Issue: Spring 2014

Our Hollywood

Excerpts from Councilmember Mitch O'Farrell's State of Hollywood Speech

Our Hollywood is not just another neighborhood in the city of Los Angeles, it is one of the most special places in the world.  No other community anywhere gets as much attention. Throughout its history, people from all over the world and from everywhere in the U.S. have come here to build a life, start a career or re-invent themselves. There are as many Hollywood stories and here’s mine.

My Hollywood story goes back exactly 32 years to January 21st, 1982, when I arrived from Oklahoma City. I had $500 to my name and little more than the clothes on my back. Having some professional theatre experience under my belt, I had scheduled an audition the next day with a prominent producer and choreographer who were putting together a musical revue to take overseas.

When I arrived, I was 21. I had saved just enough money to rent a car for one week, and stay in the cheapest hotel I could find for a total of three nights. The good news is that I got the job but it would not begin for 5 months. I decided to stay put but I needed work, so I would stay in a hotel one night, then find a safe looking, quiet street and sleep in my rental car the next. Every day I would look for work and attend auditions. By the end of that first week, I had a job waiting tables in Beverly Hills and had found an apartment with six roommates at Hawthorne and Orange just around the corner from a then-shuttered Roosevelt Hotel. I slept on the floor and would go to my restaurant job during the day, and take dance and acting classes at night. I would often go jogging around the track at Hollywood High just down the street. Every chance I got, I would venture out and explore Hollywood on foot.

Those early months were magical for me. I was hooked on Hollywood! Although I was new here, I could see that Hollywood was a place that had seen better days and one had the sense there was little interest in caring for it. There was essentially no economic growth, no new construction, and no momentum.

The only decent hotel for visitors was the Holiday Inn, site of the current Loews Hotel. Considerable blight affected just about every neighborhood but, despite the grime, despite the perception that no one was paying attention to Hollywood, if you looked past the despair, you could sense that this community was capable of bouncing back, that just beneath the gritty surface, it still had some sparkle. There were certainly those that had given up on Hollywood but there were plenty who had not. Like the Folb family, who had developed  and invested in Hollywood since the 1950’s, or the Farhadi family who created Starline Tours, or the Sundher family who built the Hollywood Wax Museum, or Oscar and Nyla Arslanian who were building the Hollywood Arts Council while promoting Hollywood with Discover Hollywood Magazine and the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce.

Despite its challenges, I had fallen in love with Hollywood. It held such promise for a dreamer like me.  I used to tell people back home that I was so proud to live here, that it was the greatest, most exciting place in the world and that some day, I would find success here!

Growing up in Oklahoma, I used to fantasize about Los Angeles and Hollywood. Hollywood represented promise and opportunity, a land of adventure and possibilities where a person’s dreams could come true. Horace Greeley famously extolled: “Go West young Man” and I did.

In between contracts where I was sometimes gone for several months at a time, I would go back to waiting tables. In 1986, when I worked at Theodore’s Restaurant at the newly re-opened Roosevelt Hotel, I waited on new councilman Mike Woo of the 13th District. I had no inkling whatsoever that my destiny would eventually lead me to take his place some day.

He and many others had already begun putting the building blocks in place to bring Hollywood back.  The Community Redevelopment Agency had been formed and the Hollywood’s Business Improvement Districts were not far behind.  A spigot of badly needed resources had been opened and improvements to Hollywood began to trickle in. I remember listening in on conversations at Theodore’s, where initiatives were discussed to move this community forward. I was certain that the Hollywood renaissance was just around the corner – and it was.

Our Hollywood has come so far since the 1980’s, the beginning of my Hollywood story. Disney reopened the El Capitan Theatre. The Red Line subway opened in Hollywood nearly 20 years ago, and the famous Hollywood Farmer’s Market before that. Later, Donelle Dadigan saved the old Max Factor Building and turned it into the one and only museum dedicated to Hollywood history. Jimmy Kimmel Live came to town. We have the Musicians Institute, the Hollywood Film School, and the American Musical and Dramatic Academy, all bustling with activity and incredibly talented students and faculty from all over the world.

One of the great acting studios, Stella Adler, has preserved through bad times and good. The creative class here in Hollywood is unrivaled anywhere else. We need to foster these institutions so we can continue developing the kind of talent that is our legacy, and celebrate its history.

In Hollywood, we can accept nothing less than high quality projects. This in turn will create quality, middle class jobs while improving the vibrancy, the look and feel of this great community.

Nor will we sacrifice what is so great about our residential neighborhoods while our commercial districts grow. Historic preservation can and does go hand in hand with growth and development. Conditions can be embedded into all permits that give protections or community benefit resources to surrounding neighborhoods, such as traffic control measures, Dash Bus services, streetscape improvements, or supporting local non-profit work that benefits the community.

The Walk of Fame is being refurbished. Our movie Palaces have been restored. We have iconic new buildings, like Emerson College and Technicolor gracing Sunset Boulevard. Sunset Boulevard is also emerging as a place for new media and digital media, and will serve as a hub for the region.

There are more quality projects on the way in our major corridors. Over the past few years, Hollywood has had the greatest economic growth of any neighborhood in Los Angeles. The years of neglect, inertia and uncertainty have been replaced with a resurgence of investment, growth, jobs and optimism.

Hollywood is on the way up, but as your councilman, I plan on doing much, much more, and I know I have allies in this endeavor. Let’s get us to that world class standard we deserve!

Over the past 30 years, you have set the stage for this day. Now is the time. This is our Hollywood!

Editor’s Note:  For the councilmember’s entire speech, go to DH