Issue: Issue Summer 2002

Hollywood's New Face

The Awards ceremony sounded the first note, creating a buzz that is still heard around the world. But is Hollywood really back? 
I was raised above the Boulevard, and as a child, that’s where I would escape. My destination would be the Pig ’n Whistle, a fantasyland of pig-mask-menus and cherry cokes, where—from the counter—you could watch the passing parade of Hollywood nature boys, cowboys and aging Baby Janes. The Boulevard, with its cigar store Indians, western souvenir stores and glittering movie palaces—was full of possibility. And, at night, from our house in the hills, we could see the spotlights criss-crossing the skies.
Time passed, and the lights dimmed all over Hollywood. The Hollywood of the imagination remained, but the street faded. Still, the tourists never stopped coming and the believers never stopped believing. Indeed, when architects have looked beneath the new facades, old Hollywood was still there. 
Now, change is upon us. Gambles have paid off, starting with the restoration of the El Capitan Theatre and continuing with our other grand movie palaces. 
However, hope for the real turnaround lies with the biggest development the Boulevard has ever known--the grandiose retail/entertainment and hotel complex, Hollywood & Highland. 
It is something to be proud of. Suddenly this gleaming new apparition arises, bringing with it an air of drama and sophistication missing for decades. Crowds now line up for award shows, first-class theater, concerts and special events. 
Can you believe--on the Boulevard (where residents once complained you couldn’t buy a simple white shirt) a place to buy a Montavi diamond necklace? Or something from the Versace collection? Would you believe a restaurant owned by Wolfgang Puck? How about a Gap? 
“It’s long overdue,” says Paula Gardner, owner of the nearby Cat ‘n Fiddle Restaurant & Pub, who says it a joy to find good neighborhood shopping. 
Best, maybe, is the renewed street life. Magicians and performers entrance crowds out front of the complex. Inside, in the courtyard it’s a festival marketplace, with tourists and residents (together, at last!) rubbing up against one another, listening to the sounds of live bands as they browse carts carrying an eclectic array of goods. 
Although, lest anyone mistake this for Anywhere USA--homages to Hollywood abound, as in the literal “Road to Hollywood,” engraved with quotes from once-aspiring actors, directors and others who followed their dreams here. 
From a high balcony, viewing the El Capitan to the south, the distant Hollywood sign to the north, a visitor might well feel “I’m finally here? in Hollywood!” 
Most dramatically--Hollywood history is saluted in the two 33-foot elephants that flank Babylon Court near the entrance to the new Kodak Theater, seeming to herald Oscar’s homecoming after 42 years! Back in 1916, on a barren lot at Hollywood and Hillhurst Avenues, D.W. Griffith built two Babylonian Elephant/Gods for “Intolerance,” the epic film which pioneered extravagant sets in Hollywood. 
Last March, as billions of people around the world saw the 74th Academy Awards from the theater, a new era was again ushered in. 
“There was high praise and tremendous feedback from everyone involved” says Russ Joyner, general manager of Hollywood and Highland. “The Academy Awards have come back--that kind of international exposure furthers the credibility of Hollywood, the place. We are hoping it’s a touchstone for a new and improved Hollywood.

But will Hollywood & Highland revitalize the Boulevard?

Ride down the Boulevard and bright spots exist. At the western end ? Hollywood & Highland and the El Capitan--the excitement can match Times Square some nights! The Egyptian Theater and adjacent Pig ’n Whistle are virtual hubs of action. Along the boulevard, an improve venue here, a public art space there, a new diner-- all hearten.

Yet the remaining neglected storefronts still startle. In fact, the gleam of the new casts the old into broad relief.

“I think some people had expectations that the new project would somehow turn Hollywood overnight into a new place,” says John McCoy, who oversees Hollywood for the Community Redevelopment Agency. “I think it will take time. Redevelopment doesn’t happen overnight--it is a process--and clearly the trends we see are all positive.”

“The new housing trend is the most significant trend in Hollywood,” he says, ticking off such new projects as the “Sunset & Vine” now underway (to include loft-style apartments over a shopping center with a Borders and a Bed, Bath and Beyond), and “Hollywood & Vine,” due to break ground in 2003 near the Metro Red Line, with 250 apartments and a ‘W’ Hotel.”

“The ‘W’ Hotel shows people’s willingness to continue to invest in Hollywood, and it will all create a whole new demand for retail and services along the Boulevard-- not only those who come for the clubs at night, but those who live and work here,” says McCoy, whose vision is of an active, vital 24-hour community. “That will translate into a daylife, and a nightlife, too,” he says.

“There’s an absolute resurgence of activity throughout the boulevard, and a blossoming of nightlife,” says Kerry Morrison, head of the Hollywood Entertainment District, which has tracked an influx of over two-dozen new nightclubs.

“It’s the hippest place to go in Los Angeles right now,” says Morrison. Still, the trendy club scene hasn’t yet broadened to include mainstream audiences--or translated to daytime activity.

Observes Morrison, “The trailblazers for any urban revival movement are the individual entrepreneurs who have opened up restaurants and nightclubs. You don’t see the Gap or a Starbucks just show up until individual risk-takers have blazed the trail. It happened in Pasadena, in happened in Santa Monica, and it’s happening here.”

One self-described risk-taker is Richard Heyman, owner of the upscale Bice Mercado at Hollywood & Highland, and the popular new Hollywood & Vine Diner.

To capture the momentum, Heyman is adding a nightclub to his diner, which he’ll keep open 24-hours, and is looking to re-open the famous Schwab’s Pharmacy, as “the most happening drugstore, bar and restaurant you’ve ever seen!”

“That’s how committed I am,” says Heyman. “I see an opportunity. It has been extremely difficult to find opportunities elsewhere in Los Angeles, because it’s oversaturated. But what better sense of place do we have than Hollywood? It’s the biggest brand name in the world! This is where dreams are made. This is the real deal!”

Heyman sees a parallel with San Diego’s historic old Gaslamp District, for years a blighted “Sin City,” which he saw revived in the 80’s.

“Horton Plaza (a 100-storefront entertainment/retail complex also built by TrizecHahn), opened, and completely revitalized the whole area! That sparked interest in other developers, who were followed by the entrepreneurs, who lured the chains and proved to the community it was viable… today, it’s on fire!” says Heyman. “You can’t assume that the Boulevard is like the Mall of America with one leasing director and everyone comes in one shot, and boom, you’re open for business!” he says. “That’s not Hollywood Boulevard!”

If the Gaslamp District, why not Hollywood?

Signs are good when developers like the CIM Group, who--despite some setbacks --continue to build on their faith. They’ve announced a major remake of the Galaxy Entertainment Center, with a number of new restaurants.

Indeed, Hollywood has all it’s ever needed in its unique history. It just needs to continue to match the physical reality with the symbol, the place with the dream

Today, it could be an abandoned series of Parisian-style arches above the Hollywood Wax Museum--tomorrow the revived Montmartre Café--where stars like Pola Negri and Rudoph Valentino danced through the night. A boarded-up theater building could be tomorrow’s new live venue. Just as Chris Breed proved with the reborn 1927 Pig’n Whistle--it takes hope, vision--and a little magic.

The Awards ceremony sounded the first note, creating a buzz that is still heard around the world.

For, as Hollywood & Highland’s Russ Joyner says, “It’s all discovery. It’s not like we have a manual. We’re learning what it’s like to do business in Hollywood … an area where we’re doing the pioneering!”

The spotlight’s on Hollywood again.

Judy Raphael fell in love with Hollywood Boulevard at the tender age of seven. She has continued to explore Hollywood and other historic places, in travel and entertainment pieces for the L.A. Times, L.A. Weekly and Westways Magazine, among many. This is her fourth cover story for Discover Hollywood. She’s still in love.

Hollywood & Highland Development photo by Anthony Nelson.