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    Here comes the neighborhood Essay

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    All over America, theatres are leading the way for urban renewal.

    There, just east of Frederick’s of Hollywood, where lingerie has a Hall of Fame. Over there, across the street from Ripley’s Believe It Tor Not Odditorium, upstairs from the Hollywood Wax Museum, final resting place of the waxen Elvis, Marilyn and Jesus Christ. And there, in the shadow of the Hollywood Hills sign, near Cecil B. Demille’s star on the world’s most famous sidewalk. There, housed in former mortuaries and speakeasies and burlesque houses, are the old and new theatres of Hollywood.

    If the theatres are hard to spot, well, theatre in Los Angeles has always been obscured by film and television. So it’s ironic that Hollywood, epicenter of film and television, is encouraging live theatre to stage a comeback.

    Los Angeles is just one of a number of cities where theatres are the “soul” of urban redevelopment projects, as one architect describes them (see sidebars). Cities or private developers are creating arts districts, renovating old theatres, and constructing new performing arts centers, taking their cue architecturally from city neighborhoods.

    In Hollywood, where there’s no business like show business, the neighborhood has long included live theatres tucked between movie studios and the palaces built to show movies. “There is a vibrant history of arts being done in this neighborhood for a long time,” explains James Carey, artistic director of Attic Theatre, on Hollywood’s Santa Monica Blvd. “There have historically been theatres on this stretch.”

    But the neighborhood changed in the 1960s, when some of the movie studios left for the San Fernando Valley where there was room to grow. Residents fled, too. And Hollywood Boulevard, the Los Angeles equivalent of Times Square, traded glamour for gaudy. “It’s sleazy, we know that,” says Lester Burg, assistant project manager for the city’s Community Redevelopment Agency. “Our job is to make Hollywood a place people want to live in, work in and visit. Live theatre is an important part of the mix that makes it Hollywood.”

    In 1986, the city adopted the Hollywood Redevelopment Plan, allocating nearly $1 billion over 30 years (distributed by the CRA) for revitalization of Hollywood’s residential, commercial and historic sectors. After being delayed for years by litigation, the project is now underway. In addition to creating affordable housing and business opportunities, and attracting and stabilizing the entertainment industry, the plan focuses on preservation of landmarks and historic architecture and creates a live-theatre district.

    That’s where some of the nearly 30 theatres in the greater Hollywood area get lucky – and some don’t. The CRA will lend up to $250,000 for rehabilitation of a historic building, and forgive the loan if the building is maintained and remains a theatre 10 years. “There are a lot of hidden gems and, this being Hollywood, they haven’t been touched,” Burg says of the many current or potential theatre spaces. (The CRA may consider a proposal next year to loan money to theatre companies for improvements on other than historic buildings, which could encourage other theatres to move to the Hollywood theatre district. The plan would have to be approved by the Los Angeles City Council.)

    Just as Hollywood begins its redevelopment, it also faces five years of subway construction. In February, Metro Rail will begin building its Red Line under Hollywood Boulevard. Metro Rail will spend $28 million “to lessen the hurt,” according to Burg. Some of that money will go for signage on theatres. Metro Rail will also open a Theatre District Information Office across the street from the Pantages, and a permanent lighting display will mark Hollywood and Vine as the center of the theatre district.

    There may eventually be another source of money available to theatres. One percent of funds spent on Metro Rail and new development that will be built around it (possibly hotels and office buildings) must be earmarked for public art. “We would define art at Hollywood and Vine as being theatre,” according to Burg.

    The first theatre group to receive CRA money through the Hollywood Redevelopment Plan was the Stella Adler Academy of Acting. In 1991, the Academy’s building at Hollywood and Argyle sustained smoke damage from a fire in a nearby tattoo parlor. The school continued to use areas of the building until earlier this year, when Metro Rail announced the block would be demolished to make way for a subway station.

    “I promised Stella I would rebuild the theatre and the school,” says Irene Gilbert, executive director of the Academy. Adler died in 1992. With the help of a CRA grant for $250,000 Gilbert had to personally borrow another $250,000 to match it), the Academy renovated the top floor of a two-story Spanish Colonial Revival building on Hollywood Boulevard – the Hollywood Wax Museum is the downstairs tenant. Built in 1928 as The Embassy Club, the building has a red-tiled gabled roof and ornamental masonry detailing facing the street.

    The 18,000 square feet – large enough for a 99-seat theatre and a 66-seat theatre, classrooms and a dance studio – is twice the space the Academy had before. The Academy will produce a season of four plays, and also rent out the theatres. Along one hallway, behind a nondescript door, is a wood-paneled speakeasy, where, according to Hollywood lore, Clark Gable, Marlene Dietrich and other stars drank during prohibition. The tiny, round room will be restored. It has sustained water damage to its ceiling, but still has the musty smell of liquor and reverie.

    In addition to the grant to the Stella Adler Academy, the Community Redevelopment Agency has loaned money to Los Angeles Contemporary Exhibitions to turn a former beauty school into a 99-seat theatre, gallery, video screening room and bookstore. In North Hollywood, the Agency is funding renovation of the El Portal, a vaudeville theatre built in 1926 that will be used by Actors Alley Repertory Theatre. The CRA is also interested in buying and preserving historic movie theatres in Hollywood, and spent $1.5 million for Grauman’s Egyptian Theatre.

    Theatre Row, the 13 theatres on Santa Monica Boulevard that have banded together to create their own theatre district, will not be beneficiaries of CRA money, since Santa Monica Boulevard falls just outside the CRA boundary. “I’m very jealous of Stella Adler getting the quarter of a million dollars,” admits the Attic’s James Carey, president of Theatre Row. Carey says Hollywood’s efforts to offset the effects of subway construction “will eventually benefit” the theatres.

    Theatre Row is south of greater Hollywood, in an area close to the businesses that support Hollywood’s film industry, such as sound labs and film processing companies. The two blocks of theatres – across the street from each other – were built as shops and small businesses; the Attic was a parachute factory. About two and a half years ago, Carey says, the problem of male prostitution on the street very nearly drove the theatres – and audiences – away.

    “I said, ~I’m either going to have to do something or move,”‘ Carey says.

    What he did was organize the 13 performing spaces (operated by eight theatres) into Los Angeles’s first organized theatre district. It looks and feels most like West 42nd Street in Manhattan, where small Off-Broadway theatres are clustered. The theatres on Santa Monica Boulevard – all are smaller than 99 seats – have created a “neighborhood,” according to Carey, by sharing the cost of security, and inviting a car dealer, a coffee bar owner and a Realtor to be members. In the process, Theatre Row has won local theatre awards and city recognition for their efforts, and learned that theatres can be good neighbors, and not just competitors. “The attitude in the 1970s and ~80s was, ~This is mine, stay away,”‘ Carey says. “But we found you have to band together to tell people who and where you are.”

    At West Coast Ensemble, at the corner of Hollywood and Argyle, across the street from the former site of the Stella Adler Academy, the theatre still receives mail for Utter-Mckinley Mortuary, Hollywood’s first mortuary. Many silent film stars and, later, actors Bela Lugosi, Ernie Kovacs and dozens of others were laid out in the building, which was built in 1917. “We don’t advertise too much that it was a mortuary,” says managing director James Bailey. “It gives people the willies.”

    One of the theatres in the building was originally a chapel, one was the casket showroom, and the embalming was done in what is now a backstage area, according to Marie Staats, who worked at the mortuary and lived upstairs for years.

    It’s a small, oblong, stucco building with a vest-pocket-sized balcony in the center of the second story. Producer-director Cecil B. DeMille’s star on the Walk of Fame is at the theatre’s front door. So is Loretta Swit’s. The historic building is owned by Nederlander West, which also owns the Pantages across the street. Like Theatre Row, West Coast Ensemble probably won’t receive CRA money, either, although it is in the area targeted for redevelopment. The theatre would need a 10-year lease, and the support of Nederlander West.

    Across the street, to the north, is the Pantages, one of the country’s finest examples of an art deco movie palace. Built in 1930, the theatre hosted the Academy Awards from 1949 to 1959, and became a legitimate theatre in 1979. Currently, The Will Rogers Follies is playing the Pantages. The front may be as grand as the lobby, with its statues and staircases evoking the movie set of a Biblical epic, but it’s impossible to tell. Banners and signs advertising the Follies have shrouded the exterior for now.

    By all appearances, the redevelopment of Hollywood seems a good thing, renovating some theatres and giving others, like Theatre Row and West Coast Ensemble, neighborhood support. But the project has not been without controversy.

    “This is a pretty divisive community,” says the CRA’s Lester Burg. “Redevelopment agencies have power that makes us unpopular. We take money from property taxes that would otherwise go to the county, and we spend money on things other than the county. There was a vocal group [opposed to the plan]. The T-shirts said ‘CRA, Go Away.”‘

    And opponents have long memories. The CRA spent $27 million on the Los Angeles Theatre Center between its start-up in 1985 and 1991, when the final curtain fell on the four-stage complex that was to have proven once and for all that it was possible to create a center for theatre in Los Angeles. “It’s going to make it very difficult for a redevelopment agency to get involved in a cultural facility,” Burg says of the collapse of LATC.

    And others, specifically in Hollywood, are still smarting over the city’s rejection of a $600-to-$700 million mall proposed by United Artists Realty. The mall would have incorporated the historic Egyptian Theatre, as well as construction of several major department stores. “It didn’t work for the city,” explains Burg.

    Now, developer Joe Simon, who owns the land the mall would have been built on, is remodeling a smaller building adjacent to the Egyptian that will be a 99-seat rental theatre. John Simon, who works for his brother, freely admits they have a financial stake in encouraging people to visit Hollywood at night.

    “We want to try to get people to come to the area because we own the parking lots,” he states. Joe Simon’s Grant Parking owns six acres of parking lots – 500 spaces – in the heart of Hollywood.

    “It’s fun, if it will just pay the bills,” John Simon says of their work on the small theatre. “Things are better since [Mayor Richard] Reardon was elected. So many people were afraid to go out at night, especially with that Rodney King thing.”

    Will the redevelopment of Hollywood ultimately encourage people to attend theatre? It’s too soon to tell. But on Hollywood Boulevard, residents and tourists will be able to choose between Ripley’s Odditorium and more live theatre, believe it or not.

    This essay was written by a fellow student. You may use it as a guide or sample for writing your own paper, but remember to cite it correctly. Don’t submit it as your own as it will be considered plagiarism.

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    Here comes the neighborhood Essay. (2017, Nov 02). Retrieved from https://artscolumbia.org/here-comes-the-neighborhood-25959/

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