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
That vision found articulation in the CRA’s 1993 Hollywood Boulevard District Urban Design Plan, behind which John Kaliski was the leading voice. Kaliski’s plan was never adopted, but for a brief period during the early 1990s, it set the tone for redevelopment in Hollywood.
The linchpin of his proposal was a $90 million sidewalk-widening program. "My interest was in creating more public experi ences that were sidewalk-oriented," Kaliski says of his stint at the CRA. "The great thing about Hollywood Boulevard is that places like the Egyptian and the Chinese are open spaces. They are private, but they open graciously onto the sidewalk. They are clearly subordinate to the street." The plan for Hollywood and Highland, by contrast, calls for a narrowing of sidewalks at 12 nearby intersections to accommodate the additional 1,000 to 2,000 cars per hour Ã¤ expected to plow up Highland Avenue.
Although Kaliski never got his $90 million, his approach led to several individual revivals along the boulevard and nearby streets, including the Egyptian Theater and the popular Hollywood Farmers Market on Ivar.
This type of redevelopment, says Bill Roschen, an architect whose firm is located on the ground floor of the Taft Building at the corner of Hollywood and Vine, creates "public space, inhabitable, neutral ground, a kind of tabula rasa, and allows itself to become some combination of us and it."
Such sentiments seem contrary to what Malmuth and the CRA have in mind. How can a substantially enclosed mall, at the far end of the boulevard, invigorate street life? How can a fanciful, controlled environment become "neutral ground"?
Malmuth and the architects from Ehrenkrantz, Eckstut & Kuhn Architects are not insensitive to such criticism, and have taken pains to avoid characterizing their project as anything like a mall. "This is not intended to be a walk, or a promenade, or anything resembling a shopping mall," Malmuth said at one zoning hearing. "It’s really about the street, and strengthening the connections to Hollywood Boulevard."
"No matter what we do, we are always looking out," adds Elaine Nesbitt, the proj ect architect. "The boulevard is where the action is. As you go up above street level, you don’t have [flat] walls. You have terraces from which people are looking back, always looking back to the boulevard. There will be lots of visual connection, not just physical connection, to the street."
Of course, that’s not too different from how developers 10 years ago described the Hollywood Galaxy mall, which has become an object lesson in bad architecture and wrongheaded redevelopment — "an architectural massing of four levels, each recessed from the floor below with broad walkways," creating an "openness to the Ã¤ street," "suggesting the architecture of the Art Deco period with a contemporary treatment," "a theme that brings back some of the glitz and glamour" of Hollywood.
To their credit, Malmuth and his team have talked about using stone, terra cotta and metal grillwork to avoid the flat, stucco surfaces that so deaden the Galaxy. The trouble is, when you scratch through the chatter about "respect for the street" and the paeans to historic architecture, Hollywood and Highland is — at bottom, like the Galaxy — a themed tourist mall, with more affinity with Universal CityWalk than Malmuth and others care to admit. When someone commented at an early neighborhood meeting that the design looked like Las Vegas, the lead architect, Ezra Ehrenkrantz, in a moment of candor, said, "Exactly."
The hyperkinetic, gigawatt architecture of the Las Vegas strip is both an eyesore and a harrowing evocation of the future of Hollywood’s Main Street, and everyone in the room, including Malmuth, reportedly grimaced. But is there any better description of what the developer has touted as Hollywood and Highland’s "focal point," a re-creation of the Babylonian Court set from D.W. Griffith’s Intolerance? Is there a closer metaphysical antecedent than Las Vegas for an imitation of a film set — itself, of course, also an imitation — pretending to be architecture?Intoleranceis a curious and perhaps unintentionally telling source of inspiration for Malmuth’s mall. Griffith’s second and last epic melodrama (after Birth of a Nation) is, of course, meant to summon Hollywood’s glorious, prelapsarian past, the time before "the pictures . . . got small," as Norma Desmond (herself a fine emblem of fallen Hollywood) put it in Sunset Boulevard. Released in 1916, Intolerance was one of the most ambitious and flamboyant cinematic undertakings of the day, making use — as film critic David Thomson pointed out in his Biographical Dictionary of Film — of every technological and visual innovation Griffith had pioneered in his early career.
But in Thomson’s view, the "brilliant fragments" Griffith achieved give way to an overall effect of "portentousness"; the film’s "size exceeds Griffith’s sense of detail." Thomson writes that "the most damaging exposure is of Griffith’s adherence to a shallow, sentimental code of morality, at variance with the authenticity he was able to obtain in performances and that he cultivated in art direction." Change "code of morality" to "image of Hollywood," think of the actors as real people and of art direction as architecture, and you have a pretty good description of what is wrong with Hollywood and Highland.