Seeing Stars: Famous Hollywood Streets.

You could see it on their faces.  When you looked at tourists arriving on Hollywood Boulevard for the first time, you could almost read their minds: "This is Hollywood?"  Looking around, they were shocked and disappointed.

For decades, Hollywood was a major disappointment, a case study in urban decay and neglect - a seedy, run-down area populated by a virtual freak-show of young runaways, homeless transients, wannabe heavy-metal rockers, frenzied traffic, and harried crowds of bewildered tourists wandering the dirty sidewalks while trying to find some hint of former glamour left on the famous Boulevard.

For the most part, the Boulevard contained one shabby storefront after another, some vacant, but most housing tacky shops offering t-shirts & cheap Tinseltown souvenirs, fast food, and the occasional x-rated movie. (And that's not to mention the giant, pink & grey Frederick's of Hollywood building.) This is definitely not what springs to mind when most tourists think of "Hollywood."

True glamour has always awaited tourists a few miles to the west, of course, in Beverly Hills, but the actual Hollywood area - the downtown shopping district centered around Hollywood Boulevard - had degenerated from a cozy small town into a bad dream of urban blight.

But no matter what anyone said, the curious still flocked to that famous street by the millions. Like it or not, Hollywood Boulevard was the official "center" of Hollywood.

While it wasn't always obvious to a casual visitor on the Boulevard, if you knew where to look, there have always been quite a few precious jewels of Old Hollywood buried beneath the ash heap that the Boulevard had become. It would be a shame to miss them..

But the great news today is that the old town finally seems to be getting its act together, and appears to be undergoing the kind of renaissance that has been predicted for years. This time, there genuinely appears to be a light at the end of the tunnel. The signs seem clear. The long-awaited rebirth of Hollywood is well under way.

Take, for example, the historic Egyptian Theatre, the first grand movie palace built in Hollywood (back in 1922).

For decades the Egyptian sat on Hollywood Boulevard like an abandoned ruin - closed and in a sad state of disrepair - as did many other former Hollywood landmarks. There were huge holes in its walls, and homeless people camped out inside the former theatre. But in 1998 the Egyptian got a major make-over which restored the classic theatre to its former glory. It reopened in 1999 as the new home to American Cinematheque.

If that were an isolated example, we wouldn't get our hopes up. But there is far more afoot along the Boulevard. Slowly but surely, the fabled street is being restored:

  • One of the first major efforts at restoring the Boulevard came when the Disney company restored the El Capitan Theatre, and they did a wonderful job - complete with uniformed ushers and live stage shows (featuring Disney characters) before many movie screenings. The theatre looks fabulous, and has attracted long lines of eager customers ever since. It is now the single most profitable theatre in the country.

    Recently, the company also added a new Disney Store right next door, as well as a sparkling Disney Ice Cream Parlor.

  • The Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel is another restored jewel. Just across the street from the Chinese Theatre, this was the site of the very first Academy Awards banquet. It had languished for years, but now gleams again with its original luster.

  • The Pantages Theatre at Hollywood & Vine reopened in 2000, dazzling after a $10 million facelift, now plays host to live Broadway musicals the likes of "Wicked", "The Lion King" and "The Book of Mormon".
    Click here for a list of their upcoming shows.

  • Right next door to the Egyptian Theatre, the landmark Pig 'N Whistle restaurant (a favorite of Shirley Temple, Judy Garland and other stars of Hollywood's Golden Age) has been restored to its original luster. It reopened in 2001, after half a century of neglect.

  • Opening recently at the historic Max Factor building was the new Hollywood History Museum and a new Mel's Diner.

  • Another new $70 million project was built around the classic Cinerama Dome, near Sunset & Vine offering the new ArcLight theatres, shops and restaurants.

  • Farther south, at the corner of Third & Fairfax, next to the historic Farmers Market, they've opened "The Grove", a delightful outdoor shopping center which offers shopping, al fresco dining, fountains, theatres, and even a brass trolley ride - all in a charming ambiance which mixes elements of Two Rodeo and Disneyland.
  • New restaurants and nightclubs are luring celebrities back to downtown Hollywood.

  • Two new museums opened a few years back: Guinness' World Record Museum and Ripley's Believe It or Not Museum, adding more pieces to the Boulevard puzzle.

  • But most ambitious of all, is the "Hollywood & Highland," a massive new project which takes up the entire block east of the Grauman's Chinese Theatre. This 1-million-square-foot, $600 million retail and movie complex by TrizecHahn Corp. (the developer of San Diego's Horton Plaza), is an open-air entertainment complex similar to CityWalk or Two Rodeo.

    It includes restaurants, clubs, unique shops, even a new subway station. But perhaps most importantly, it is home to the new state-of-the-art Kodak theatre which now serves as the permanent home to the annual Academy Awards show. When Hollywood throws its annual celebration, Oscar Night, it will now take place in the actual heart of Hollywood.
  • This project could well be the crown jewel which finally turns the Boulevard around (much as Times Square in New York was transformed after Disney opened the revived New Amsterdam theatre there).

  • In 2009, another major attraction opened right next to Grauman's and the Kodak: Madame Tussauds, a state-of-the-art wax museum that offers visitors a chance to literally rub elbows with spectacularly lifelike versions of Hollywood's top celebs.

  • And in 2011, Cirque du Soleil opened a glittering new show, named "IRIS", which will become a permanent part of the Boulevard, occupying the Kodak Theatre when the Oscars aren't underway.

Add it all up and Hollywood's future is looking brighter than it has in decades.

  • At the same time, while the west end of the Boulevard (at Hollywood & Highland) is consolidating its recent gains, there is now work being done at the other (east) end of Hollywood Blvd, where a brand new $350 million, 305-room "W" luxury hotel complex has been built at the southeast corner of Hollywood & Vine.

    It also includes 143 condos and 50,000 square feet of retail space, including a new Delphine Brasserie at ground level, and the new Drai's Hollywood nightclub near the top.  It is next to the new subway station (which will link Hollywood & Vine with Hollywood & Highland) and across the street from the Pantages Theatre.

(Click here to see an interactive map of Hollywood Boulevard.)

(Click here to learn about all there is to see and do on Hollywood Boulevard.)

Phone: For more information by phone, you can call The Hollywood Chamber of Commerce at: (323) 469-8311. That number will put you in touch with the Hollywood InfoCenter, a recorded service that provides touch-button phone information about Hollywood attractions and upcoming Hollywood events.

 Getting there: To reach Hollywood Boulevard from downtown Los Angeles, take the Hollywood (101) Freeway north to the Hollywood Boulevard exit, then head west (about a mile and a half) to Grauman's Chinese Theatre, which will be on your right (north) side.

[For more information, you can access the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce website at .]

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