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
If you want to know how La Pietra will get things done, take a look at how he does business. Despite the success of his two clubs, La Pietra has always wanted Hollywood to host a New Year's Eve celebration on the scale of New York City's Times Square event. For the last two years, he's organized the Giant New Year's Eve street party, closing off Hollywood Boulevard for thousands of revelers, to raise money for Hollywood-area charities.
The first party, Giant 2000, raised more than $200,000. La Pietra had sold skeptical Hollywood merchants and the city of Los Angeles on that first event by teaming with up veteran Bay Area club organizer Dave Dean, who, in addition to working with a crew of party experts, had devised a prepackaged concept called Giant. Despite grumbling from some of the clubs, restaurants and bars in Hollywood, the event was successful. And besides, who could really argue against a fund-raiser that would benefit the Boys and Girls clubs, the Gay and Lesbian Center, and an AIDS hospice, among many other local groups?
Dean says La Pietra liked the marketing of the event so much that he eventually used Giant's theme in his clubs. When he first started working with La Pietra two years ago, Dean says, Arena and Circus were outdated and usually empty. Within months, Dean says, they turned around and became two of the most popular dance clubs in Hollywood. The change worked great, says Dean, until La Pietra decided he no longer needed Dean. The night he was fired, Dean says, La Pietra walked outside Arena with a couple of bouncers behind him and handed Dean a letter terminating their relationship.
But La Pietra wasn't about to part with Giant. He continued to use the club's name and logo until, Dean says, his attorney sent La Pietra a terse letter of warning. Dean is now suing La Pietra claiming breach of contract, misappropriation of trade secrets and defamation, among other charges.
For the New Year's Eve party 2001, an event called Centre of the Universe, La Pietra tried to go it alone. Again, he tried to convince skeptical Hollywood merchants that the exposure would be good for Hollywood and that the street party would bring them all business. And again, he stressed the charitable nature of the event. He got LAPD Hollywood Division Captain Michael Downing to be an advisor, and garnered Garcetti's blessings as well.
But this time La Pietra was more ambitious. He wanted to shut down a seven-block stretch of Hollywood Boulevard. Clubs such as the Palace and Catalina Bar & Grill protested, as did many members of the Hollywood Business Improvement District.
La Pietra promised to work with everyone and come up with a plan that would address everyone's concerns.
Ten days before the party, Councilman Garcetti introduced a motion waiving the city's event fees of $11,542. La Pietra essentially received free traffic and police support.
There were plenty of revelers that night, and many merchants in Hollywood said their businesses did okay. After the party, La Pietra claimed the event was a complete success, telling Hollywood merchants, the news media, the city, the board of directors, everyone, that he raised more than $300,000. To make sure the organizations got their promised donations, La Pietra says he put $211,000 of his own money into the event.
La Pietra's detractors are taking matters into their own hands to make sure another New Year's Eve event doesn't take place. The Coalition for Hollywood, made up of Hollywood nightclub owners, was recently granted a permit by the Board of Police Commissioners to hold a New Year's Eve rally from 11 p.m. to 1 a.m. at the same location. Says Joel Fisher, director of public affairs for the Palace: "We are concerned about the continuation of people staying away because of the party."
BEING A BOOSTER IS ONE THING, WANTING TO LEAD THE parade is another.
"I know everybody in Hollywood . . . and I never heard of him" before the secession movement hit the news last March, says Hollywood activist Chris Shabel. Shabel is one of those people everyone says you need to talk to when doing a story about Hollywood. She's been active in Hollywood since 1975, when people were still just talking about Hollywood revitalization. She makes it clear she's skeptical of La Pietra's professed love of Hollywood and his calling to be its mayor.
"I network at all the meetings [in Hollywood], and I've never seen him at any [of them]. How does he know what people are feeling?" she asks. Shabel admits that when the subject of secession first came up, she, like many others, was curious, even a bit supportive. Who wouldn't be, she says, if you care anything about Hollywood?
This is where Shabel's and other Hollywood boosters' arguments intersect with La Pietra's. Both sides agree that Hollywood needs fixing. But Shabel and dozens of other Hollywood activists who were interviewed for this article say they don't trust La Pietra to supervise the repairs. Shabel remembers when La Pietra and his sidekick Ferris Wehbe, who ran a failed campaign against LaBonge, started making the rounds in Hollywood, giving their "We need our own city" pitch.