Revival for a 100-year starlet

By , Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor

HOLLYWOOD is 100 years old on Sunday, and the city that lives and breathes hype isn't even breaking stride for the festivities. An entire year of star-studded celebrations is planned: It began with last week's Super Bowl halftime show and includes TV specials, sports events, and parties. So what else is new?

What's new might just be that through the shower of confetti, Hollywood really does have a reason to toot its horn.

``Three years ago we couldn't get a big-name celebrity to come in here and accept a bronze star on the Walk of Fame,'' says Johnny Grant, honorary ``mayor'' of Hollywood. ``Now, I'm being blasted again about why every so-and-so hasn't been approved yet.''

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Hollywood, the glamour queen that emerged from the '60s looking more like an abandoned starlet, has been back at the makeup table. And for the first time in years, perhaps since its heyday in the '30s and '40s, the changeover has as much substance as style.

``I thought to myself, where has the town gone?'' says Marian Gibbons, who grew up near Hollywood (which is a part of Los Angeles), left there from 1950 to 1978, and returned to what she calls ``demolition by neglect. It was a disaster area, so run down with transients and abandoned buildings you feared for your life to walk down the street.''

A supporter of national historic movements nationwide, Ms. Gibbons went in search of the local preservation committee - and found there wasn't one. In 1980, she formed Hollywood Heritage, a group of volunteers that worked closely with the Chamber of Commerce in getting key historic buildings listed on the National Register of Historic Buildings. In addition, one whole strip of town, Hollywood Boulevard from Gower Street to La Brea, was designated a National Historic District.

The result has not only been a domino effect in bringing millions in private restoration dollars back into town, but also new development money and an entire change in attitude about how the town sees itself.

``The stars are moving back; the prostitutes and druggies are moving out; the real estate developers are eager to grab up land,'' says Mr. Grant. ``We're not out of the woods yet, but now I can put on a good, clean - and safe - parade with the whole nation watching. And people can see there's no reason to fear Hollywood anymore.''

``I've been searching around the country for years for the ideal house,'' says Ken Kercheval, star of TV's ``Dallas'' series. He and wife, Eva, recently purchased the Dolores Del Rio Mansion in Hollywood Hills and restored the Mexican-style hacienda to its 1927 grandeur. ``The old houses of Hollywood are still among the best anywhere in Los Angeles,'' Mr. Kercheval says.

A host of economic development projects is in the wings - chief among them a nearly $1 billion community rehab over 30 years. Many famous landmarks have been saved, including the Hollywood Congregational Church, the Hollywood Athletic Club, and the Roosevelt Hotel. Key groups such as the Screen Actors Guild have been convinced to keep headquarters in town.

Behind the new influx of development is a change in attitude, a civic pride in the community of today and a near-parental pursuit to preserve the pride of yesterday. There are now four museums to enshrine the halcyon days of Hollywood.

``There has been a definite turnaround,'' says Bruce Torrence, author of ``Hollywood: The First 100 Years.'' ``When the community stood up and said, `We're going to take care of our house and preserve our history,' investors took notice.''

Though his book chronicles the decline of the movie industry after World War II with the advent of television, Mr. Torrence sees the demise of the town resulting from the same demographic change that beset cities around the country: white flight to the suburbs.

Since much of Hollywood was built before 1939, the vacated housing - and shops and restaurants left behind - couldn't command the kind of rents that attract the wealthy. A downward spiral of less and less attractive tenants and clientele followed, capped with a transient life style in the '60s, which brought drug dealers and prostitution.

``There comes a time in the life of a community when it decides to stand up and try to reverse the slide,'' Torrence says. ``With the Chamber of Commerce and Hollywood Heritage getting the rehabilitation ball rolling, and the residents and retailers pitching in, that's what's happening here.''

One such project is accounting for much in local controversy but is slated for completion anyway: a $150 million complex of hotel, office, and retail space is to surround the Mann Chinese Theatre, and it has caused a flap among residents whose view of the skyline will be obscured. Other development includes a shopping center built in the same style as the recently restored Old Janes House, the area's last Victorian structure.

The new local activism has resulted in other measures to clean up the town's prostitution and drug problems.

But Torrence says Hollywood will never attain its former ``glory'' - a past he says was surrounded with more myth than reality anyway.

But some in the film industry take a different view.

``Hollywood in its youth was an enthusiastic village of adventurous showmen who would gamble anything to put on a show of enormous magnitude and creativity,'' says Jesse Lasky Jr., son of early filmmaker Jesse Lasky. Mr. Lasky, who grew up in Hollywood and has written more than 50 films, left to live in England for some time, and now is back, producing ``Vivian'' - the story of Vivien Leigh - at the Melrose Theater. ``Now Hollywood is an embattled citadel of tough-minded businessmen unwilling to exceed the status quo. Their bread and butter is television and video, because Hollywood now makes its films all over the world.''

It was on Feb. 1, 1887, that a Kansas prohibitionist named Harvey Wilcox filed a map of the Wilcox ranch with the Los Angeles County recorder for subdivision purposes. His wife, Daeida, quaintly named the tract after the summer home of a friend. From that point on, the 120-acre area bounded by Whitley, Gower, Hollywood Boulevard, Vine, Franklin, and Sunset was known as Hollywood.

Thomas Edison's Motion Picture Patents Company in New York, trying to enforce a monopoly on cameras, drove fledgling film companies west, most notably D.W. Griffith, who led an entourage here in the winter of 1910. Jesse L. Lasky and Cecil B. deMille made the first Hollywood-based feature-length film, ``The Squaw Man'' (which earned $225,000 on a $15,000 investment), and Hollywood became a factory town for an art form.

This year other contributors to the rise of Hollywood are celebrating anniversaries as well. Paramount Pictures is 75 years old. Western Costumes, which grew up supplying MGM musicals and every manner of western and war movie, is 40 years old. The Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel, grand dame of Hollywood Hotels, which underwent a $35 million rehab last year, is 60.

``Hollywood appears to have rediscovered its sense of community, its awareness that it is indeed a hometown with a life of its own, no matter what tremors hit the film business,'' says Charles Champlin, arts editor of the Los Angeles Times. ``The feeling is that Hollywood, with a past second to none, need not lack for a future.''

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