Issue: Spring 2015

What is This Place Called Hollywood?

Hollywood is Los Angeles' most complex community with a rich history that goes back more than 100 years.  In the neighborhoods, homes dating to the turn of the 20th century and many office buildings dating from Hollywood's last "renaissance"-the 20s and 30s, its Golden Age-- populate its central core. 

Once a small agricultural village populated with gentleman farmers, Hollywood in the Cahuenga Valley, was a trolley ride from the city of Los Angeles.  When Cecil B. DeMille, Jessie Lasky, Griffith W. Griffith, and the Warner Brothers helped generate a building boom that made the area what it is today and "fired the shot heard round the world," the fantasy was created.  It became the center of the entertainment and broadcast industries and while much has changed, a legacy remains. 

To get a sense of this place it's useful to explore Hollywood's unique selling principle. For most of the world, it's the name associated with the glamour and fantasy of the industry born here.  Yet for many, it is the mystique, historic relevance and location nestled against the hillside beneath the world's most famous sign--the authenticity of the place.

The sign, originally advertised one of Hollywood's first real estate developments has a mystique all its own.  USC professor and cultural critic Leo Braudy, author of "The Hollywood Sign: Fantasy and Reality of An American Icon" pointed out not only does it represent an industry but an ideal, an inspiration. Sited on a steep hill that's difficult to get to-a metaphoric idea, it gives a sense of what Hollywood has come to mean to generations either living here or drawn to it.

Yes, it symbolizes the dream, but it also identifies a place with a rich history, notable national and international prominence, countless stories and streets and avenues that reflect and share its unique culture, filled with stories of extreme success and heartbreaking failure.

Hollywood enjoys instant recognition with such iconic buildings as the Chinese Theatre and Capitol Records. Hollywood Blvd. has changed little since the 1930's with the famed street and many buildings listed on the National Register of Historic Places.  Its Walk of Fame, inaugurated by the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce to stem the "main street" decline of the early 60s, today draws celebrity notables who glow for the camera at star ceremonies broadcast around the world.

It quickens the heartbeat of our visitors who attempt to unlock its secrets as well as countless new arrivals from all over the country and the world who hope to realize their dreams.  The challenge, according to Professor Braudy, is to find balance between the past and present-coexistence of the past, present and future. "The challenge is to serve its many populations-business, residents and visitors-and not obliterate what is attractive about Hollywood, to insure that the remnants of the past are woven into the fabric of the future."      

            Its complexity often baffles visitors whose short stay can't unlock its secrets.  However to those who call greater Hollywood home or locals who enjoy its quirks and foibles, they say it is the place, its beauty, its allure, its history and, yes, its magic that mystifies and inspires and brings them back again and again.  Professor Braudy stated "We are becoming more like the villages we started out to be. Neighborhoods are attracting a new generation."

According to Joel Kotkin, Professor of Urban Studies at Chapman University, "Hollywood has an authentic character in its livable scale, its walkable streets and neighborhoods.  It's been a place that allowed you to live in an urban center with a suburban lifestyle."

"It must resist the urge to build things out of scale and forget that the hills are part of Hollywood and what makes it unique," he continued.

Today, with its economy on the upswing, real estate values skyrocketing and hotel and residential developments moving along at a fast clip, the town will be a work in progress for the foreseeable future.

            There's still time to create a vision that benefits the entire community that respects the essence of the place, builds upon its assets, its uniqueness and capitalizes on the undeniable fact that this community has the #1 brand name in the world. 

            Residents are concerned for their quality of life and business interests want to see the economy grow.  Ultimately, it's possible that not taking its unique selling principle-its authenticity-even with the best of intentions success could kill the goose whose golden egg has sustained Hollywood for generations.  For nearly 100 years Hollywood has been a beacon. Known for its stars and its dreamers, it has been a symbol of achievement of fame and fortune. While working to create Hollywood's future, it's important to consider its historical significance for future generations.

And, more importantly, as the once desired scenario of Hollywood's renaissance becomes a reality, is there a hidden cost?

Citing his concern, Professor Kotkin noted, "What's at risk is homogenizing downtown areas so they all look alike. Why recreate an environment where peoples' lives are centered indoors when this area has one of the best outdoor climates in the world?" Overbuilding, he cautioned would block views, increase density, and create traffic gridlock along with the loss of a sense of place-Hollywood's authenticity and its allure.

Rather than blocking view corridors to and from its famed Hollywood Hills, long part of its magic and allure, it's important to realize that, as Joel Kotkin remarked, "Once the view gone, there is no going back."  While we still have the time and the inclination, it's worth looking at what the rush might cost us in the long run.

Scattered around Hollywood's central core are buildings in the Spanish revival style remain and are a magnet for businesses and entrepreneurs who long for the "creative" space that these historical buildings provide.  Here and there are authentic Art Deco style structures with the Pantages Theatre a shining example. These properties are an opportunity for refurbishing to attract tenants willing to rent a piece of history with an interesting provenance.  In the surrounding neighborhoods, craftsman cottages are being lovingly restored by a new generation. 

It is possible to retain its character, to cautiously build upon that framework. Currently developments are being built on Sunset Blvd. surrounding the Hollywood Palladium and the former CBS Studio. Both have respect for these historic properties yet will add mass to the Sunset and Vine area.

New projects can build upon history, enhance Hollywood's beauty and allure and recognize the authenticity of this place.  The future is in our hands and it's important to insure that our unique selling principle doesn't slip through our fingers. DH