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Issue: Issue Winter 1999/2000

Future's Past: Welcoming the New Mellennium


HISTORIC PHOTOS COURTESY OF DELMAR WATSON

As we head into the Millennium, it seems impossible to believe, but after years of failed promises and numerous false starts, a rebirth may at last become a reality in Hollywood.

It wasn't immediate - and it took a spirit of alliance between groups, but even ardent skeptics agree that revival is at hand after years of sad decline.

Hollywood's golden age began in the 20's, when filmmakers were streaming in from the east and studios clustered around the Boulevard.  Commercial buildings rose up to meet the demands of the new industry, transforming the the former sleepy residential village.  In the 20's and 30's, stars came down from their posh Whitley Heights castles, and were seen shopping at exclusive stores, lunching at Sardi's at Vine Street, and dining at the elegant Montmartre Café on the Boulevard, where Pola Negri danced all night with Rudolph Valentino.

Hollywood was everybody's Main Street, attracting locals, stars, wannabes and tourists.

Throughout the 40's and 50's, nightlife buzzed at DeMille's Brown Derby, the flamboyant Palace (where Ken Murray's Blackouts were held), and the Lido Room at the Hollywood Knickerbioker.  At Vine Street, Hollywood's heart, radio hosted the Lux Radio Theater, CBS, the CBS Radio Playhouse.  In the 50's, with the new landmark Capitol Records Tower, Sunset and Vine became a legendary music industry mecca.

Like many downtowns though, the area faded.  Nightlife moved to the Sunset Strip.  Television hurt film and radio.  By the 70's-80's film, Hollywood Boulevard sank into a haven of seedy t-shirt and souvenir shops, a disillusionment for tourists coming to seek stars - finding them only ion the Walk of Fame.

Then - a miracle.  The magic of Disney. Disney / Pacific's restoration and reopening of the exquisite 1926 El Capitan Theater in 1991, provided an act of faith in old Hollywood.

With the completion of the Metro Red Line portals, Hollywood and Vine last June and the Highland station in 2000, everything is crystallizing.  Building is happening for the first time in 30 years, on a scale not seen since Hollywood's heyday.

Take a look at architectural drawings of what's upcoming:

Most momentous is TrizecHahn's $385 million entertainment / shopping destination, "Hollywood and Highland," adjacent to the Mann Chinese Theater, drawing visitors in with a street-level Babylonian Court modeled after D.W. Griffith's 1929 film, "Intolerance," and winding terraces layered with high-fashioned stores, movie-themed shops, classy clubs like Quincy Jones' "Q's Jook Joint," and a replay of old-time Hollywood restaurants such as "Don the Beachcomber."

The jewel in the crown will be the 3,300 seat Premier Theater, bringing the Academy Awards back to Hollywood in March, 2001 - the first time in over 30 years!  Topping it off will be a rooftop ballroom to host the Governors Ball and year-round, Live theater and concerts planned.

In 2,000, we can expect the Hollywood Spectacular Building, a 30,855 sq. ft., all-glass futuristic-styled public space with a forecourt leading to the Chinese theater.

The space-aged Hollywood Galaxy will be transformed into a Main Street Mall by the CIM Group (developers for Santa Monica's Third Street Promenade and Pasadena's Old Towne), with New York City's alternative music club, The Knitting Factory, joining the Hollywood Entertainment Museum.

To bring residents down from the hills, by late 2,000, the historic northeast corner of Hollywood and Cherokee will be redeveloped, with a six screen Laemmle theater for art, foreign and independent films, a coffee house and specialty shops.

By 2,001, the Hollywood Marketplace, a Streamline Modern-style "urban village" with three stories of retail (Borders Books, Trader Joe's, Cost Plus and a 10-screen Mann's Theater), will stretch north from Sunset complementing a restored Doolittle Theater.  It will reach back to Ivar with open-air paseos and a public walkway.

And down on Sunset, the historic geodesic dome, where "How the West Was Won," premiered in 1963, will soon be enhanced by the 150,000 sq. ft. family-oriented Cinerama Dome Entertainment Center, with interactive game venues and a 15-screen multiplex.

Talk about a revival!  Fascinatingly, the new progression of development is reminiscent of Hollywood's birth itself.  During the twenties, as filmdom grew, skyscrapers and movie palaces went up at the important intersections of Highland, Vine and Cahuenga.  In no time, department stores, hotels, restaurants, and clubs like Clara Bow's "It" Café in the Plaza Hotel on Vine Street and the Derby, where Clark Gable proposed to Carole Lombard, sprang up to fill the blocks.  In the 30's and 40's, stars and locals gathered at radio star Tom Brenemen's famous "Breakfast Club."

Similarly, today, clubs and restaurants are arriving between the coming attractions.  Next to the Egyptian, the Pig'n Whistle Restaurant, which drew 30's-40's moviegoers, will be reborn as a brewery / restaurant.

A mini-renaissance is taking place at Cahuenga, where the Sunset Room, a 40's French / Cuban-style supper club has opened, just south of a new live theater, two art galleries, and star-owned recording studios.  By spring, the venerable Freestyle Photo will relocate to a 46,000 sq. ft. headquarters at Sunset, in the Vicinity of several cutting-edge production and animation houses.

Of course, some would argue that the "real" Hollywood never left.  Across from the Hollywood Bowl, the just-reopened Hollywood Heritage Museum now shows silent films in the DeMille Lasky Barn, where the first feature was made in 1913.  On the Boulevard, Musso and Frank Grill, haunt of legendary writers like Fitzgerald and Faulker for 80 years, reigns on.  Squinting past the souvenir shops, standing tall, testaments to another time, you can still see the towering Renaissance Revival style Taft Building, home of 20's-30's stars agents, and the soon to be restored Gothic Deco Equitable Building (where Clark Gable's dentist practiced).  The playful Art Deco Kress and Zig Zag Modern Newbury buildings live on as "Fredericks of Hollywood" and "Hollywood Toys."  Even the glittering 1913 Hollywood Theater remains intact in the Guinness Book of Records Museum.  Looking at Delmar Watson's collection of early photos, you almost could be seeing the same area.

And now, finally, we have blueprints for blending old and new:  the restored American Cinematheque / Egyptian Theater which shows art films at night and, by day, a short feature on the history of the movies.  The restored El Capitan Building boasts a gleaming new Disney store; the Palace is restored.  At the Knickerbocker built in 1923 and Elvis' favorite 50's hotel, stars frequent the "All Star Theater Café and Speakeasy."  In the New Age, the Hollywood History Museum will open in the 1931 Max Factor building.  And next year, the Pantages will host the hit Broadway musical "The Lion King," establishing Hollywood as a live theater district.

THUS, BLOCK BY BLOCK, AS WE LEAP INTO THE FUTURE, WE HAVE A CHALLENGE NEVER TO LOSE SIGHT OF HOLLYWOOD'S GOLDEN HERITAGE, - OUR MOST VALUABLE ASSET, OUR PAST. 

It's coming to light.  Even now, driving down the Boulevard, the sight of the recently re-lit rainbow of neon signs above the Knicnerbocker, the Taft, the Pantages and the splendidly restored Roosevelt - where the first Academy Awards ceremony took place in 1929 - shine like beacons in the night.  One day soon, we'll see spotlights criss-crossing the sky at premiers, and visitors seeking Hollywood's storied past as exported on the silver screen and relayed through classic myths, will find it again in the place.

Hollywood is everybody's Main Street. Welcome to the Millennium.