The Coast News Group
Veteran author and pop culture aficionado Chris Epting stands at the intersection of Highways 46 and 41, a “speck on the map” between Paso Robles and Bakersfield, where 24-year-old actor James Dean was killed in 1955. Dean’s new Porsche Spyder was hit head-on by a 1954 Ford Tudor. This location and others that played a significant role in Dean’s life, are featured in “It Happened Right Here: America’s Pop Culture Landmarks.” Courtesy photo
Arts & EntertainmentColumnsHit the Road

Book takes readers on journey of offbeat American landmarks

A remote highway intersection. An unremarkable motel room. A nondescript house in small-town Idaho. An anonymous garage. A single subway grate.

All of these would have remained forever insignificant except for what happened there.

It was to this last location that an 11-year-old Chris Epting dragged his parents. He wanted to see the exact spot — a Manhattan subway grate at 52nd and Lexington — where one of the most famous photos ever was taken: the 1954 image of Marilyn Monroe in a white halter dress fighting to hold down her skirt against a blast of air.

This famous 1954 photo of Marilyn Monroe was taken at the subway grate at 52nd and Lexington in Manhattan as a promotion for the film “The Seven Year Itch.” The picture inspired author Chris Epting’s lifelong pursuit of locations where historic and pop culture events took place.

“The photo was a promotion for the film ‘The Seven Year Itch’ (and) it deeply affected me,” said the veteran author and pop-culture aficionado during a phone call from his home in the Belmont Shore neighborhood of Long Beach. “I felt like I knew a secret. It opened my head up. I liked the idea that something really notable happened in a fairly anonymous place. I thought, ‘There must be lots of these places that no one knows about.’ This started me on my quest of location, location, location.”

Epting has channeled his longtime passion for pop culture and history into his latest of his 30 books: “It Happened Right Here: America’s Pop Culture Landmarks,” published by Santa Monica Press in Solana Beach.

Included in this 460-page, easy-read encyclopedia are hundreds of buildings, streets, alleys, churches, homes, parks, beaches, theaters and businesses that might have remained under the radar except for the icons who were born, died, arrested, created havoc, broke the law or changed the world there.

“(The entries) aren’t based on just my taste,” Epting said. “It’s some of that, but it’s also things that effect general popular culture. The first thing I think of (when I hear of a newsworthy event) is, ‘Is there an address associated with it? If I wanted to drive there, what address would I punch in?’”

It’s no surprise that California leads the pack when it comes to entries, Epting said.

“Just look at the electoral map. This is where the population is concentrated and where the (film and television) industries are, so there’s a constant slurry of celebrity.”

The landmarks are located on both public and private property, and when it’s the latter?

“For the most part, I’ve had gracious hosts that are accommodating,” Epting said. “I think they feel that If you’re going to write about it anyway, you might as well get it accurate.”

For instance, hotel/motel owners have found that it increases the value of a room, regardless of what happened there, “because you’re paying for the history. It’s better to own the history and allow that place to tell the story. It pulls people in.”

Information on hundreds of notable places of famous and infamous pop culture import are assembled between the pages of Chris Epting’s latest of 30 books. Exact addresses and/or directions are provided for each entry. On the cover: The house in Preston, Idaho, used in the cult film “Napoleon Dynamite.” Photo by Chris Epting

Take, for example, Room 8 at the Joshua Tree Inn near Joshua Tree National Park. Here, rock ‘n’ roll musician Gram Parsons (Byrds and Flying Burrito Brothers) died at age 26 after mixing tequila and morphine. In fact, the inn has named Room 8 for Parsons. (Read the book to learn of the bizarre events that unfolded after Parsons’ death, as well as other big names connected to the inn.)

If you aren’t among the demographic who recognizes Parsons, there are plenty of other people, places and events that will appeal to all ages, including figures from American history, inventors; films; athletes and sporting events; strange and weird occurrences; birthplaces of fast foods; and locations of tragedies, both historic and modern.

Some entries offer a back story to major events. For instance, in the 1970s, terrorist-mastermind Osama bin Laden lived at Gramercy Towers, 1177 California Street (Nob Hill), San Francisco.

Other entries are downright astounding. Who knew that an atomic bomb was inadvertently dropped on Mars Bluff, S.C., in 1958?

Some people and places have earned multiple pages because of their mammoth mark on our collective psyche: Elvis; Martin Luther King Jr.; Marilyn Monroe; and “Little Towns Made Notable by Big Television Shows.” Some of my faves: Lima, Ohio (“Glee”); Snoqualmie, Washington (“Twin Peaks”); Roslyn, Washington (“Northern Exposure”); and metro Atlanta, Ga. (“Ozark”).

“I hope the book encourages people to be curious about this country and get close to events,” Epting said. “Things are always going to happen. I hope when I’m gone that someone will keep the fire going.”

For more photos and discussion, visit


Leave a Comment