Remake of a classic

Times Staff Writer

You could go on and on about Hollywood and Vine, what with its Art Deco architecture, glorious radio and film history, celebrity sightings and sidewalks of gold stars. You could track the world-famous intersection's tragic downfall and then record the dignity with which it is now rising. But let's begin instead with the pigeons because Hollywood, after all, is a town of wonderfully eclectic characters here at one time or another -- not because of who they are but because of who they want to be.

Not that the pigeons are trying to be more than nature dictates. It's just that they are resilient, as resilient as the town itself, and their story is just as illustrious as the tales about Clark Gable walking to the Brown Derby or Charlie Chaplin working at his office inside the landmark Taft Building. These pigeons -- and their ancestors -- lived on the roof of the Henry Fonda Magic Box Theatre from 1935 until last fall, when Thaddeus Smith and his partners, Marco Roy and Burt Nelson, evicted them so they could refurbish the beleaguered historic site and open it as a special events and concert hall.

But getting rid of all 200 pigeons has proved to be a handful. When shooing and starving them didn't work, Smith tried scaring them off with 6-inch rubber snakes. Instead of flying away in fear, the birds flew away with the snakes. And then they returned.

"They must have thought I was providing them with toys," said Smith, who also owns the Blue Palms restaurant on La Cienega Boulevard. "These were the oldest pigeons I've ever seen. Some of them, I swear, had crutches. It took two months to get rid of them."

Resourceful and feisty, the pigeons are emblematic of Hollywood and Vine's renewal. In its 93rd year, the legendary corner, originally a grape vineyard, is in the middle phases of a much-anticipated transformation. Hollywood's "downtown" has been slowly coming back to life since the Hollywood Entertainment District was formed in 1996 to revitalize 18 blocks of Hollywood Boulevard from La Brea Avenue to Gower Street. With a subway stop at Hollywood and Vine in place, a sellout show at the Pantages and several nightclubs and bars that have cropped up, the place is recapturing its energy. The next five years will likely see the addition of a museum, two hotels, more bars, restaurants and shops and luxury residential housing to the fabled neighborhood.

So then who can fault the pigeons for wanting to share space with the soft-spoken Adelaida Lozano, a great-grandmother who has been selling roses and daisies for a living on Vine Street for seven years? Or Roxanne Felten, who, like the pesky birds, cannot get enough of Hollywood and Vine?

Known in the neighborhood for her elegant dress and sweet manner, Felten, who lives at the Hollywood Plaza on Vine Street, crosses Hollywood and Vine every morning on her way to the Studio Cafe for her oatmeal, the market and the beauty salon. "I like living in this area very much because everything is close to me," said the 77-year-old Finnish native who was looking stylish on a Thursday morning in her purple leather skirt, butterscotch wool sweater and red hat.

"Once in a while I have problems with the guys trying to get acquainted with me, but other than that, it's very nice." The guys Felten might meet on her travels are skateboarder Davon Reece, who rolls through town listening to meditation music on his headset, or DJ Biscuit, a friendly homeless man who turns on the neighborhood with his funk, soul and hip-hop mixes.

"It's not the buildings that do it for me," said Reece, 22, who grooves through Hollywood and Vine on his way to the subway. "It's the people and the history. I don't go into any of these buildings, but it's the people you meet around here that make it happen for me. They come from everywhere." Originally from Houston, DJ Biscuit is a Hollywood Boulevard night owl and music lover who plays records on his turntables from a shopping cart, hoping to make a few tips now that the area is a magnet for chic club hoppers. On a recent Thursday night, DJ Biscuit's funk was moving young girls to dance on the sidewalk and club kids from Star Shoes to linger outside with their cigarettes.

"Other people sell hot dogs for a living, I like to play my records around town," said the 31-year-old DJ. "I'm just trying to keep the culture of my music alive and, right now, this boulevard is my home."

Biscuit's boulevard especially thrives at night, particularly on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays, when scenesters compete for entry into several trendy nightclubs that have opened within the last two years. Even Dan and Olga Roseblade of Seal Beach, who recently celebrated her birthday with dinner at the Hollywood and Vine Diner and 14th-row seats at "The Lion King," say they will drive up again to check out the bustling night life. "Our next move is to go back with some friends and go dancing," said Olga, 25. "The atmosphere on the street was phenomenal."

The Hollywood and Vine of yesteryear was a glamorous crossing where Frank Sinatra and Bela Lugosi walked the streets, and Clara Bow, the "It Girl," paraded in her convertible with her two chow dogs dyed to match her hair. The intersection became known around the world for its live radio broadcasts and weekly star-studded movie premieres. But the Hollywood and Vine of the last two decades was dotted by tattoo parlors, sex shops, crack sales and prostitution. The star-struck caught only glimpses of celebrities when they shot movies on the boulevard or checked in and out of industry parties.

Few corners around the globe are as well known as Hollywood and Vine, and few have had to fight as hard to come back. Tourists, like 19-year-old Kristin Brandenburg of Milwaukee, still flock to stare at the gold stars on the sidewalks or be photographed in front of the circular Capitol Records building. Though it may have lost its luster along the way, the intersection has always been a haven for dreamers. The difference now is that the dreamers are also doers -- and the neglected intersection is finally rising out of its downtrodden hiatus.

"The revitalization of Hollywood: How many times have we said that since the 1970s?" said Smith of the Henry Fonda Music Box Theatre at the eastern end of the entertainment district. "But this time, I really think that it's true. With all the new places, thousands of people are coming back to Hollywood every day because, for the first time, everybody is working together to make it happen."

The new Hollywood and Vine core backers are a mix of history and film buffs who want to duplicate the glory of the 1940s and energetic entrepreneurs who want to create an edgy, urban vibe for Hollywood's downtown scene. They are innovators and artists, property owners and activists who waited anxiously as the western side of Hollywood Boulevard was re-energized with the opening of the Hollywood and Highland complex in 2001 -- this coming in wake of the restoration of the El Capitan and Egyptian theaters, both in 1998, and the Roosevelt Hotel in 2000.

"What now defines the eastern development is the nightclubs and the restaurants and the great urban feeling that exists, especially at night. The west side is much more tourist-oriented," said Kerry Morrison, executive director of the Hollywood Entertainment District. On the east side of the boulevard, leaders envision a lively 24-hour community with streets lined by fine restaurants, high-end retail stores, hot nightspots, a bustling theater life -- and, for the first time, luxury apartments, condos, artists' lofts and a couple of hotels. This year, the four corners are hot with action:

* The Ultra Lounge, a 1960s-style bachelor pad for live music and special events, will open in March in the Equitable Building on the northeast corner. The lounge is a partnership between Capitol Records and Scott Shuttleworth and real estate developer Richard Heyman, who co-own the Hollywood and Vine Diner.

* North of the Ultra Lounge, Steve Edelson, owner of the Garage and other Los Angeles clubs, bought the Sun Palace Chinese restaurant and is building a restaurant and nightclub.

* North of the northwest corner, the Palace is being renovated and will launch in May, probably under another name. John Lyons, one of the founders of the House of Blues, is the new owner and operator.

* Ground will break for the first Motion Picture Hall of Fame, which will open in the Broadway Building on the southwest corner next year. The project's chief executive, Robert Alexander, and attorney Steve Goodwin are partners in the $25-million venture.

* Leases for restaurants, nightclubs and shops are being negotiated for the Taft Building, on the southeast corner, according to Rob Langer, managing partner of Meringoff Equities. "Hollywood and Vine, in terms of its renaissance, can capitalize on its name," said Shuttleworth. "Where else would you want to go and tell people that this is where you work, live or eat? When you look at how great the mix can be -- a vibrant restaurant, nightclub and theater district with people who live there -- all those uses have a synergy that makes us all want to live up to the legend of Hollywood and Vine."

A pivotal force in the neighborhood's rebirth is a man who sold women's shoes at the swanky Broadway Department Store in the 1970s and now sports a big job title. Thomas Schumacher, who lived at Lexington Avenue and Vine decades ago, produced "The Lion King" at the Pantages Theatre, attracting 2.3 million visitors to the newly renovated historic site. The show made more money in its two-year run in Hollywood than during the same run on Broadway, said Schumacher, president of Disney Theatrical Productions. "The community supported us and we, in turn, supported the community," he said.

At the time, the only nightspots in the area were the Frolic Room, a classic 1930s noir bar, and the Palace, an entertainment industry landmark that opened in 1927 as the Hollywood Playhouse and housed "Ken Murray's Blackouts" as well television staples, such as "This Is Your Life" and "The Merv Griffin Show."

"I had always been in love with the building, with her rich history," said Kay Neil Wint, an attorney who bought the Palace on Vine Street in 1990 and kept it as a nightclub and live music venue. "I just always believed that it was a matter of time before Hollywood was rediscovered." The turn of the century proved her right. By the end of 1999, the Hollywood and Vine Metro station opened, and developer Tom Gilmore purchased the historic Equitable Building. "That's when key players started to circulate," Morrison said.

Across from Vine Street's former Doolittle Theater, now called the Ricardo Montalban Theater, a cozy lounge called Daddy's with a fabulous jukebox quietly made its debut. "What drew me to that space is that it had the bones, it had a history," said Craig Trager, who also owns the Well on Sunset Boulevard. "Clark Gable's and Cary Grant's stars are in front of the doors. How much better can it get than that?"

One businessman who has seen it get better is Harry Tavitian, the second owner of the 66-year-old Dan-Dee Shoes store on Vine, which custom-makes shoes for all of the movie studios. "Hollywood and Vine, for a long time, was an unsafe place with nobody around. Lately, it's been very nice because people have been coming back. Little by little, we will have a very nice neighborhood."

The first nightclub to become an A-list celebrity draw was Ivan Kane's upscale naughty nightclub that opened a month after "The Lion King" premiered in L.A.

"As a club owner and as a person, I'm stuck in the 1940s," said Kane, a former actor who also owns Forty Deuce on Melrose Avenue and Gower Street. "That was the era when Hollywood was super hip and that's what we need to get back to. I lived it all vicariously through the movies and I would love to see it get back to that."

The myth of Hollywood and Vine means so much to Kane that he struck a deal with the tattoo parlor next door to take half its space so that the main entrance to Deep could be precisely at the intersection. Kane's next project is to replace Deep in two years with a 60,000-square-foot, European-style decadent boutique hotel. "When I get done with that, that corner won't be Hollywood and Vine anymore," he joked. "It will be Ivan and Kane."

Few people spend more time standing on Hollywood and Vine than Deep's front doorman, Eric Elle, a Los Angeles native and keeper of the List.

"It's a very funky corner on which to work," Elle said. "Being from here, I can really appreciate how beautiful it is becoming. You see everything from Eastern European residents out for a walk to homeless kids, to every Hollywood celebrity and supermodel there is, to the same little old ladies getting their exercise. It's cute as hell and they're very sweet." Not to mention the relentless pigeons that swarm the Hollywood and Vine subway station and refuse to give up on their favorite landmark. As Smith was leaving the Henry Fonda recently, he looked up at the marquee and saw the birds hanging sideways from a chicken wire.

"They were almost perpendicular to the street," Smith said. "I could not stop laughing at that. You know, I appreciate these birds. I really do. I guess they're not giving up on Hollywood, and neither are we."

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(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX)

H&V; hangouts

Daddy's

1610 N. Vine St.

(323) 463-7777

Deep

1707 N. Vine St.

(323) 462-1144

Hollywood and Vine Diner

6263 Hollywood Blvd.

(323) 461-2345

The Palace

1735 N. Vine St.

(323) 462-3000

Ivar

6356 Hollywood Blvd.

(323) 465-4827

CineSpace

6356 Hollywood Blvd.

(323) 817-3456

Star Shoes

6364 Hollywood Blvd.

(323) 462-7827

Improv Olympic West

6366 Hollywood Blvd.

(323) 962-7560

Henry Fonda Music Box Theatre

6126 Hollywood Blvd.

323) 464-0808

Pantages Theatre

6233 Hollywood Blvd.

(323) 463-4367

The Frolic Room

6245 Hollywood Blvd.

(323) 462-5890

Ricardo Montalban Theater

1615 N. Vine St.

(323) 463-0843

The New Ivar Theatre

1605 Ivar Ave.

(323) 466-3667

Coming Soon:

Ultra Lounge

1708 N. Vine St.

(323) 461-2343

Scheduled to open in March.

A nightclub at site of former Sun Palace

North Vine Street

Set to open sometime this year.

Motion Picture Hall of Fame

6300 Hollywood Blvd.

Scheduled to open in 2004.

A mixed-use project that will include a W Hotel and 250 luxury apartments

Site will be near the Hollywood and Vine Metro Red Line station.

Ground is set to be broken in 2004.

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