By Regina Raiford
Hooray for Hollywood! “Where any barmaid can be a star made if she dances with or without a fan. Hooray for Hollywood where you’re terrific if you’re even good…” Few cities evoke the excitement, the glamour, the promise that defines Hollywood. Each year, approximately 19.3 million tourists pile out of minivans and tour buses, cameras in hand, to capture the glamour of the movie industry. In the past however, tourists who came to step into the well-worn footprints of entertainment stars in front of Grauman’s Chinese Theater were introduced to a seedy, underdeveloped corner of Hollywood.
“When I first got the phone call from my president telling me about this job I came out and walked around and said, ‘Wow. Holy Smokes! This is not the best place to be in,’” says Greg Schoonover, project director, McCarthy, Newport Beach, CA. A crime-laden area, Hollywood & Highland held many challenges and much opportunity. Adds Schoonover, “Our biggest challenge was accessibility to the job.”
The construction site was bound at the north and west parameters by residential buildings, to the east by Highland, a state highway, and to the south by Hollywood Boulevard – making staging a logistical nightmare. The site also features one of the few active subway stops, so the Metropolitan Transit Authority, as well as the Los Angeles Department of Transportation, the State of California, the Public Works Department, and other city agencies, were all involved in the development project. “Every player that could be involved was involved,” explains Schoonover. A great deal of hard work and passion went into the redevelopment of Hollywood.
Originally, the Hollywood & Highland area offered the historic Grauman’s Chinese Theater and walk of fame, a few parking lots, a small office building and hotel, and a handful of trinket shops. Today, the colossal Babylonian-inspired 1.2 million-square-foot entertainment/retail/hotel complex features a six-story parking structure, the 640-room Renaissance Hollywood Hotel, and the 3,500-seat Kodak Theatre (photo opposite page), new home of the Academy Awards. A grand 25,000-square-foot ballroom accompanies the Kodak Theater; both were designed by Los Angeles-based interior design firm David Rockwell. An annex to the Grauman’s Theatre was also modernized as a six-screen multiplex.
“We’ve had significant experience working in urban settings, working in downtowns through revitalizations of cities, and it has been retail that has driven the revitalization to a large extent,” says Vaughan Davies, principal, Ehrenkrantz, Eckstut & Kuhn, Los Angeles. A mixture of upscale and affordable retailers fills the five-story shopping arena for the throngs of tourists. “We certainly didn’t want to look like the original theater that would diminish the value of the Chinese Theater. We wanted something contemporary, something that would reflect California and Hollywood today,” says Davies.
A grand staircase heralds the entrance of the complex and introduces a breathtaking view of the Hollywood sign on the hills – the only view of the sign from the downtown Los Angeles area. “We really framed that view. The whole space works around the viewer looking up at the hills and looking back at the city,” explains Davies. After the development’s opening, the entire area has slowly been blossoming into life; locals and businesses are returning.
The Kodak Theatre, a high-tech facility especially designed for the technical requirements of broadcast performances, is dark and serene, reminiscent of a European theatre in the round. On the other hand, the ballroom’s décor is wild, fabulous Hollywood style. It was designed to host the Governor’s Ball – that swanky affair after the Oscars event – but can be reconfigured for smaller events as well. “[The Kodak] can be used in many different ways; it can orchestrate many events, and it can always look different,” says Davies.
“The driving factor of this project was to bring the glitz and glamour back to Hollywood,” says Schoonover. With its elephant statues and epic arches, the monumental development echoes the grandeur of the now-faded movie palaces of the West while remaining fresh and contemporary. The planners expressed their positive feelings about creating a project that revitalized an area and added a new destination place to the Los Angeles landscape.
“I wish other cities were as courageous as Hollywood was about making a comeback,” says Davies.
Hooray for Hollywood!
Regina Raiford (firstname.lastname@example.org) is senior editor at Buildings and BI magazines.