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A Memory Lane Stroll for 75, Plus Parking

Being an old Hollywood boulevardier, I walked down the boulevard the other day to check on its health.

We had recently run a story reporting that tourists are avoiding it this summer because of beggars and other street people and that business is poor.

I had no doubt that the story was correct; I simply wanted to seek out any redeeming features. I have always liked the old street. In early days it was truly glamorous. One might very well bump into a star. Today, of course, it is occupied by tourists and street people, and stars come down only to see their names implanted in the Walk of Fame.

I parked near the Chinese Theater. It is called Mann’s Chinese Theater now, but I still think of it as Grauman’s. It’s as if Mann bought the Eiffel Tower and renamed it Mann’s Tower.

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The famous court was crowded with tourists whose clothing was almost indistinguishable from that of the street people. Whole families were attired in T-shirts, shorts and baseball caps. They swarmed over the cement squares in which Hollywood’s most famous stars had implanted their open hands, feet and signatures. “To Sid” or “to Sid Grauman,” they had written, not foreseeing Sid’s obliteration.

A young woman knelt on Marilyn Monroe’s square and placed her hand in the impression of Marilyn’s hand. Her fingertips barely reached Marilyn’s second joint. Her male companion snapped the picture.

Two little girls took turns placing their hands in Shirley Temple’s. All over the court visitors were kneeling to compare their digits with those of the stars. At the curb, barkers were hawking the next guided tours.

I walked east. Two young men in studded leather jackets and Mohawk haircuts sat on the sidewalk, leaning against a store. I told myself there is nothing intrinsically threatening about a man in a Mohawk haircut. They vindicated my trust by not jumping up and holding a knife to my throat.

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I looked into a shop that said “Pose with the Stars” and saw a young man with his arm around a cardboard cutout of a pretty young woman with dark hair. I didn’t know her. When the proprietor snapped the picture I asked the young man who she was. “Paula Abdul,” he said. I said, “Oh.”

The names in most of the stars along the Walk of Fame were familiar. But I found myself looking for names I didn’t remember.

Al Lichtman . . . Rex Allen . . . J. Peverell Marley. . . .

As much as things have changed, many of the old landmarks were still there. B. Dalton Books occupies the space that for many years was occupied by Louis Epstein’s Pickwick Book Shop.

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Nearby the Wax Museum is still open, offering its display of 200 wax figures of famous persons and monsters. I walked on. Shops selling egregious T-shirts, souvenirs, pizzas, wigs, trendy clothes, junk jewelry and electronic gadgets were squeezed together, each blasting rock through open doorways.

Viola Dana . . . Harry Von Zell . . . J. M. Kerrigan . . . .

The cultural heart of the boulevard survives, undisturbed by reformers. It includes a tattoo parlor, Le Sex Shoppe, and the Cave adult movie theater, side by side. The Cave features nude dancing 24 hours a day.

Hollywood and Vine, so famous in legend, remains among the most unexciting of corners. At the northwest corner the Premiers of Hollywood Restaurant, which replaced the Brown Derby, which replaced the original Brown Derby, further south on Vine Street, appeared to be closed.

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Across the street the 12-story Hollywood Equitable Building housed a savings bank and a travel agency. The other corners were occupied by a souvenir shop and a pizza parlor.

Dress shops and shoe stores flourish on the south side of the boulevard, notably Frederick’s, the famous lingerie shop that is housed in a classic Art Moderne building. I was glad to see that its purple facade had been painted over gray. Its windows, as usual, were full of sexy undergarments, and I went inside to tarry briefly in its Lingerie Museum.

Back on the street a man sitting on a planter spat on the sidewalk. It was the only unlawful act I saw.

A man sitting against a building asked me for some change. I gave him a quarter. “Thank you very much,” he said. “Have a nice day.”

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A block later a man with a shaved head sidled up to me and said, “Have you got 55 cents for a pizza for me and my friend?” His friend was leaning against a building. He had a Mohawk. I gave them two quarters.

“You’ll have to earn the 5 cents some other way,” I said.

So I did the boulevard and escaped with my life.

And it only cost me 75 cents plus $5.50 for parking.

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