Issue: Spring 2020

Rushing to the Future

Nyla Arslanian

Proposed Crossroads Project

It wasn’t that long ago “We’re building the Hollywood of the 21st Century” was a catch phrase for hoped-for and long-awaited redevelopment. It was first used when the community banded together in the late 1970s to advocate for the subway coming into Hollywood. Today it seems incredulous but there was a time when the subway line was going to bypass Hollywood in favor of a Wilshire Blvd. route to Fairfax Avenue and then under the hills to North Hollywood.

The community was unified in its resolve not seen again to this day, and by the late 80’s Hollywood Blvd. was a construction site as tunneling gradually made its way from Barnsdall Art Park to Western, Vine, Highland and on to North Hollywood. As Hollywood enjoyed being the main and some would say only destination for the Red Line, Hollywood became a project area for the now defunct Los Angeles Community Redevelopment Agency which provided a catalyst to attract investment to build the “new” Hollywood—the one for the 21st Century. At that time, few realized the consequences as we celebrated the building of Hollywood & Highland and a home for The Oscars. During the last 20 years, Hollywood has been named a commercial hub and, in spite of promises to the contrary, highrise development north of Sunset have been proposed and Hollywood’s historical relevance dimmed.

For nearly 100 years, Hollywood has been an attraction. It’s first building boom was the result of its burgeoning new industry.  The single-family homes and apartment buildings throughout Hollywood were mostly built during that era. Indeed, it was thought that Hollywood was built-out. Except for its many parking lots, that was true—until the 21st Century, that is.

Since the opening of Metrorail and the inauguration of Hollywood’s first major development, Hollywood & Highland, in 2001, the inconvenient subway construction was nothing compared to what’s occurred in recent years. Over 10,000 new apartment units and millions of square feet of office space, 15 new hotels either already built or in the pipeline, new industry giants such as Viacom and Netflix have joined the iconic Paramount Pictures pumping out commercials, cable, film and TV projects in numbers not seen in generations. 

Still we’re at a crossroads. In the rush to the future, it might be time to reflect on the past, the distant past rather than on building sites and numbers. In our rush to the future, the remnants of our past may be lost.

As pointed out by London-based writer Pamela Hutchinson for an article in The Guardian,  “There’s a short alley in Hollywood, running east-west between Cahuenga Boulevard and Cosmo Street, which has more than 100 five-star reviews on Google. One user describes visiting the street as “akin to a Catholic entering the Vatican.” Another calls it “the Holy Grail of Hollywood sites” and others have hailed it as “iconic,” “legendary,” “of monumental significance” and “sacred ground.”

On this small section of Cahuenga Boulevard just south of Hollywood Boulevard, Charlie Chaplin, Buster Keaton and Harold Lloyd shot more films on this stretch of road than anywhere else in Los Angeles. The point being that in this town, in the most nondescript site, something happened that impacted the world. Not only that, it continued for decades as the town grew up around it. That is our legacy and it’s in our hands.

Film historian John Bengtson has spearheaded an effort to have the street named Chaplin Keaton Lloyd Alley. This easily identifiable passage is featured prominently in three silent classics: Charlie Chaplin’s The Kid (1921), Buster Keaton’s Cops (1922) and Harold Lloyd’s Safety Last! (1923). Bengtson usually works by consulting aerial photographs of Hollywood from the 1920s comparing them against film scenes. In this case, a festival screening of another silent film, The Last Edition (1925), tied a few unsolved cases together.

“That movie filmed many scenes at the alley, from many different angles,” says Bengtson. “I nearly fell out of my seat. Finally, the pieces all fit, it all made sense. It was close to the studios. It faced south, so it was lit by the sun most of the day, so it makes perfect sense film—makers knew this was the place to go.”

And, it’s not only an obscure, but culturally significant, alley, its an entire place whose essence and authenticity is at risk in our rush to the future. Because, whether it’s a proposed monolithic high rise proposed to overshadow one of Hollywood’s most famous landmarks, Capitol Records, or another at the opposite side of town planning to cast a long shadow over Crossroads of The World, another of our treasures, the rush to the future at the expense of the past and the true essence of this important, world-renowned place is in danger of being lost.

However, a new generation is emerging, one that respects what’s gone before as these Millenials seek their own relevance, creating the future through innovation and technology. It should be for them and for their children that we work to preserve and build with love and respect. 

Because, once gone, it will be lost forever.