By JENNIFER STEINHAUER
|Monica Almeida/The New York Times
|After a mixed-use development project came to fruition in the neighborhood of the landmark Grauman's Chinese Theatre, nightlife, restaurants and housing followed.
LOS ANGELES, Jan. 25 — For decades, tourists deposited themselves at one of the most famous intersections in America — Hollywood and Vine — and looked around in puzzlement, wondering what exactly they were supposed to be seeing.
The surrounding Hollywood neighborhood had fallen into such miserable disrepair that its main consumers were people seeking drugs or tattoos. Many entertainment companies were long gone. Crime was rampant, incomes were depressed, and people who labored in the industry that gave the neighborhood its fame were nowhere to be found.
But in a few weeks, work will begin on a luxury hotel and a collection of $1 million condominiums at Hollywood Boulevard and Vine Street, joining a skyline of condos and trendy new hamburger and sushi outposts rising among the mid-20th-century architecture.
That Los Angeles neighborhood, which had been promised a comeback for a good 40 years, seems to have finally achieved it, a cross-continent bookend to the transformation of Times Square in New York, with one key difference: Los Angeles residents, not just tourists, have found reasons to go there and live there.
“Hollywood is a testament to people’s desire to live in places with some sense of history and a sense of place,” said David Malmuth, a developer who brought the Kodak Theater, home to the Academy Awards, to Hollywood and also oversaw the renovation of the New Amsterdam Theater in Times Square.
In the last several years alone, more than $2 billion has been spent on projects in the neighborhood, including mixed-use retail and apartment complexes and new schools and museums. Many urban planning experts see something other than a confluence of low interest rates, a tight housing market and developers with a gleam in their eyes.
The Hollywood renaissance represents a potential future of much more of Los Angeles, a sprawling, horizontal city where vertical, dense and at least somewhat walkable neighborhoods with public transportation are increasingly in vogue.
“It is a comeback that shows there is some demand for a more urban way of life,” said Anastasia Loukaitou-Sideris, chairwoman of the Department of Urban Planning at the University of California, Los Angeles. “It is a comeback that is based not only on entertainment and commercial spaces, but mixed use and housing, at the same time the city is building its rail service.”
Among the many celebrated neighborhoods of Los Angeles, the 25 square miles of Hollywood have long stood out.
The New York Times
Outside of the Walk of Fame, the circular Capitol Records building and other historically sumptuous landmarks, the neighborhood is a richly diverse community of 222,694 people — from the wealthy residents peering out at the world from the hills above Hollywood proper, to the middle- and lower-income inhabitants of the streets below.
Like a great old house, the bones of Hollywood remained mostly untouched in its down years by large-scale development and the more unfortunate inclinations of contemporary urban planners. Yet years of disinvestment in the area, led by the fleeing of the movie studios, took its toll.
“It just needed a huge surge of capital investment to bring those buildings back,” said Christi Van Cleve, a partner at Roschen Van Cleve Architects, which has restored several buildings in the neighborhood.
Proponents of the new Hollywood have a data point they love to trot out: in the 1980s, the average stay on Hollywood Boulevard was a depressing 28 minutes, or about the time it can take to find a parking spot in the thriving nearby city of West Hollywood. People slept in the streets, and a drug trade prospered among boarded up historic sites.
By the early 1990s, three major projects proposed for the area had fallen apart. Subway construction was just beginning, leaving a sinkhole in the street and traffic nightmares all around. The Los Angeles riots and an economic recession had done little to brighten the hopes of Hollywood, and private equity wanted no part of it.
Then, in 1993, “Jackie Goldberg came along,” said Leron Gubler, president of the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce, referring to the Los Angeles city councilwoman representing Hollywood at the time who went on to become a state legislator. “She said, ‘Nothing is going to happen here until we address some of the basic problems,’ ” Mr. Gubler said.
The Community Redevelopment Agency, a city-sponsored revitalization effort, had begun to pay for street improvements, fixing up facades on buildings. Next came a police foot patrol paid for largely by the transit authority.
In 1995, Ms. Goldberg and the chamber staff decided to create a business improvement district along six blocks on Hollywood Boulevard. The next year, the district was established with $600,000 raised through business owners, who had their trepidations. They had heard the “Hollywood is back” storyline before.
“It was a challenge,” said Mr. Gubler, who at one point nearly stalked the owner of the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel to get the last signature on a petition needed to get it all done. The hotel — founded in 1927 by a syndicate of Hollywood stars like Mary Pickford and Douglas Fairbanks, and home to the first Academy Awards — had as much at stake as any luminary.
By 1997, thanks to armed guards, crime in the area had dropped over 50 percent. “That is when we began to see the light at the end of the tunnel,” Mr. Gubler said.
At the same time, Mr. Malmuth, the developer, took an interest in Hollywood. He and others focused on the corner of Hollywood and Highland, a major intersection ripe for commercial development. Mr. Malmuth joined a development firm that committed to a mixed-use project that would become the home of the Academy Awards ceremony.
The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, which had been sniffing around for new options for the Oscars, embraced the idea of a live theater surrounded by retailers and other tenants.
“When I took this into the board of governors, I thought it was going to be a hard sell,” said Bruce Davis, the executive director of the academy. “At that time, Hollywood definitely had a seedy reputation.”
The Hollywood and Highland project, first proposed at a cost of $150 million in 1998, came to fruition in 2001 at a cost closer to $600 million. Slowly, a steady stream of interest among other commercial developers followed, and nightlife and restaurants — the dual forces of urban renewal — came too, as did the final piece, new housing.
Now cruising east on Hollywood Boulevard toward a sea of glittering lights, the sleazy motels and tattoo parlors begin to give way to Starbucks and a Virgin Megastore, and the hopelessly chic Geisha House, a giant emporium of oyster shooters and sashimi “igloo style,” and the sort of people who spend a good chunk of their week in Pilates classes.
In a nod to the corner’s glamorous past, there will be an 11-story W Hotel at Hollywood and Vine. It was there that the famous Brown Derby Restaurant opened in 1929, and for years remained the watering hole for studio executives and “the talent” streaming out of nearby film studios — more Spago than Spago today.
The restaurant fell to seed like much the neighborhood in the 1970s, and closed in 1985. In a depressing coda, most of the building burned in 1987, and it was demolished in 1994. The new project at the intersection, expected to open in 2009, will include the 300-room W Hotel and a 14-story luxury condominium tower. Across the street, a converted office building has sold out its luxury condos, including one to Charlize Theron, said Eric Garcetti, the Los Angeles City Council speaker whose district includes Hollywood.
“People are seeing stars here again,” said Mr. Garcetti, who helped pass an ordinance to increase housing in the area. Developers creating apartment and condo complexes with city money are required to set aside 20 percent of the units for low-income residents, and a few sites offer more, like one along two blocks at Hollywood and Western, in colorful block buildings that look like a Mondrian painting.
But displacement of the residents who stood by Hollywood at its worst — the seamy underbelly of neighborhood renewal — is no doubt happening.
“The more they put up big flashy apartments, the more difficult it is to make ends meet,” said Tita Stallings, who has lived in Hollywood for 20 years. “As a low-income single parent, it scares the hell out of me.”
Larry Gross, the executive director of the Coalition for Economic Survival, a tenants’ rights organization, estimates that at least 1,000 units of low-income housing have been lost to development over the last five years.
Mr. Garcetti said he has struggled against this tide, requiring developers, for instance, to offer jobs to local residents and pay higher wages, and pushing for more affordable housing. “We don’t want the people who laid the groundwork here to get pushed out,” he said.
The Gap is in Hollywood now, which may just about say it all. And the subway is now open for business, ferrying people in and out of the area and setting the foundation of what may become a new Los Angeles, with fewer cars and more urban living.
|Monica Almeida/The New York Times
|Along with its famous tourist attractions, the Hollywood neighborhood now has many retail stores and restaurants that also draw Los Angeles residents.