After years of retrenchment and recriminations, and over $400 million in misspent and misdirected money, redevelopment is coming back to Hollywood Boulevard. A slew of new projects — totaling more than 3 million square feet of restaurants and stores, 4,000 movie-theater seats, half a dozen parking lots, and several hotels — have been approved or are on the drawing boards. In October, ground was broken on the centerpiece of the Community Redevelopment Agency’s ambitious plans: a $388 million “urban destination entertainment center” that will surround Mann’s Chinese Theater and sprawl over eight and a half acres at the corner of Hollywood Boulevard and Highland Avenue.
Bigger than the Getty Center, bigger than downtown’s new Staples Arena, bigger than the proposed (and much-reviled) Village Center in Westwood — the biggest development, in fact, to be built in Los Angeles for the last 15 years — it is the brainchild of David Malmuth, the young and polished developer credited, while working for Disney, with pulling New York’s Times Square out of the gutter and into the glitter. The CRA is betting $90 million in public funds that Malmuth’s newest creation, called “Hollywood and Highland,” will spark a similar revival of the long-faded boulevard.
Malmuth plans to wrap what is essentially a mall in “the magic name and magic image of Hollywood.” Hollywood and Highland’s first tenant is Oscar, who will be presented at the mall’s Premiere Theater in the March 2001 broadcast of the Academy Awards. From the mall’s central plaza, a reproduction of the Babylonian Court set from D.W. Griffith’s 1916 epic Intolerance, to the stores, each themed in homage to moviedom, Hollywood and Highland will be a monument to the Hollywood that exists foremost in the expectations of the tourists who wander the boulevard in search of it. “We have before us a historic opportunity,” Malmuth told the audience at a zoning hearing, “to create that place that begins to fulfill the expectations of what Hollywood can be.”
“Hollywood and Highland will serve as our Empire State Building and Eiffel Tower,” adds musician-entrepreneur Quincy Jones, who recently signed a deal to open music-showcase venue Q’s Jook Joint at the site.
Hollywood and Highland is the first and most important of three “mega-blocks” of development that, in the CRA’s thinking, will eventually make the entire milelong stretch of glass-flecked asphalt running from La Brea Boulevard east to Vine Street (and down to Sunset) swarm with commerce. “Hollywood Boulevard will be filled with traffic,” enthuses City Councilwoman Jackie Goldberg, the doyenne of all this growth and the political muscle behind Hollywood and Highland’s massive public subsidy. “Nothing would please me more than a traffic jam on Hollywood Boulevard.”
If all this sounds familiar, it should. In the 1980s, developers unveiled one big project after another — the Hollywood Promenade, the Hollywood Urban Village, the Hollywood Galaxy — each based on the retail-entertainment center concept, each promising to “put the sparkle back in Tinseltown,” as the headlines of the day read. But that formula — what former CRA architect John Kaliski disparagingly calls “single-entity redevelopment designed to make all boats rise” — met with disastrous results the first time around. The Promenade and the Urban Village fell to the recession, while the slick, space-age-design Galaxy — the only one of the much-ballyhooed projects to materialize — today sits half-empty, a monument to redevelopment gone awry.
By the early 1990s, Kaliski and others were promoting a different kind of neighborhood revival, what Kaliski calls “ground-up incrementalism.” What Hollywood needed, according to this line of thinking, was not big blockbusters, but a more intensive, block-by-block, storefront-by-storefront restoration, coupled with better basic public services such as police patrols, street cleaning and parking. The restored El Capitan Theater, the new Panavision headquarters on Selma, and the American Cinematheque’s new home at the refurbished Egyptian Theater — and the restaurants clustering around it, including the outré Les Deux Cafés and hep impresario Sean MacPherson’s latest — are all examples of this sort of “ground-up” revival. The CRA’s return to the blockbuster arena comes, ironically, just as this piecemeal revival is taking hold.
The clash of philosophies raises some important questions: Can the two modes of redevelopment exist side by side, in harmony? Will they, in fact, complement one another, as Goldberg believes, the big splash of Hollywood and Highland rippling down the boulevard in miniwaves of development? Or, as critics fear, will the development have the opposite effect? Even if Malmuth’s mall does achieve Universal CityWalk–like success, separating tourists and locals from their money by the truckload, will its sheer size and elaborately themed concourses and arcades drain from the rest of the boulevard what little economic life has taken root there? Laid end to end, after all, Hollywood and Highland’s 1.2 million square feet of shops, food courts, cinemas and hotel suites would stretch for ä over a mile of storefronts — the equivalent, in other words, of the distance from La Brea to Vine.
Moreover, what effect will a huge themed mall have on the character of Hollywood Boulevard? While few are likely to defend certain aspects of the all-too-real Hollywood, in the Firefly and Boardner’s and the Frolic Room, it definitely has its gritty, glitterless appeal. The “Hollywood” that Malmuth is trying to invoke, as chroniclers of L.A. have long pointed out, was never so much a geographic location as a state of mind — and a foreign one at that. For residents of the area, that state of mind remains mostly hype. It is one thing for the American Cinematheque to restore Sid Grauman’s other theater (see sidebar) and to provide (and profit from) a program for tourists during the day while catering to resident cine astes at night; it’s quite another thing to depend almost entirely on that faux past.
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. ä
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.)
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.”
The “big bucks” translated into a $30 million public outlay to finance the construction of the custom-built, live-broadcast theater the Academy demanded (and would use only one month out of every 12) — money Gallant knew could not be recouped from the rental of what later would be called the Premiere Theater. To generate the tax revenue to pay off so much public indebtedness, the CRA would have to let the project double in size — from 640,000 square feet of retail space to 1.2 million — and it would have to cough up $60 million for parking. In the name of bringing a once-a-year awards show back to Hollywood, TrizecHahn’s project went from a $150 million mall to a $388 million “urban destination entertainment center” overnight.
What followed was a very Hollywood bit of legerdemain to make these numbers pencil out. The CRA commissioned KMG consultants, a West Los Angeles real estate and urban-economics firm, to examine the project’s financial projections, which — surprise — came up roses. Using the agency’s underlying economic assumptions, KMG reported that the parking lot would return $10 million per year to the city, gross. The retail cash tills would tally another $1.9 million per year in new sales taxes, and the hotel would add $2.8 million. Business-license and utility taxes would kick in $500,000. Over 30 years, by KMG’s reckoning, the project would generate more than $200 million in profits for the city, even after paying back the $90 million subsidy.
A few critics — quickly dismissed as cranks by Gallant and Jackie Goldberg — pointed out that the assumptions underlying these numbers were delusionally optimistic. For the parking structure to generate that kind of revenue, said David Morgan, all 3,000 spaces would have to be filled 365 days per year for 30 years. Even more suspect was the assumption that the mall, by 2003, would attract 9 million visitors per year — that’s 25,000 per day — each of whom would spend $91.20 per day at the mall. John Walsh, the CRA’s most prescient critic, scoffed: “You mean to tell me that someone on a tour bus of Hollywood who is buying three T-shirts for 10 bucks across the street can afford to drop 90 bucks a day just to walk up to the front doors of a theater where, once a year, the Academy Awards are presented?”
Beyond these details was the larger question of how to sell what had become the largest development in the city. How could you convince the public to accept a ziggurat at one of the busiest intersections in the city? How could you justify providing one of the world’s premier real-estate-development corporations with a line of credit worth, after interest, $240 million?
In the ensuing months, says Barbara Smith of the American Cinematheque, Malmuth ran “the smoothest campaign I’ve ever seen.” The executive attended “literally hundreds” of neighborhood-association meetings and met personally with every member of the City Council. With his easygoing boomer air and his pale summerweight suits, Malmuth came off as anything but an arrogant, high-handed developer. He even gave out his cell-phone number to the Orchid Avenue owners association, whose members would suffer the greatest impact from the development. “Now is the moment in time to lock our arms together and see if we can’t make this boulevard go forward again,” Malmuth urged anyone within earshot. “Scrub off some of the grime, and you find some wonderful stuff in Hollywood.” In a neighborhood that had seen little but disappointment in recent years, Malmuth’s words — ä however rooted in personal and company gain — came as a welcome tonic.
Those doubters Malmuth couldn’t smooth into supporting the project he brought into the fold in a more traditional fashion. When the neighboring Outpost Estates Homeowners Association balked at the amount of congestion the project would generate, for instance, Malmuth offered to pay for a package of traffic improvements the group had been seeking for years. Now the association is solidly behind the deal. This year, playing both the short- and long-field game, TrizecHahn has consistently ranked in the top five on the City Ethics Commission’s quarterly survey of lobbyist spending. (The company laid out $358,000 for lobbying in the first nine months of this year alone.)
But the key to Malmuth’s success was the alliance he forged early on with Jackie Goldberg. Their joint appearances — at zoning-board hearings, City Council meetings and the like — have been nothing short of love fests. From the start, Goldberg parroted the mantra of Hollywood and Highland, dubbing TrizecHahn the “catalyst for revitalizing Hollywood.”
Goldberg is an unlikely convert to the gospel of trickle-down redevelopment. Since her days as an L.A. Unified School District board member, she has preached a grassroots, ground-up politics rooted in her district’s social-services organizations. Her image as L.A.’s most liberal City Council member paints her as anything but a development stooge.
In their early discussions with Goldberg, according to a source close to TrizecHahn, the developers were surprised at the thrust of Goldberg’s demands. She didn’t harp on the traditional sticking points of traffic mitigation, height restrictions, parking, et cetera. Foremost in her mind was an issue developers had, up to that point, barely considered: the so-called “living wage” ordinance.
Passed in 1997, the living-wage ordinance, which requires city contractors to pay their employees a minimum of $7.50 an hour with benefits and $8.25 without, was Goldberg’s signature achievement on the City Council. At the time of her discussions with TrizecHahn, Goldberg was embroiled in a fight with the Mayor’s Office and with several city departments that had interpreted the ordinance narrowly to exclude city franchisees such as airlines and security firms. If Goldberg could persuade TrizecHahn — not technically a city contractor — to sign off on living-wage provisions, she would be establishing an important precedent.
TrizecHahn’s executives could scarcely believe their luck. The living-wage ordinance, applied to the mall’s security and service personnel, would cost them a relative ä pittance, and they quickly signed off on the deal. They also agreed not to block unionization efforts at their hotel. Henceforth, Goldberg would become their biggest and most important booster.
The living-wage and pro-union provisions are central to Goldberg’s emerging vision of Hollywood’s economic and social development. On a recent walking tour of the neighborhood around the boulevard, Goldberg’s first stop is the Halifax apartment building at Cahuenga and Yucca. The onetime home of Bette Davis and Joan Crawford, the Halifax had devolved over the years into one of Hollywood’s sadder emblems. “When you thought of a slum, of the word dreadful, a place you never wanted to walk by, much less walk into, you were thinking of the Halifax,” Goldberg says. “People wanted to tear it down.” But the building, with an infusion of redevelopment funds, survived. Now, says the councilwoman, “It’s our pride and joy.”
Goldberg swoops inside the 1930s-vintage lobby, greeting tenants cheerfully, provoking polite exchanges of “Hello” and “How are you?” She pauses, peering up at the coffered ceiling. “This is my Hollywood, the Chandleresque Hollywood,” Goldberg says, running her hand along the Corinthian columns, “and I don’t want it to disappear.”
The restoration of low-income housing, Goldberg argues, “had to happen if Hollywood Boulevard was going to come back. Otherwise, these slums are millstones that will drag it down.” As Goldberg lays out her conception for revival, she sounds part piercing urban critic Jane Jacobs and part Robert Moses, the nation’s greatest re developer (and Jacobs’ long-standing nemesis). “There are three Hollywoods,” she explains, “residential, entertainment-production and tourist. None can be healthy if the others are not healthy.” The Halifax and TrizecHahn, in other words, are inextricably bound together. “We are making this a place where people who are making a living wage have decent, clean, affordable and, in this case, gorgeous housing,” she says, gesturing at the lobby. “My hope is they’ll be able to work nearby” — presumably at Hollywood and Highland — “at living wages.”
Goldberg is unabashed about her faith in the huge project down the block. Of another hotel proposed for the site cater-cornered to Hollywood and Highland, to be known as “the Doubletree at Highland,” she enthuses, “It’s a clear spinoff. Now that TrizecHahn is here . . . kaboom! Now it happens! Even if it’s not perfect, all we want the TrizecHahn project to do is up the ante. That’s all we want it to do.”
By this time, Goldberg has made her way south on Las Palmas, marching toward the rear of the Egyptian Theater, the new home of the American Cinematheque — what Goldberg calls her “second favorite project.” In the shade of the Las Palmas newsstand, she pauses to tick off the tony restaurants that have sprung up around the Cinematheque.
“It’s the percolating effect, absolutely 100 percent the percolating effect,” Goldberg says, bringing the subject back around to TrizecHahn. “These people capitalize on big projects coming in. Where there is money going in, more money follows.” Indeed, last month new investors stepped in to take over the perennially troubled Galaxy Mall, citing the anticipated impact of Hollywood and Highland as a major factor in their decision. And last week, Frederick’s of Hollywood announced that, due to rising real estate prices in the area, the company would sell its landmark building on the boulevard — while continuing to operate its store at street level.
In fact, however, in her repetition of the new Hollywood-redevelopment gospel of big bangs and economic catalysts, Goldberg has reversed the chronology. The Cinematheque, the dust-off of the boulevard, the incipient hipness of the neighborhood — all precede TrizecHahn. Indeed, some argue, Malmuth’s mall would never have arrived on the boulevard were it not for the piecemeal revival that has been under way since Goldberg’s predecessor, former City Councilman Mike Woo, kick-started the Egyptian restoration in 1992.
What sparked Hollywood’s comeback was not glitz and big economic engines like TrizecHahn. It was neighborhood patrols and the creation of a Business Improvement District that financed mundanities like street sweeping and better security on Hollywood Boulevard. It was the CRA’s decision, in the early 1990s, to put money into fundamentals, such as landscaping and sidewalk repair, that had been neglected in the grander visions. It was, in short, the sort of ground-up incrementalism from which Hollywood and Highland represents an abrupt departure.
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 ä 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 ä 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?
Intolerance is 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.
For all its claims to cinematic achievement, Intolerance was a financial disaster for Griffith and his investors, becoming in its day a symbol of Tinseltown excess. The fallout forced Griffith back into making smaller, more intimate romances — in which, ironically, he did what stands as some of his best, most lasting work. Intolerance left another legacy of note: It seems the giant pachyderms Griffith built for the film’s Babylonian sequences, and which will be re-created in Hollywood and Highland’s central plaza, were rather difficult to get rid of. As time passed, and the unwanted creatures sat for years on the old set at Hollywood and Sunset, it is said that they gave birth (or at least added heft) to the commonly used term for a costly and useless extravagance — “white elephant.”
Advertising disclosure: We may receive compensation for some of the links in our stories. Thank you for supporting LA Weekly and our advertisers.