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
As the CRA was reaching for the brass ring, Hollywood was hemorrhaging not only its historic buildings but those businesses essential to the survival of any neighborhood. Between 1985 and 1993, Hollywood Boulevard lost five showcase movie theaters and an equal number of banks. The list of landmarks that folded on the CRA’s watch is staggering: the Brown Derby, Ontra Cafeteria, Gilbert’s Books, Wallichs Music City, the Tick-Tock Restaurant, the Hastings Hotel, the Lerner Shop, the Hollywood Reporter (now home to the Weekly), the Screen Actors Guild — all gone. While real estate was booming all over the Southland, one in four offices in Hollywood went vacant. While the CRA was haggling with McDonald’s over the design of the arches on its restaurant on the boulevard, and giving its blessing to the Ripley’s and Guinness "museums" flanking it, "You couldn’t," as David Morgan, the owner of Sunset Camera and a longtime CRA critic, puts it, "find a place to buy a decent white shirt on the boulevard." While the CRA poured money into the still-unbuilt Hollywood Entertainment Museum (now temporarily housed in the basement of the Galaxy), the entertainment industry itself continued its exodus to the Westside and the Valley.
The most significant development in the 1980s came courtesy of the Church of Scientology, which, with no help at all from the CRA, snapped up distressed historic properties along the boulevard at fire-sale prices. Scientology and its affiliates are now among the largest landowners in Hollywood, with four landmark buildings on the boulevard dedicated to promoting the legacy of L. Ron Hubbard.
Hollywood was, in other words, ripe for David Malmuth. In 1995, Malmuth was fresh off his success in restoring Times Square’s New Amsterdam Theater as a premiere venue for Disney stage spectaculars — a project that, coupled with Mayor Rudolph Giuliani’s crackdown on sleaze, would become the cornerstone of the new, family-friendly Times Square. Back in Los Angeles, Malmuth immediately grasped the potential that had long attracted redevelopment speculators to the site at Hollywood and Highland: its proximity to the legendary hand- and footprints at the Chinese Theater, and the coming Metro Rail stop.
The parallels between Times Square and Hollywood Boulevard were obvious to Malmuth: marquee locations with a built-in, underserved tourist base, just waiting for someone to make them safe for consumer activity. More over, Disney already had a stake in the redevelopment of the boulevard: the El Capitan Theater, across from Hollywood and Highland.
When the CRA circulated a new "Request for Proposal" for the Hollywood and Highland site in late 1995, Malmuth lobbied his then-boss, Michael Eisner, to stake a claim. Eisner passed, telling Malmuth he thought the project was more a real estate venture than an entertainment one. Like the studio heads at Paramount and Universal, who also looked at and passed on the site, he may have had jitters about tying his company’s brand name to the dicey prospects of Hollywood rejuvenation.
Undeterred, Malmuth left Disney for San Diego–based TrizecHahn Centers, a worldwide mall builder that fancied itself as the company "best positioned to be on the cutting edge of a new generation of retail development." Under Malmuth’s direction, TrizecHahn submitted what turned out to be the winning bid.
But Malmuth’s initial pitch was far more modest than the extravaganza currently under construction. In an early interview, he estimated that TrizecHahn would ask for a $10 million subsidy for sidewalk widening and other traffic improvements. Ann Marie Gallant, the CRA’s lead negotiator on the project, was underwhelmed.
Gallant, having worked as an economic development consultant with the League of California Cities, had only just joined the CRA. She hadn’t lived through the redevelopment debacles of the 1980s, hadn’t, in fact, lived in Los Angeles — she lives in Orange County. With her sunny patter and a bumper sticker behind her desk proclaiming, "I Love People Who Love L.A.," she was the picture of unreconstructed boosterism. Hollywood and Highland was her first project for the CRA, and, she remembers thinking, "It has to be something spectacular."
"I could have done a parking structure, and it would have been no big deal, total vanilla," Gallant says of Malmuth’s original offering. "But it would have done nothing [for the boulevard]. There was nothing of Hollywood in it."
In the summer of 1997, after months of slow-moving negotiations, Malmuth floated a new concept by Gallant. "David came in here, and he said, ‘Basically, I think I can get a deal here in the next few months to bring the Academy [Awards] back to Hollywood.’"Malmuth had said the magic words. "Bringing the Academy Awards back to Hollywood" was a high-concept hook, a calling card that opened the city coffers for what would be the biggest public subsidy in recent memory. After all, what was more Hollywood than the Academy Awards?
Gallant is cocky, even giddy, as she recounts the story. "It was a total no-brainer," she gushes. "I said, ‘Let’s go for it.’"The Academy pulled the CRA into an upward spiral of escalating budgets and expectations. Gallant surmised straight off that TrizecHahn, given its financial projections, wasn’t about to underwrite what was essentially a loss leader for the mall. As she says now, "I knew I was going to have to go for big bucks."