The retail sector is in crisis. And the Hollywood area has struggled for decades to clean up its act. So it takes real chutzpah to build a $615 million shopping mall on Hollywood Boulevard that proudly displays two gigantic white elephants.But the Hollywood & Highland site, which has its grand opening today, is a shrine to Hollywood-style confidence. To most showbizzers, the H&H project is synonymous with the new Kodak Theater. And the Kodak is synonymous with the Oscars, which hold a 20-year lease there. But H&H, developed and built by TrizecHahn, is actually two projects in one. The Kodak is in the middle of the block; adjoining it, to the east, is a multistory mall filled with shops, restaurants, a movie theater and nightclubs. And the two projects sit there, side by side, like non-identical Siamese twins. The “red carpet” entrance area leading to the Kodak is lined with shops. And while it’s fun to imagine Judi Dench and Jack Valenti popping into California Pizza Kitchen for a quick nosh on their way to the Oscars, in fact this area will be “decorated” before the ceremony — a polite way of saying that the store fronts will be covered up. (In other words, stars aren’t the only ones due for extensive makeovers during Academy Award weekend.) With stores and restaurants closing for the big weekend, gum-chewing mall rats and Bermuda shorts-clad tourists will be swept from the immediate area. (If Jack and Judi are hankerin’ for food, however, they can go down Hollywood Boulevard to the nearby Popeyes Chicken.) The mall closing will solve some problems for the Oscars, but for most other events, the stores will stay open. For reasons of security and, as they say, crowd control, kudocast organizers prefer an area that’s flat and pretty deserted — and the downtown venues of the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion and the Shrine filled the bill pretty nicely, especially on a Sunday. But the H&H project was designed to lure as many people as possible. It’s a headache, but once you get inside, it all seems worth it. The 3,300-seat Kodak Theater is pretty damn stunning: Decorated in dark shades of red, it exudes class. And it should prove attractive to a lot of other kudocasts. The theater was literally made to order for the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences, taking into account such varied demands as camera placement, loading docks and press rooms for the winners. And the stage area is huge, affording a lot of space for Oscarcast dance numbers. Yippee! The 25,000-square-foot art deco Grand Ballroom is equally snazzy. It can seat 1,600 or can be sectioned off for smaller fetes, and every event there will be catered by Wolfgang Puck. So it could rival such showbiz-fave fete-spots as the BevHilton and Century Plaza. But while the Kodak solves most kudocast migraines, it raises others. As for traffic, fuhgeddaboudit. Aside from the Oscars, the Kodak will host concerts and legit shows. So drivers who live in the Valley and regularly use Highland need to plan their commutes carefully. (As if the Hollywood Bowl traffic during the summer wasn’t enough!) As for the mall — well, it’s big and clean and airy and it may actually do what people hope: revitalize the whole neighborhood. The mall is what the Hollywood Galaxy wanted to be when it grew up. The new area is a multistoried mix of R&R: restaurants and retail. A collection of tony/hip stores (Polo, Brookstone, Burberry, the Gap) and eateries (everything from Wolfgang Puck to Burger King) are blended together with outsized, movie-themed architectural flourishes. It’s like a vertical City Walk. There are some lamentable touches. On the mall’s walkway are big mosaics featuring pseudo-quotes of generic Hollywood success stories: e.g., “My mother made me practice. For a long time, I hated her for it. Now I’m glad she did; music is my life. — Session musician.” It’s a waste of good tile. Shoppers can read them as they walk along, but my advice to you, both at the mall and in life, is this: Hold your head up high and keep movin’. However, there are some truly theatrical elements. If someone stands at the El Capitan Theater, the Hollywood sign is framed inside the main building of the mall — which you might actually be able to see on a smog-free day. And the elephants are part of a re-creation of the set for D.W. Griffith’s 1916 “Intolerance,” which was filmed not far from the site. But if Hollywood & Highland succeeds, rents in the area will rise. What would happen to such venerable sites as the Ripley’s Believe it or Not Odditorium, or all those identical souvenir shops, with their Betty Boop shot glasses, “Sun your buns in California” postcards and Pokemon clocks? Alas, we could lose part of our precious Hollywood heritage, and they could all head to the elephant’s graveyard.
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