Hollywood Drama

On March 7th, hundreds of millions of people around the world watched a parade of movie stars and other celebrities walk the red carpet into the Kodak Theatre for the 82nd annual Academy Award ceremony. While most viewers were probably waiting for a glimpse of Brad & Angelina, or the winner of the best picture award, the story behind the creation of the evening’s dramatic setting, Hollywood and Highland, and the role it played in the resurgence of Hollywood stands in a category by itself.

Hollywood & Highland has played a central part in a fascinating and still unfolding saga about urban design and neighborhood evolution in Hollywood, one of Los Angeles’ best-known but least understood neighborhoods, the epicenter and birthplace of the American entertainment industry.

When developer Trizec Hahn first unveiled the bold vision for the new retail and entertainment destination designed by EE&K Architects, it was considered a major gamble. Many observers were dubious that it would succeed. While this particular strip of Hollywood Boulevard had long drawn busloads of tourists visiting the Walk of Fame and Graumans’ Chinese Theater, it was not known as a pleasant place to be. Since its heyday in the 1920s, Downtown Hollywood had fallen on hard times. By the 1990s had become synonymous with low-rent souvenir stores, tattoo parlors, and seedy night clubs. After opening in the midst of the 2001-02 recession, the 650,000 sf development established its footing as the central place in Downtown Hollywood. Less than ten years later, Hollywood & Highland has been cited as the catalyst for the area’s resurgence, spurring a wave of redevelopment.

Built on top of one the first new stations along the LA MTA’s Red Line, Hollywood & Highland was one of the first success stories for transit-oriented development in California. EE&K’s design also anticipated the pedestrian orientation of Hollywood’s as one of LA’s few truly walkable neighborhoods. While Hollywood is a place recognized the world over, it was not a neighborhood that offered an obvious central point or gathering place from which people could experience Hollywood’s unique history and culture. Today, the LA Times report, “to get [to] the corner of Hollywood and Highland requires threading your way through a dense crowd of shoppers; tourists in front of the Kodak Theatre; commuters emerging from the mouth of the Red line station; Storm Troopers and celebrity look-alikes in front of Graumann’s Chinese Theatre.”

Envisioned as a “piazza” for both locals and tourists, Hollywood and Highland was designed around a series of public spaces that serve as outdoor stages and forecourts, starting with the sweeping steps rising up to the Kodak Theater. Inside the block, three different promenades link the complex’s various shops, restaurants, and open spaces, while carefully framing views of local landmarks like the ornate Gothic Masonic Tower across the street and the legendary “Hollywood” sign up in the Hills. On the Hollywood Boulevard side, Hollywood & Highland pays homage to the legendary boulevard, echoing the rhythm of the surrounding Art Deco architecture including El Capitan Theater and the Roosevelt Hotel.

Hollywood & Highland has laid the groundwork for the ongoing revitalization of the neighborhood. A decade ago, upscale residential development in the area would have been unthinkable. Now, according to the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce, there are 59 major projects in development, from high-profile commercial/retail and cultural attractions such as Madame Tussaud’s on the southeast corner of Hollywood & Highland, restaurants and nightclubs; offices; hotels and residences, including the nearby W Hotel and Condominiums. Cinephiles and movie fans will be able to look forward to the opening in 2014 of the Museum of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences just up the street. Meanwhile, Hollywood & Highland itself attracted a number of exciting new commercial and retail tenants in the last year, including fashion retailers Zara and H&M, the Hard Rock Café, and the Cirque du Soleil (to reside in the Kodak Theatre). Not all the redevelopment is new construction: historic Hollywood theaters like El Capitan and art-deco office buildings in the vicinity of the Center are finally being restored to their former grandeur.

Read more about the plan behind Hollywood & Highland.