Drivers on the Hollywood Freeway where it emerges from the Cahuenga Pass and curves along the northern edge of Tinseltown are treated to a spectacular view of a skyline that for decades remained frozen in time.
Now, 30 years after the launch of a redevelopment effort aimed at bringing the spiritual heart of Los Angeles back, that skyline is changing at breakneck speed as new buildings clamber skyward. This explosive resurgence is just the latest reinvention of a community that has adapted itself to the demand of its times over and over again.
In the beginning, it was all farmland, set on the remnants of the old Spanish ranchos of La Brea and Los Feliz. In the early 1900s, it became a retreat for well-to-do Midwesterners, whose country homes lined Prospect Avenue. Soon the motion-picture production industry followed, the stately homes and pepper trees made way for commercial buildings, and Prospect Avenue became Hollywood Boulevard.
Movie studios sprang up on Sunset, Gower and Melrose, while radio studios clustered along the Vine Street corridor; the TV studios would would eventually join them. It was a company town. And then the company left town.
All the major studios except for Paramount eventually decamped for the Valley or the Westside. The rise of the DJ meant that the large studios necessary for live radio performances were now obsolete. On the TV side, it was the opposite: More complex filmed programs needed larger studio spaces. The premieres at the Chinese Theater continued, but the Brown Derby closed, and even the Oscars left town in 1961. The Golden Age of classic Hollywood was over.
Hollywood's decline became so pronounced that the city set up redevelopment efforts that would set the stage for today's renaissance. An act of God also contributed: After a methane explosion at the Ross Dress for Less in the Miracle Mile, the Red Line subway was rerouted through Hollywood to avoid the pockets of gas below Wilshire Boulevard. That alignment would allow planners to provide incentives for developers to build dense projects near Hollywood's three new subway stations.
The plan kicked into high gear with the Hollywood & Highland complex, where the Oscars would make their return to Hollywood, and has continued with a boom in hotel, apartment and creative space construction. The industry that takes its name from the neighborhood has also made a comeback here: Netflix has signed a lease in a new office tower on Sunset, and Viacom has moved into the newly renovated Columbia Square (once the home of CBS Radio). It may not quite be a new Golden Age, but it's a pretty decent next act.