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A different block buster

Times Staff Writer

And the Oscar for the most creative adaptation of a Hollywood tourist attraction goes to ... the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.

That’s the award that the Romeo family of Old Lyme, Conn., was ready to bestow Tuesday as their stroll along the Hollywood Walk of Fame came to an abrupt halt half a block from Grauman’s Chinese Theatre.

The sidewalk was barricaded. Arrows directed the Romeos through a small door and into a dark, twisting hallway normally used for back-door deliveries to retail shops in the Hollywood & Highland shopping center. More arrows detoured them into the mall and then through a record store so they could get back to the Walk of Fame.

Tinseltown’s annual rite of passage, the Academy Awards, was having its yearly effect on the public’s right of passage along Hollywood Boulevard.

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The boulevard itself was closed to traffic between Highland Avenue and Orange Drive as crews began erecting bleachers and tents for Sunday’s 79th Annual Academy Awards. The sidewalk in front of the Kodak Theatre, where the ceremony will be held, was also shut.

“It’s kind of taking away from our visit,” Alex Romeo said. “We’re just trying to get our bearings here.”

His wife, Patrice, surveyed the back side of bleachers placed atop the terrazzo sidewalk’s bronze stars.

“It doesn’t look all that glamorous,” she said. “I think they’ve covered up the two stars we’re looking for, Anthony Quinn and Sophia Loren.”

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The couple wanted to show those stars to their children, Sophie, 8; Lauren, 10; Anthony, 12; and Quinn, 6.

Along the busy block, visitors and merchants alike were grumbling about the six-day closure. Academy officials, meantime, were apologetic.

“If there were a quicker way, we’d have latched onto it a long time ago,” academy spokesman John Pavlik said. “We don’t want to offend drivers and the public any more than we have to. We realize it’s an inconvenience.”

The $30-million ceremony’s setup has to be completed by Friday so pre-show rehearsals can take place, he said. Even so, “I can’t imagine you could do everything overnight if you threw all the money in the world at it.”

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Traffic control officers were diverting westbound Hollywood Boulevard motorists at Highland. Eastbound traffic was rerouted to Orange. Foot traffic on the south side of the boulevard was restricted by barricades to a narrow portion of the sidewalk. Metro Red Line subway service to the Hollywood-Highland station is scheduled to be shut down all day Sunday.

“I can’t even lock my bike to the parking meter poles like I usually do,” said J. J. Hoffman, a Hollywood entertainment manager who was surveying the traffic jam at Hollywood and Highland from astride her bicycle. “They won’t let me lock it to the barricades. It seems like every other week they close this street for some event.”

Down the block, camera shop manager Jim Abdul stood in his empty store across from the Kodak Theatre and stared at the bleachers in the street. His business was off 65% on Tuesday, he said.

“Every year it’s like this,” Abdul said. “We are nobody here. Downtown gives the academy people whatever they want and they don’t care about little people.”

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City officials denied that’s the case. In fact, they said, they have required the academy to speed up preparation work and have shaved a day off previous years’ closures.

Still, officials admit that residents, as well as merchants and tourists, have complained about the Oscar-related closure as well as the large number of special events that snarl traffic on Hollywood Boulevard.

Los Angeles City Councilman Eric Garcetti, who represents the area, established a street-closure advisory committee that reviewed all 85 events that received permits to close portions of the boulevard or the sidewalk last year. Four closure requests were vetoed by the committee, said Joshua Kamensky, a Garcetti aide.

“Eric’s delighted to have the Oscars here. It’s part of our calling card to the world,” Kamensky said. “There’s always conversations about how we can make it better. But they bring billions of eyes on Hollywood each year and bring in millions in revenues” from visitors who come to town to experience some of the glitz they’ve seen on Academy Awards telecasts.

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Barbara Scullin of Roseville, Calif., wasn’t all that impressed with what she saw as she watched a group of workers bend over to lift a piece of equipment in front of the Kodak Theatre.

“Get a picture of all those butt cracks,” she joked to another member of her bus tour group. “That certainly isn’t what we expected to see.”

She and other tour members were expecting to see the Kodak. But it was closed to unauthorized visitors until after Sunday’s ceremony.

“I’m disappointed. We were supposed to get a tour of it as part of our package,” Scullin said.

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As compensation, members of her tour were given gift certificates: $5 coupons redeemable at McDonald’s.

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bob.pool@latimes.com


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