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Displaced Walk of Fame Stars Stage Comeback

TIMES STAFF WRITER

For what Hollywood merchant Sony Se sincerely hopes is the last time, construction of the Metro Red Line subway forced her to close her Hollywood Boulevard doughnut shop early Monday.

This time, though, the sidewalk out front was blocked so actress Connie Stevens could help officials of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority replace 222 stars yanked out of the Hollywood Walk of Fame because of the subway project.

Sidewalk stars between Vine and Gower streets have been in storage since workers began digging and drilling the subway in 1994. Their absence has dismayed business owners, fans and celebrities alike and added to the controversy that the hard-luck MTA keeps finding itself in.

“It’s been very tough,” Se said. “We kept open. But business has been slow.”

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No wonder Se was applauding louder than anyone as she stood in her shop’s doorway and watched Stevens unveil for a second time the Walk of Fame star first dedicated in 1977.

Positioned between plaques honoring actresses Hedy Lamarr and Martha Raye, Stevens’ 21-year-old star was a little nicked and worn. “But then so am I,” laughed Stevens, now 59 and a cosmetics company executive.

Hollywood Chamber of Commerce officials who help maintain the Walk of Fame were also relieved at the stars’ return. Some fans--like those of Barry Manilow, whose plaque is a few steps from Stevens'--even threatened to stand in front of MTA bulldozers, said chamber spokeswoman Ana Martinez-Holler.

To those in Hollywood, the subway project has often resembled a low-budget movie being made with a very fat bankroll.

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Subterranean drilling for the subway caused Hollywood Boulevard buildings to tilt and left cracks in the Walk of Fame in 1994. When ground along the boulevard sank nine inches in some places, authorities closed nine blocks to traffic and even halted pedestrian access between Whitley and Wilcox avenues.

The use of substandard wooden wedges rather than underground steel supports was fingered as one of the causes of a more spectacular boulevard mishap in mid-1995.

A house-sized sinkhole became the unofficial symbol of the subway when a half-block of boulevard pavement collapsed, sending 20 Metro Rail workers who had been trying to fix an earlier misalignment of the tunnel scrambling for their lives.

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As MTA officials assured city officials that everything was under control, another chunk of the street caved in. It took months to remove debris, patch the tunnel and repave the boulevard near Barnsdall Park.

In the wake of that collapse, the MTA fired its tunnel contractor, removed an engineering consultant involved with the project and apologized to everybody in sight.

In 1996, one of the MTA’s two drilling machines had to be partially disassembled and steel ribs supporting the tunnel had to be removed when shifting earth entrapped the boring machine underground during the Fourth of July weekend work break.

Tunnel workers had dubbed the two drilling machines “Thelma and Louise.” That nickname proved grinding to some Hollywood nerves.

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Callie Khouri, screenwriter of the hit motion picture “Thelma and Louise,” pointed out that the two characters in her movie never hit bottom as badly as the MTA had.

Khouri suggested that officials rename the drilling machines “Abbott and Costello.”

On Monday, subway workers in hard hats dotted the crowd of several hundred who turned out for the Walk of Fame reopening. One of them, John Wallace, beckoned Stevens over to the barricade where he and other tunnel rats were standing.

“If she doesn’t come, we’re going to jack-hammer those stars out of the sidewalk tomorrow,” Wallace said jokingly.

Stevens obliged with handshakes and hugs. She asked Wallace, of Santa Clarita, how long he had been working on the subway.

“A lifetime,” he replied wearily.


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