Staging a comeback
In his cluttered penthouse 10 stories above "the Entertainment Capital of the World," Gary Berwin is talking about glamour and Hollywood. Specifically, about how to put some of the former back into the latter.Skip to next paragraph
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You could say this self-made millionaire developer is in a position to know what he's talking about -- in more ways than one.
After all, this office where he now plans bold new projects was once the private hideaway of such legendary Hollywood figures as Errol Flynn, John Wayne, and Walt Disney.
Like a growing number of other community supporters, Mr. Berwin doesn't just talk enthusiastically about restoring Hollywood: He means business.
Over the past 18 months, Berwin has invested about $11 million in renovating his building -- the old Hollywood Athletic Club, which in its heyday as "the" club in town reportedly boasted a membership of celebrities ranging from Charlie Chaplin and Groucho Marx to Rudolph Valentino and Spencer Tracy.
More recently, in the 1960s and '70s, the building reflected the hard times that had fallen on this community. The 55-year-old landmark was a prime example of Hollywood shabbiness and a likely candidate for the wrecker's ball.
Now it is being transformed into a luxurious office complex for the entertainment industry. Already, office space in it is virtually booked -- filled with entertainment-related businesses that left Beverly Hills and Century City to come back home to Hollywood.
On the ground floor, where the old gym used to be, an exclusive supper club -- expected to attract "superstar" talents -- is being built. Around the pool where stars once swam, Berwin is planning his piece de resistance: a private club, to be "the most expensive club in the world," catering only to a foreign clientele.
The revival of the athletic club is symbol of the gradual reversal of decay and the revitalization of a community that the world has accorded almost legendary status.
"Clearly, Hollywood has turned around. We're all aware of that," says Dennis Lidtke, a local businessman who donated $28,000 two years ago to restore "D" in the dilapidated "HOLLYWOOD" sign, a landmark standing in the hills above the Hollywood.
"I think Hollywood is in a position to capitalize -- perhaps more than any other community -- on the images of its past to create its future," he says.
Image counts for a lot in this community, the spawning ground of an industry that knows what image is all about -- an area of Los Angeles that still attracts some 3 million tourists from around the world each year.
Granted, most community activists say, that image is often based more in movie fantasy than in fact. "The image thing has always been overblown," says Los Angeles city councilwoman Peggy Stevenson, who represents the Hollywood area and had played a major part in its turnaround. Even when I was a little girl, it was overblown. There's not a thing at Hollywood and Vine except a little sign."
Still, it is an image that persists -- the association of Hollywood with glamour, movie stars, lavish parties, and overnight fame and fortune.
Over the last two decades, that image -- and Hollywood itself -- suffered. Major movie studios pulled up their roots and set up shop in other towns. X- rated movie houses and pornography shops flourished along Hollywood Boulevard, as did prostitution and massage parlors. And, high above it all in the nearby hills, the HOLLYWOOD sign crumbled -- a symbol of the decay below.
Although the picture today is still not rosy, it is far from the grim portrait of urban decay evident here just a few years ago.