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Babylon in Hollywood

Photos of a new construction.

Savant's been a little remiss in exploiting some of the odd locations to be found near his home just south of Hollywood in Larchmont, but with the advent of the new and daring technological breakthrough of digital photography (make that breakdown .. I finally went and bought one), perhaps this will be the start of more than a few pictorial pages on DVD Savant, like the one for Bronson Caves that was such a big hit a couple of years ago.

Driving through Hollywood the other day, I finally saw what other locals have been talking about for weeks - the continuing construction of the new complex that stretches all the way from Highland Avenue to Grauman's Chinese.  A new subway entrance is built into this giant building complex, which is said to be in preparation for next year's Oscar ceremony.  For those of you not aware, the Oscars have bounced all over town in the last few decades, but have been telecast from the Shrine auditorium down next to U.S.C. in recent years (the facade of which, one cannot resist saying, was the exterior for the NYC auditorium where King Kong was displayed wa-ay back in 1933.  

Returning the Oscars to Hollywood proper is a great idea, one that they've packaged and marketed into a planned reworking of Hollywood Boulevard, a 'revitalization' that may gentrify the famous lane with upscale stores (there's a sign saying THE GAP is moving into a choice location) but cannot help but be an improvement.  Ground zero for the cultural concept of Hollywood, Hollywood & Vine has been a disgraceful pit for at least 30 years, with the last major store exiting over a decade ago.

Except to visit Larry Edmunds bookstore and Grauman's Chinese, Savant rarely stopped the car in this run-down neighborhood; before Disney remodeled the Paramount theater and renamed it El Capitan, and before the Cinematheque took over The Egyptian, the Boulevard was a wreck.  Tourists seeking glamour found instead hot sidewalks during the day and dangerous ones at night ... a center for cruising, picking up hookers, and scoring drugs.  Savant heard stories about muggings but always felt safe walking the sidewalks inlaid with the names of movie stars; now maybe Aunt Madge from Toledo will be able to come to Hollywood & Vine without feeling royally ripped off.

What grabbed Savant's eye is what will grab everyone's eye soon - the sight of two gigantic elephant statues towering over the complex.  They're visible from as far away as Highland and Melrose, peeking over the buildings proper.  Walking down the southern side of the Boulevard, one can see the functioning subway entrance, and can note that the complex has erased Orchid street, making an unbroken line for two city blocks.  But they've split the main building with what looks like an architectural hommage to D.W. Griffith's 1916 Babylon set from Intolerance.  A cascading set of stairways leads up between the two buildings to a gigantic Egyptian-style archway, and on one side, high above, stand a pair of commanding white elephant statues, gleaming in the sun.

View from across the street, in front of the El Capitan theater.

Is this kitsch?  Well, maybe, but Savant thinks Hollywood needs bigger than life things like this, and preferably something more traditional to the town than the giant tyrannosaurus mannikin that bursts out of a building across the street, to promote an oddity museum.  The original Griffith set supposedly stood for years way East of this site, at Sunset and Western?  (Sunset and Hilgard?)  This replica, in keeping with the Chinese theme of Grauman's and the Egyptian's giant collonade a few doors down the block, seems right in style.

Angled gap points right to the Hollywood Sign

An added brilliant touch is the architect's aiming the staircase view so that the eyeline directs you right at the Hollywood sign, which is just visible in the hazy photo above.  A clever idea that will undoubtedly pay off on television when the complex is unveiled next March ... I wouldn't be surprised if they put a hundred dancing girls on the stairs, as did Griffith, 85 years ago.  Gee, Hollywood is almost old enough to have a tradition, and this seems a good way to celebrate it without getting too ridiculous.

Giant Elephants 5 or 6 stories in the air.

Obviously the center was planned around the Oscar ceremony, so it will be interesting to find out how they arrange it all.  Will limousines pull up on the Boulevard, or will the streets be blocked off for a block in each direction?  Is there going to be some clever underground way of sneaking the movie stars in and out?  Last year's sprawling circus at the Shrine required large tents, makeshift fences and an army of security personnel, not to mention a complex system of ID badges.

Maybe Hollywood Boulevard will become a commercialized, public access Univeral Citywalk, but Savant thinks it should be.  All those tourists who felt cheated before will at least have something to see ... heck, I want to see the elephant staircase when it's done.  Maybe if the other studios take Disney's lead, and each revive one of the giant Hollywood Boulevard Movie palaces (the Pacific, the Vogue, the Pantages, etc) the Boulevard can become a Hollywood showcase, with each studio keeping up a fantastically appointed 'flagship' theater.  The revitalization is already underway, with the Cinerama Dome already undergoing a giant facelift.  In the next few months, it's going to be curious to see what develops on the 'Hollywood Walk of Fame.'

Note: Images, for what it's worth, © Copyright 2007 Glenn Erickson


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