maps typically highlight. "In the last 10 years, the only major celebrity who has moved to any of the streets shown on the maps is Madonna, who bought Diane Keaton's home last year on Roxbury Drive," Gordon said. "The stars deliberately ask Realtors to find a house off the movie star maps. Bruce Springsteen a couple of years ago, for example, got a house on Tower Road, which is not on the map."

Hollywood types are getting clever about keeping their names off the property tax roles. Ruth Ryon, who writes the "Hot Property" column for the Los Angeles Times, said that celebrities increasingly list their property tax records under the name of a limited liability corporation or trust.

Ryon, who details the real estate transactions of the entertainment crowd, says she never publishes a specific address to protect the privacy of those she writes about. "I get called all the time by TV people who are hot to trot and take pictures of a home even before escrow is closed," she says. "But I don't give out addresses."

That makes the search to update celebrity maps a challenge for people like Gordon, who uses various sources to freshen up his locations. "I've gone on a number of fishing expeditions," says Gordon, who sells about 3,000 copies a year of his $15.95 book. "Sometimes I go through the property records and check out a particular street that is popular with celebrities, like Broad Beach Road in Malibu."

Other clues may be TV shows like "Entertainment Tonight," and "Extra," which show aerial shots of stars' homes. Then there are builders and contractors who just talk too much. "I found Steven Spielberg's home through a contractor," Gordon admits.

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