From Good Christians to Hustlers: Hollywood & Vine Intersect

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Photo: Diliff

Hollywood & Vine
July/August 2011

Hollywood Boulevard and Vine Street was once the Mecca of show business. Today, this renowned intersection is often a more colorful and comedic scene than a glamorous one. On a typical evening, one might see a costumed superhero speaking to a homeless pedestrian about the Lakers, while a group of teenagers waltz into the Hollywood and Highland Mall, stepping over Marilyn Monroe’s star on the gloried Walk of Fame in the process. Along the same sidewalk, a starving musician performs beside an open guitar case full of dollar bills, while a tourist kicks an empty plastic cup out of the way before kneeling beside a star for a picture.

These are the motley characters that typify Los Angeles: street performers, young Hollywood hopefuls, hippies on bicycles, moviegoers on their way to Mann’s Chinese Theater, and of course, the tourists. All this action is illuminated above by the blinking lights and giant advertisements that attempt to rival those of Times Square, seemingly attempting to distract from the current lack of glamour now mingling among the buildings below.

From the souvenir shops to the Frederick’s of Hollywood boutique to dance clubs and show stores, the current  Hollywood and Vine is as varied as the city of Los Angeles itself. A first visit to the area can be a startling experience. And yet, once in a while, a star can appear, whether on the red carpet in front of Mann’s for a movie premier, or to dip hands in cement to mark their spot in Hollywood history. They wave at the crowd of tourists and locals, and once again, a full tableau of Hollywood reveals itself, overlaying the storied intersection’s past as a Christian paradise turned unwilling home for movie studios and its stars.

The Golden Era
Originally a group of lemon groves, the intersection was owned by Horace and Daeida Wilcox, a couple set on transforming the land around it into neighborhoods for morally upright Christian families. Daeida Wilcox suggested naming their subdivision “Hollywood” after hearing of the name during a trip to Ohio, where she met a traveler from Illinois who had given her own estate the same name. Not long afterward, in 1910, the city of Los Angeles annexed the town of Hollywood (mostly because of its superior water supply), and what were once Prospect and Weyse Avenues became the intersection of Hollywood Boulevard and Vine Street.

Although Los Angeles had begun to open its arms to filmmakers from New York City, the original home of American cinema, Hollywood was not quite as open to the art form. In an attempt to maintain a land of pious Christians, city officials even went as far as banning movie theaters. However, Los Angeles did not have such restrictions, and thus, after annexation, Hollywood was unwillingly thrown into the movie making machine, when the Nestor Motion Picture Company, home of the earliest Hollywood westerns, established itself in the city in 1911.

Other filmmakers, hungry to take advantage of the pleasant weather and diverse landscapes of Southern California, rushed in to take advantage of the open space. By 1920 the former suburb of Hollywood had become the world-famous home of the American film industry.

In 1902, in a precursor for what was to come, real estate mogul H.J. Whitley had opened the Hollywood Hotel (now the Kodak Theatre) in an aggressive attempt to sell land around the property. This same hotel would go on to become the social center for some of Hollywood’s most famous Golden Era stars, including Rudolph Valentino, Fred Astaire, Marlene Dietrich and Katharine Hepburn.

H&V Landmarks
The first skyscraper to grace the intersection of Hollywood and Vine was the Taft building, which is on the southeast corner. The building housed the offices of the film industry’s elite throughout its golden age during the late 1930s and 40s, including Charlie Chaplin. The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences also once called the building home. On the northwest corner was once the Laemmle Building, which housed Universal Studios and was named after its founder, Charles Laemmle (the building was destroyed in a nightclub fire in 2008). The Avalon of Hollywood, now known as a posh nightclub, was once known as the El Capitan Theatre and afterward, as the Hollywood Palace, home to the variety show of the same name on ABC. A few blocks down from the northeast on Hollywood Boulevard stands the Pantages Theatre, which was home to the Academy Awards from 1949 to 1959. Th e Oscars are now held at the Kodak Theatre near Hollywood Blvd. and Highland Ave.

Hollywood and Vine’s status as a glamour center spread thanks to radio announcers and newspaper columnists throughout the 1930s, who would often begin reports with “Reporting from Hollywood and Vine.” Th e intersection, while not the busiest one in Hollywood (that honor belonged to Wilshire Blvd. and Western Ave.), became known as the epicenter of the entertainment capitol. in the 1950s, television networks also built studios, and Capitol Records added its vinyl stack-shaped building to the landscape in 1956.

Hollywood Walk of Fame
E.M. Stewart was the man responsible for creating the Walk of Fame in 1958, according to the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce. Stewart was a volunteer president of the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce when he decided the walk would be a way to “maintain the glory of a community whose name means glamour and excitement in the four corners of the world.” With the help of architecture firm Periera and Luckman, the idea of the stars on the sidewalk originated. Some believe that the named stars painted on the ceiling of the Hollywood Hotel were the inspiration for putting the stars on the sidewalk, and others credit the menus at the popular Hollywood restaurant the Tropics, on which celebrity pictures were inserted in golden stars.

While the first star to be permanently planted was director Stanley Kramer’s on March 28, 1960, there were 8 previous stars that were inserted simultaneously as an example of what the new Walk of Fame would look like. However, actress Joanne Woodward became known in folklore for being the first recipient of a star, perhaps because she, being ahead of her time, was the first to pose at her star for the media.

The Walk’s prestige died down in the 1960s and 70s, when many studios relocated to upscale suburbs. H&V was then taken over by squatters taking over abandoned buildings, and the glitz and glamour of the entertainment industry was nowhere to be seen. The urban decay required development initiatives to lure tourists back into the area. Thus, the idea of ceremonies commemorating celebrities’ stars manifested. Th e paparazzi buzz that we see today was popularized in 1968, when Chamber member and radio/TV personality Johnny Grant resuscitated the selection process and implemented a requirement that stars must appear to accept their award (those who nominate the stars or the stars themselves are also now required to pay a fee of around $30,000 for the Walk’s upkeep, which keeps it from being a taxpayer burden). The news of stars’ awards was spread to media outlets around the world, and the Walk of Fame slowly regained its appeal.

Aviation Stars
The Walk of Fame’s fame was further set in place with the ceremony celebrating Apollo XI’s moon landing. The Apollo 11 mission launched on July 16, 1969; the space shuttled carried Mission Commander Neil Alden Armstrong, Command Module Pilot Michael Collins, and Lunar Module Pilot Edwin Eugene ‘Buzz’ Aldrin, Jr. The Chamber commemorated the mission by inserting a moon-shaped star monument, engraved at each of the four corners of Hollywood and Vine. The identical Apollo XI Crew stars list the astronauts’ names — Neil A. Armstrong, Edwin E. Aldrin Jr. and Michael Collins — along with the date of July 20, 1969, which is the day the crew landed on the moon.

The crew earned a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame because the mission was broadcast live on television and radio for the world to experience history. The special moon star at the corner of H&V is a testament to aviation’s influence in Hollywood. Even the Tinker Air Force Base in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma has a set of blue street signs of the H&V intersection stand to guide its visitors inside the base’s Building 3001. Since the 1960s, the Walk of Fame adds at least 20 new stars a year, and it is a central attraction for Hollywood tourism The Walk of Fame’s fame was further set in place with the ceremony.

Epicenter of Revitalization
Redevelopment to make Hollywood more livable took another giant leap in 1999, when the Hollywood and Highland subway station was opened, and then in 2001, when the Kodak Theater became the new home of the Academy Awards. With its place in the National Register of Historic Places, much of Hollywood is set to be preserved, however, the only film studio remaining is Paramount, which is located on Melrose Ave.

Today, Hollywood is an epicenter of revitalization efforts by the city, as evidenced by the various apartments and lofts and its young residents populating the streets. From popular shopping centers, coffee shops, and 24-hour delis to its proximity to the rest of the city, Hollywood is thriving as an urban center.

Among the residential crowds and characters stand the visitors and excited newcomers — those who flock to the city to pursue their dreams or to experience the history they grew up with from their favorite television shows and movies. Every entertainment industry professional should make an effort to visit the exact intersection of Hollywood Boulevard and Vine Street. The experience may rejuvenate one’s inspiration, reminding artists to follow their dreams. H&V is not just a destination, but a journey of talent through generations. Hollywood and Vine not only intersects showbiz, tourism and aviation, but also it is the place where stars shine on land and dreams will always come true.

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