Sunset Strip is getting its first repaving in 75 years

Along Sunset Strip, the 75-year-old pavement could tell some incredible stories about Hollywood through the ages.

“There’s probably chewing gum spit out by Jim Morrison in front of the Whisky a Go-Go,” West Hollywood Councilman John Duran said Wednesday. “Don’t tell anybody or they’ll want to go pick it up.”

The Sunset Boulevard “strip” has not been repaved since the 1930s. So it’s possible there may be gum deposited there by movie stars who once frequented the Strip, like Humphrey Bogart, Greta Garbo or even regal Shakespearean actor and unlikely gum-smacker, Sir Laurence Olivier.

Beginning on Monday, the city of West Hollywood will begin giving the Sunset Strip -- its roadway and sidewalks -- its first face-lift since it was converted from a dirt road.

City officials and business owners say they hope the touch-up will not only spiff up, but also help enliven a boulevard that has been challenged in recent years by outside competitors and the tattered economy.

“It’s the heart of rock ‘n’ roll,” said Mikeal Maglieri, the owner of the Whisky a Go-Go and the Rainbow Room. “This is sort of a revitalization in tough economic times. I think it’s good for business. It’s a face-lift. It’s a rejuvenation. It needs to be done.”

Donn Uyeno, the project manager in the city’s engineering division, said the Sunset Strip has held up remarkably well given how long it has gone without being repaved. It’s a concrete road, which gives the street a strong base. And because it’s on the top of a hill, water rolls downhill, which keeps the road from deteriorating the pavement as much as it might otherwise.

Still, that has only slowed the aging process, not stopped it. The city plans to grind away the top two layers of the roadway and install rubberized asphalt.

“We’re going to use ground-up tires that were just filling landfills, and the sound of the [cars] on the pavement will be a lot quieter,” Uyeno said. “When cars pass concrete, any time the tires roll over a crack or a panel, you hear the noise of the tire. This is going to greatly reduce the sound of cars.”

The city will also replace about one-third of the sidewalk and make existing sidewalks more pedestrian-friendly. Flowering, palm, magnolia and shade tree districts will be created. Trees that have grown for so long that they’ve cracked the pavement will be replaced with others.

Nic Adler, owner of the Roxy and son of record producer Lou Adler, said he still had a picture in front of the club showing a young potted ficus tree that was going to be planted. Adler said he couldn’t have known at the time that that cute little tree would muscle through the sidewalk.

“The ficus tree is evil,” he said with a laugh.

Michel Morauw, general manager of the Andaz West Hollywood hotel, said he thinks that the need for the beautification of the Sunset Strip will come into clearest focus after the project is completed.

“We get used to what’s in front of us,” Morauw said. “I think this beautification project is taking place at a very opportune time here on the Sunset Strip. I think this is going to be a new birth for the Strip.”

Many of the businesses were eager to work with the city when talk turned to fixing up the Sunset Strip. Adler said the time was right for the beautification, coming when businesses like his and that of longtime rivals are cooperating more as they face stiff challenges from competitors in places like Hollywood, from changes in the music industry and from the grind of the economic recession.

“Literally, it’s us promoting our competition and our competition promoting us. If there’s one person, we’re happy to share that person,” Adler said. “Before, it was, ‘You take them, or I take them.’ ”

The last time the roadway was paved was when Los Angeles County replaced the original dirt road with concrete during the Great Depression. All told, about 1.6 miles of the Strip between Sierra Drive and Harper Avenue will be repaved and spruced up at a cost of about $5.4 million, including a little more than $1 million in federal stimulus money, Uyeno said.

The construction is going to be done in phases and should last about six months, in time for the Sunset Strip Music Festival in August. The end result, Adler, Maglieri and others hope, is that the Sunset Strip will be more pedestrian-friendly, with people parking their cars and walking from one place to another.

“I’m old enough to remember when we were eight people deep in the sidewalk. There were people everywhere,” Maglieri said. “We want a trend where people feel comfortable walking up and down the street.”