Mayor Leads a Hurray for Hollywood

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Touring Hollywood's historic but long-decayed core, Mayor Richard Riordan on Thursday marked a trio of milestones, including a symbolically powerful move by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.

Speaking in the hotel ballroom that hosted the first Academy Awards nearly 70 years ago, Riordan hailed the organization's decision to use a massive planned theater and entertainment complex on Hollywood Boulevard as the permanent home of one of the world's most celebrated and widely watched events, the Oscars.

"I'm proud to welcome the Academy Awards back to its birthplace, Hollywood," Riordan said. "Hollywood is not just back. It's better."

In the room where Riordan spoke, 270 guests attended the first Academy Awards in 1929, and watched as 13 artists received the Academy Award of Merit. This year, the event was watched by hundreds of millions of television viewers in 139 countries. Under the deal announced Wednesday, the ceremony will be staged at the new complex starting in 2001.

Since their founding, the Academy Awards have drifted from place to place in the Los Angeles area, the sponsoring organization never quite satisfied enough to make one site their permanent home. Although the awards mark Hollywood's annual toast to itself, the last ceremony actually held in Hollywood was in 1960 at the Pantages Theatre.

A few blocks from the site of the Oscars announcement, the mayor--who has made educational reform a personal cause and development of the multimedia sector a centerpiece of his economic initiative--toured a new multimedia academy at Hollywood High School, where the student body now is overwhelmingly composed of immigrants. And later in the day, Riordan accepted a $15,000 international cultural prize for his contributions to the proposed Disney Concert Hall downtown. Riordan, the first elected official to receive the U.S. Montblanc de la Culture Award, gave the cash prize to the hall project, whose fund-raising he has helped spearhead.

But Riordan showed more delight in the achievement of the youths at the Hollywood New Media Academy. There, students "morphed" a photo of him into the "Mona Lisa," a computer process that tickled his fancy.

"I saw the great leaders of the future," the mayor said of his school visit. "These students are being given a great opportunity to be part of the golden age of Hollywood."

As Riordan made his rounds, he was joined at most stops by Councilwoman Jackie Goldberg. The interplay between the two popular and yet polar-opposite officials provided one of the day's subplots.

Both Riordan and Goldberg, who represents the area, are vitally interested in Hollywood redevelopment, and each seems eager to make sure the other doesn't get the credit for it. This has occasionally resulted in clashes of style and substance between the Republican mayor and the Democratic councilwoman.

Wednesday, however, there was enough good news to go around, and both officials made an effort to praise each other.

At their first stop, for instance, Riordan attributed the turnaround in Hollywood to honorary mayor Johnny Grant, Goldberg and the private sector. The councilwoman, standing a few feet away, added that the mayor's business team also deserved credit.

At the Academy Awards announcement, Riordan introduced Goldberg, who, he said, "has an incredibly talented staff and who deserves much of the credit."

The mayor could not entirely make nice, however. When he presented actor Walter Matthau--whose hands and feet were being planted in concrete at Mann's Chinese Theatre--with a resolution honoring him, Riordan used one of his pat lines to joke that it was the only thing he and the council ever had been able to agree on.

Of the days events, it was the Oscars announcement that clearly had the biggest long-term implications for a community that is struggling to rebound--and lately showing strong signs of doing just that.

City officials point to $1 billion in planned development in the core of Hollywood, and the return of the Academy Awards gives them a symbolic anchor to push for more.

"This is a historic day," academy President Robert Rehme said, "the beginning of a new era in Hollywood history."

The theater for the Academy Awards will be part of a huge new complex slated for the intersection of Hollywood Boulevard and Highland Avenue, above a Metro Rail station being built there. The project will include restaurants, stores, a multiplex cinema and a ballroom, among other things. It will incorporate the existing Mann's Chinese Theatre and the new theater, which has yet to be named and will hold 2,000 to 3,300 people, depending on the event.

TrizecHahn, developer of the $350-million complex, expects to break ground this summer. Though city approvals still are needed, Riordan and Goldberg said they expect no major opposition.

The project caps a number of other recent successes in luring businesses to Hollywood or persuading them to stay. Capitol Records, for instance, was weighing a move to New York but, largely through the efforts of Goldberg and Riordan, elected to stay put.

Goldberg said the new efforts are injecting new energy into Hollywood. "We're starting to feel some of the old sizzle again," she said.

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