The real, rundown Hollywood starts on the comeback trail


LOS ANGELES -- For years now, the fanny-pack-toting innocents who ventured a few steps from Mann's Chinese Theater on their tour have stumbled upon the discovery that in a close-up, Hollywood -- the place, the decaying chunk of northwestern Los Angeles -- has little in common with the booming industry of the same name.

As they followed the Walk of Fame trail of stars on the sidewalks east along Hollywood Boulevard past the occasional boarded-up shop and the peculiarly loitering young men with beepers or women in stilettos, many shared the reaction of Marlene Keith, a mother of five from the Cape Cod town of Dennisport, Mass. What she had expected, she said, was "glamorous and glitzy." What she had found was "shoddy and seedy."

"And a little scary," she added.

But these days, city officials and local merchants say, that image is changing. The turnaround of Hollywood -- its facelift, injections of capital and image-polishing -- has begun.

"Hollywood probably is the most valuable trademark in the world," said Gary Mendoza, the deputy mayor of Los Angeles. "[New York's] Times Square has a level of international cachet that may not rival Hollywood's, and if Times Square can go through the renovation it's gone through, there's no reason in the world why we can't do the same."

Of course, Hollywood has gone through even harder times than 42nd Street, what with earthquakes helping to literally bring down landmarks like the Brown Derby, the lingerie looting of Frederick's of Hollywood during the 1992 riots and recent sinkhole problems on Hollywood Boulevard brought on by subway construction.

And it has not yet attracted the mega-investments that Walt Disney Co. and others are putting into Times Square. But boosters point nonetheless to new ground for optimism and the increasingly recognized development potential of a mecca for more than 9 million tourists a year.

City officials count at least $100 million in public and private money on its way into the district for 69 new developments and 36 renovations and expansions of museums, theaters, retail stores, restaurants and other projects.

Last month, they added, the American Film Institute held its film festival at Hollywood Boulevard's theaters for the first time, and the first meeting was held for developers who may want to bid on a multimillion-dollar complex around the Hollywood subway portal that is to open in 1998.

As in the transformation of Times Square, 41 owners in Hollywood have banded together to create a small Business Improvement District, which will collect $600,000 a year from members to pay for a private security force and other improvements starting in December. The California Highway Patrol began deploying officers last month along the boulevard to crack down on the young people who traditionally cruise in their cars on weekends.

The city is offering special loans and tax breaks to developers in Hollywood, and Richard Riordan, Los Angeles' business-friendly mayor, declared the area an economic priority.

The new, 33,000-square-foot Hollywood Entertainment Museum a few steps from Mann's opened full time last week, offering visitors a stroll around the Starship Enterprise bridge and the bar used in "Cheers," among other attractions.

The shuttered Max Factor makeup museum is scheduled to become a Hollywood history museum, and the Chamber of Commerce plans to post nearly 50 explanatory signs on the district's buildings -- noting, for example, that Clark Gable and Carole Lombard hid away at the Roosevelt Hotel and that gossipmonger Louella Parsons broadcast from the Hollywood Hotel.

And the entertainment business itself is growing in Hollywood, officials say. Most big studios -- except Paramount -- moved out years ago, but there is so much small-scale production and other entertainment work in Hollywood that there is a shortage of work space, said Julie Kleinick, former president of the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce.

"Contrary to popular belief, entertainment people want to be here, but they want a clean and safe environment," she said.

Pub Date: 11/12/96

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