Out on the Boulevard

To those who care, Hollywood Boulevard conjures up a slew of contrasting images, from seedy to glamorous.  The seriously uninitiated believe that Hollywood’s stars promenade up and down the starred sidewalks.  Others, equally uninitiated, believe it’s a place too scary to visit, day or night.  Well, with 35 years of ongoing experience, I can tell you it’s neither.

To me the Boulevard is like good fast food, it’s a treat to the senses but I’m always left with a feeling I shouldn’t indulge myself all the time; it could be bad for me.  OK, maybe it’s a little edgier than that.  It’s a greasy pork sandwich served in a big dirty ashtray.  I just pick it up, dust off the ashes and keep eating.  I can’t help myself.  It’s just too tasty, too fascinating.

The Boulevard - a long view

The Boulevard – a long view

Several of my “wonder years” were spent right off those gum-smeared cigarette-butt-smooshed sidewalks.  Of all the factors in the Hollywood Boulevard equation, those pink white flecked stars have changed the least over the years.

Some of the sidewalk’s stars have dedicated fans that come out and clean them once a month (or more frequently).  Many are dedicated to celebrities who almost nobody nowadays has ever heard of (those are the ones I like the best).  And some are even given out to people that almost everybody might agree is, at least for now, somehow undeserving (and those I like the least).  Some are new and already damaged, some date back to the beginning, 1958, and look like they were dedicated yesterday.  As with their real life counterparts, the fate of the stars can be a crap shoot.

Jean Hersholt's damaged star

Jean Hersholt’s damaged star

This brings us to the next to least unchanging factor; the people who frequent the Boulevard.  Hookers, teenage runaways, wannabe gangstas and skate kids, dizzy Scientologists, the homeless and people who just like to watch are all interspersed with cheerful tourists.  Cheerful tourists are easy to spot, they stop a lot and look down, and they always pose with the overweight guys dressed as Flash and Thor.

Locals are more likely to walk a whole block without stopping and to discard smeared Skooby’s hot dog wrappers on George Peppard’s star.  It’s all just wallpaper to them; they look up, while the newbies all continue to look down.

Only the fashions change, check out the movies “Hollywood Boulevard” (1976) and “Foxes” (1980) and you’ll see what I mean.  Inside the fashion wrappers these local people are the same James Ellroy type characters to me.  Everybody looks to be on the make.  One night last week, driving along and crossing Cherokee, I saw three guys spread eagled against the wall, LAPD, batons out.  “Man if I had a dime……!”  Same as it ever was, only the clothing was different, the cop cars newer.

When I was a kid I learned to simply walk around the hookers and the near ODs as I made my way down past the Gower Gulch on my way to school.  Just last week I remembered this, like a sense memory, and walked from Vine to McCadden Place quickly.  No problemo.IMG_2734

Every few years (or more) I have inspected the Boulevard for changes. 1979,1982,1989,2000,2009 and 2014.  It always looks the same to me, like nothing has changed.  But recently I looked at some pics from 1979 and I thought, “I don’t remember that!  That looks really old, what is that?!” I think it made me feel old is what.

Some favorites are gone, Phil Harris Records, the Seven Seas restaurant, the old Jack in the Box.  But the Artisan’s Patio is still there.  I used to roller skate in and out of there weekend mornings after the city had hosed down the sidewalks.

Hosed down the sidewalks?  My wife asked me about that the other day; she thought it a little odd.  To me it’s always been normal, after all Hollywood Boulevard in the morning is the metaphorical drunk being hosed down in a jail cell before spending the day in the drunk tank.  Anyway, the water makes the stars look newer and even cleans them a little.IMG_2261

The morning is the best, Hollywood Boulevard has always been all mine on those weekdays when I can walk the streets, nobody’s up yet except those few commuters waiting for the Metro.  It’s better with all the stores closed, the tourists and other goofballs are still hours away from appearing.

With the street running almost exactly east-west, the sun here rises in the west (OK, Western Boulevard) and makes its long trek towards LaBrea and the Hills beyond.  If my shadow is about 20 feet long and pointed towards Highland, then that’s my time and I use it well.  I walk, I remember.

I remember the great movie houses that dotted the Boulevard, they’re still there but most of them don’t do what they used to.  Like a couple of others, the Fox Theater is a venue for live music.  And my favorite, the Pacific Theater still sits in stagnating grandeur on the corner of Hollywood and Wilcox.  It’s closed all week, it opens for a while on Sunday, serving as a church.  I wonder what it looks like inside.  Because I can’t get inside I always try to compensate by walking circles around it, snapping pictures.

The Pacific, waiting to be repurposed

The Pacific, waiting to be re-purposed

The Hollywood Theater is now the Guinness Museum.  Others have been converted to retail space.  Even the Egyptian Theater, though remodeled and still showing movies, is more an art house theater for film festival aficionados.  The Vogue, the Vine, the Music Box; all are now gone as first run movie options.  The Pussycat Theater, an adult film venue which had hundreds of light bulbs under the main marquee, is now (perhaps ironically) also a church.

Egyptian Theater, with redesigned forecourt - still no first runs

Egyptian Theater, with redesigned forecourt – still no first runs

Trees, there are trees now; I didn’t remember anything from back then on the Boulevard that ever needed pruning.  And the street lamps, those rectangular white ones with the four stars on each side, are all gone now; or maybe just hidden by the trees.  Foliage is always a good change.

Fed to me gradually over the years, the closing theaters were changes I had to accept, that I could handle.  But one thing that blew me away was the construction of the Metro Red Line running underneath the Boulevard.  A subway system in LA, this branch has 3 stops, at Western, Vine and Highland.

I mean it’s pretty cool, if they think they can handle that kind of thing in quake-land.  After all, the Hollywood Fault runs right underneath the Boulevard, under the subway tube.  But, I’m not ready to see it, it freaks me out.  It’s out of place in LA, the city that has traditionally worshiped the automobile.  When I’m in Hollywood I don’t go there, I don’t want to see it even though I secretly know I’ll be proud of it.  I know I’ll admire it.   I don’t because it just messes too much with my perception of Hollywood.

Because when I go there I try to look for the past, to see what’s the same.  One could start at the entrance to Musso and Frank’s Grill, opened in 1919, it and the sidewalk in front of it has appeared exactly the same as long as I’ve been aware.  There’s still a magic store across the way, though the neighboring toy store is gone.  Frederick’s of Hollywood has moved across the street.IMG_2739

The Hollywood Wax Museum is still there but it looks different, too developed somehow.  So I look at the Supply Sergeant, with its big old sign on top, there’s an anchor for memory.  Seeing remembered things like that often makes me recall other things that are not there anymore.  And I’m OK with most of that, I mean, I have to be don’t I?  The storefronts and businesses change, note the Hooters and the McDonald’s (though the latter’s been there since the mid-80’s).  Then I notice things like the old Bank of California sign, blanked out now, but I know what it once was.IMG_2735

Back to the theaters, the former Boulevard mainstays.  There is one that has stayed the same.  Well, it’s gotten better, actually.  Anchored near the western end of the Boulevard, it even grew and became more beautiful as if it had noticed what was happening to its theater siblings to the east.  It needed to brace itself for any eventuality.

Of course I refer to the Chinese Theater.  Forecourt full of handprints?  Still there!  Big marquees and signs touting first run premieres?  Yup!  Laminate cases full of actual movie costumes and props?  Oh yeah!

They even tore down the Chinese Twin and put six theaters on roughly the same location; as if to say, “I saw what you did to the Pacific Theater, you wanna mess with me now?”

Would YOU mess with that?!

Would YOU mess with that?!

They built the Kodak Theater next to it, where the Academy Awards are held; and a not-terrible shopping and dining complex called Hollywood Highland.  And it all sits atop a subway station.

OK I’m still not ready for that.

The exterior of Hollywood Highland with its Babylonian gateway and rearing elephants is modelled after the set of an old Cecil B. DeMille movie (thankfully not “Birth of a Nation”).  I’ve spent some time there, it’s more touristy than seedy and the percentage of faux superheroes is much higher than elsewhere. It’s “New Hollywood Boulevard” not old.

Hollywood Highland

Hollywood Highland

And yet I embrace it because it helps keep the Boulevard alive and even growing.  They even extended the sidewalk stars out past Orange Street, though the last time I checked it was double rows of mostly blank stars floating on a bed of plain concrete.  Maybe the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce is waiting for funding.

Insert name here, it could happen.  I mean, Slash has one!

Insert name here, it could happen. I mean, Slash has one!

As far as I’m concerned they can make whatever improvements they feel are necessary, unless of course that includes tearing down the Pacific Theater or adding more subway stations.  Or getting rid of those pink star markers, because they are what really keep it all together.  They attract the tourists, the wannabes and in a weird way, even the hookers and druggies.

Yours truly with superheroes

It’s all part of a whole; it keeps the nature of the Boulevard unchanging and still vital.  The math changes but the equation remains the same; and this allows me to continue to nosh away at that never ending greasy pork sandwich that is Hollywood Boulevard.

3 replies
  1. Laura
    Laura says:

    What a wonderful update on the state of Hollywood. What kind of sandwich does a fault line, layered with a tube of people in a subway train, topped with tourists and the boulevard? I think it would end up being some kind of panini after a quake.

  2. Scott
    Scott says:

    I worked at Phil Harris Records from 1977-84. Specialized in classical, soundtracks and jazz…but carried top 40 for the kiddies. Met wonderful people working my way thru grad school there;
    Lee Strassberg, David Stiers, Jack Webb, Strother Martin(loved opera!!) Ravi Shankar, J.P. Rampal(hosted him for a record signing around 1980)
    Cal Simmons(assist conductor under Mehta, died tragically in a drowning).
    Richard Dreyfus, Richard Thomas, Juliette Prowse etc:
    Good times
    Good music
    Miss it.

  3. Elizabeth Honnold
    Elizabeth Honnold says:

    Our family lived in Whitley Heights (roughly perched above Cahuenga Pass in a thicket of eucalyptus trees and tiled roofs) and I used the red cars along the Boulevard to go to high school. There was a great music store, Denels, that had listening booths for the 78’s and Lp’s…there was the Pickwick bookstore for browsing…and on Sundays, Musso’s for flannel cakes. It was safe for a girl kid to mosey along after school, the street people ranged from tourist servicemen and eccentrics from the dress extra cohort of the B-movie world. A lot of my friends worked as crowd scene or schoolyard scene extras, and two divine boys from my grade school (brothers) made it into some really klassy Westerns. Rex and Rhodes (sigh) Reason. In December the tin Christmas trees went up and the ho-ho Santa Claus parade went down the blvd. and all the locals stayed home. Cucamonga came to shop, but Whitley Heights went to Beverly Hills.


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