By Hillel Aron
By Joseph Tsidulko
By Patrick Range McDonald
By David Futch
By Hillel Aron
By Dennis Romero
By Jill Stewart
By Dennis Romero
Howard Klausner, the gravel-voiced owner of a 57-unit apartment building on Orchid Avenue, right behind Malmuth’s project, understands the dangers of putting on an ersatz Hollywood masquerade. "It doesn’t have to be one of these big Tinseltown phony deals where, if you tear away the tinsel on top, you get to the real tinsel underneath," Klausner said at a zoning hearing on the project. "We shouldn’t be blinded by the glitz and glamour of Hollywood. That has nothing to do with this project. It’s a shopping center, folks."For nearly as long as Hollywood has existed as a place, it has been said to be in decline. Dissolution and decay have for successive generations been the boulevard’s governing tropes. With the exception of a few years in the early part of this century, the image associated with Hollywood, entertainment capital of the world," has been little more than a chimera.
Temperance-minded Methodists who founded Hollywood in the late 1800s, giving away free lots to anyone who would build a church in the area, were the first to sound the alarm. For them, the suburban idyll began to fade after 1910, with the influx of actors, cowboys and other disreputable characters who flocked to the new production center of what was derisively known as "the movie colony."
Hollywood would remain a center of film production for little more than a decade. By 1922, the fledgling studios had already begun relocating to roomier environs to the west and north. MGM pulled up its stakes at Hollywood and Western for the famed Culver City lot in 1924; some five years later, Warner Bros. decamped for Burbank. The advent of sound — requiring vast, soundproof stages — so hastened the exodus that by 1925, as Carey McWilliams noted, boulevard hawkers had taken to selling tours of outlying studios, and maps to the homes of movie stars, to tourists.
By the time Hollywood Boulevard came into what is generally referred to now as its heyday — the 1930s and ’40s — it was the entertainment capital of the world in name only. In 1938, a cover story in the Sunday New York Times Magazine announced that the bloom was off the boulevard. A year later, Nathanael West published The Day of the Locust, his dystopic vision of a Hollywood populated by misfits, outcasts and lost souls living in the dark shadow of the movie world’s star machine. Another writer of the time called Hollywood "the most terrifying town in America."
The boulevard itself, by this time, had taken on a somewhat seedy character. Writing in 1946, McWilliams described it as "a rather run-down tourist alley, lined with curio shops, used bookstores, motion-picture theaters and mediocre stores."
This disconnect between the image of Hollywood’s heyday and its shabbier reality suggests two oddly related readings of the boulevard: one, that Hollywood never really resembled the image that was broadcast in Movietone newsreels and pitched by unscrupulous travel agents; two, that the boulevard’s dissolute, nostalgic air has always been a considerable part of its appeal. This wasn’t New York’s Great White Way; it was the Boulevard of Broken Dreams. Hollywood Boulevard was a home for people on the make; those who had made it were living in Beverly Hills.
This sort of thinking, however, was an anathema to Hollywood’s Chamber of Commerce types, who by the 1950s began selling the first in a long series of schemes designed to bring the tinsel back. The most prominent — and, in its own weird way, successful — of these was the Hollywood Walk of Fame. The brainchild of Hollywood businessman Harry Sugarman, the walk was inaugurated in 1958 and quickly became a hit among the tourists. Here, finally, was a physical manifestation of the "Hollywood" tourists came looking for.
Promoted relentlessly by the chamber and Hollywood’s honorary "mayor," Johnny Grant, the Walk of Fame helped prop up the fiction of Hollywood as the epicenter of moviedom, at least to those who didn’t know better — the millions of tourists it attracted each year. But the Walk of Fame did little to arrest the overall decline of the boulevard. As Grant presided over the dedication of each star with unabashed hucksterism, he himself became something of an image of Hollywood’s faded glory: a plaid-clad sideshow barker at an increasingly phantasmagoric — and sometimes downright scary — carnival.It is interesting to imagine what direction redevelopment might have taken if the neighborhood between La Brea and Gower, Franklin and Fountain had been named, say, Hillbottom, or Highgower, instead of Hollywood — or if the boulevard had kept its original name (Prospect Avenue). For, to a large degree, Hollywood has been trapped by the image associated with its name. Ã¤
From the outset of its efforts in 1983, the CRA focused on making the neighborhood live up to that name, following roughly the nostrums laid out by Sugarman, Grant and their cohorts two decades earlier: Make it glitzy; make it tourist-oriented; make it, in short, "Hollywood." (Moneys for legitimate theaters, a natural for a boulevard bordered on the west by the Chinese, the El Capitan and the Egyptian, and on the east by the Pantages, the Henry Fonda and the Doolittle, went perversely to downtown — the mega-bust Los Angeles Theater Center — and to Santa Monica Boulevard, seven blocks to the south.)