HOLLYWOOD — Imagine a night on the town in the year 2001. If all goes according to plan, Hollywood Boulevard will return from years of decline and civic neglect. The boarded-up storefronts and blocks of T-shirt emporiums will disappear, giving way to elegant restaurants, arthouse cinemas, hip emporiums. An Imax theater could lure 20 million annual visitors out of their electric cars and off the Red Line subway onto the star-paved sidewalks.
Hollywood will be at the center of Los Angeles’ culture and entertainment options, with diversions including the New York avant-garde performance space the Knitting Factory, a reopening of the Pig n’ Whistle restaurant, the Hollywood Bungalow restaurant, exIncendo, Cafe des Artistes, an expansion of Les Deux Cafes, and the Sunset Room. New nightclubs like Blue, Vinyl, the Beauty Bar, the King King Club, Daddy’s and Quincy Jones’ Q’s Jook Joint will fill the agendas of scenesters.
Hollywood’s imminent transformation isn’t going to happen by magic as the millenium dawns, however. Even before Trizec-Hahn’s Hollywood Highland project was announced last year, the seeds of redevelopment were being planted. In 1996, a business improvement district assessed property owners fees in order to fund the increased security, maintenance and promotion of the area. The city’s Community Redevelopment Agency (CRA) shares credit with property owners in the Hollywood Entertainment District for laying the groundwork to revitalize the historic ‘hood.
“We’re using the history of the neighborhood to insure that Hollywood stays real and does not become a sanitized version of itself,” says Roxanna Tynan, from Los Angeles city council member Jackie Goldberg’s office and her Economic Development Deputy for Hollywood. The overall plan for Hollywood is to keep a healthy balance of businesses, retail/entertainment, and residential neighborhoods.
The MetroRail Red Line construction was faulted with many of the boulevard’s ills in the 1990’s including a massive sinkhole, the lowering of the water table which enhanced the 1994 Northridge earthquake’s destructive power, and street and sidewalk closures.
However, the Red Line’s development was one catalyst for the Hollywood and Highland venture. Developed by TrizecHahn, a combination of city and private property is being transformed into an extensive retail and entertainment center which will host the Academy Awards telecast.
Just north on Highland, the former Holiday Inn is being remodeled as a Marriott Renaissance Hotel. And the restoration of historic landmarks is helping to bring the locals as well as tourists back to the boulevard. The Egyptian and El Capitan theaters rehabs as well as the Hollywood Entertainment Museum, moving into the old Max Factor building, are proving that Los Angeles doesn’t always destroy its historic buildings. But what got restaurateurs really excited was the opening of Broadway’s “The Lion King,” at the Pantages theater. Now in the midst of its year long run, an estimated 2600 hungry patrons (even more on matinee days) descend daily on the eastern end of the boulevard.
The success of Michele Lamy’s Les Deux Cafes, opened in the no-man’s land of Las Palmas, encouraged other entrepreneurs to snap up real estate. Les Deux Cafes will be joined by the disco Blue, and Traction, an upscale jewelry, optical accessories, and art books store, is across the street, metamorphosing the once squalid side street.
Serving the subway crowd is exIncendo, located in the Taft building at Hollywood and Vine, once the work address of Charlie Chaplin and Cecil B. Demille. The ground floor restaurant occupies three restored and reclaimed storefronts. The restaurant’s managing director, Ben Cheng, originally sought the space as site for a commercial bakery but “saw the renovation happening at the street level. I found that people were once again coming down to Hollywood to discover things.” Part of the space is a retail area which offers the company’s ceramics and cast aluminum furniture for sale (www.exhome.com). exIncendo’s daily lunch and dinner menu of fresh California cuisine, includes breads and deserts baked on site. Garlic soup, shrimp pesto pizza, roast turkey panini, and the molten chocolate cake are local favorites with local business people. Catering orders come with exIncendo’s ceramics and silverware instead of paper plates (to be returned, of course).
CIM Group, renovators of Santa Monica’s Third St. Promenade and Pasadena’s Old Town, came to Hollywood, foreseeing another pedestrian-oriented district. “Hollywood has been through its own public hell but a lot has changed,” says John Gibbon, CIM Group’s vice-president of development. CIM backed a number of infill projects, including the remodeling of an art deco gem at Hollywood and Cherokee which brought Laemmle theaters to the boulevard. Gibbon recognizes the Red Line’s contribution to Hollywood’s change of fortune.
“The connection from Universal to Hollywood has created an tourist entertainment itinerary,” says Gibbon. Visitors can connect to downtown and Long Beach using public transportation. This destination driven market appealed to New York’s KnitMedia. They’ve opened an L.A. branch of their popular Tribeca night spot, the Knitting Club, in one of CIM’s properties, the former Hollywood Galaxy theater complex.
“We’ve created the ultimate showcase facility,” says Mike Dorf of the Hollywood and Sycamore Knitting Factory. The bar, cafe and the two live performance spaces are connected by a glass enclosed control room, which gives the club the vibe of a music studio. Video conferencing and cybercasting are possible from the club’s facility which has integrated the latest technology into the site.
While Hollywood has attracted multi-million projects, local entrepreneurs have done their share to resurrect the scene. Susan Moore of the hip Hollywood Hills Coffee Shop is planning a 200 seat restaurant on the the grounds of the Little Country Church of Hollywood. The Hollywood Bungalow, on Argyle, close to the Pantages, will have outside dining and a deck facing the old church. The property has 150 mature trees, more nature than is usually found in the middle of Hollywood. It’s a bit of country in the middle of the city, for a moment recreating Hollywood in the 1930’s, with all its palm trees and wide-open spaces.