A new home for the Academy Awards is just one of a slew of redevelopment projects in store for Hollywood

By Josh Wolk
Updated October 20, 2000 at 04:00 AM EDT

Nearly 10 million tourists flock to Hollywood Boulevard each year to visit such spots as Mann’s Chinese Theatre and the Hollywood Walk of Fame. As one of them — New Jersey’s Chris Novick, 26 — watches his fellow out-of-towners excitedly pace the celebrity footprints of Tom Cruise and Mel Gibson, he offers his succinct opinion of this corner of Hollywood: ”It’s a s—hole.”

Score one more broken dream for the boulevard!

But if Novick looked up past the tacky tower of Mann’s, he would see a sign that the boulevard is crawling out of its you-know-what-hole. This seedy 18-block district — symbolic home to showbiz until the late 1950s — has been staging a comeback to rival the 1990s rebirth of Manhattan’s Times Square. Just behind and beside Mann’s sits the $560 million Hollywood & Highland project. A sprawling, 1.3-million-square-foot behemoth, the facility will house a luxury hotel, broadcast studio, retail stores, and, most important, the Kodak Theatre, the new permanent home for the Academy Awards starting in 2002.

Yes, for the first time since 1960, the stars will gather on their biggest night in the heart of Tinseltown (a far more convenient midtown location than the Shrine’s downtown schlepp of fame) — the Hollywood sign visible overhead like a giant glory-days name tag. With architecture by David Rockwell (who designed such hot spots as New York’s Nobu and W Hotel), the 3,300-seat, broadcast-ready theater has been developed to the Academy’s specifications, with assurances that the Oscars will be the only film award show staged there. Plus, there’s a 35,000-square-foot ballroom for the Governor’s Ball, and a towering proscenium by the red carpet, the first time the awards have had an official gateway. ”I’m worrying we’re going to have so many people wanting to attend the first couple of years here,” says Academy executive director Bruce Davis, ”that [we’ll] invariably disappoint some of them. But that’s a good problem to have.”

Need more proof the boulevard is getting ready for its close-up? On the eastern end, by the fabled corner of Hollywood and Vine, the Nederlander Organization has poured roughly $9 million into renovating the famed Pantages Theatre for the Oct. 19 L.A. premiere of the stage version of The Lion King. Numerous refurbishments and resurrections planned to fill in the dingy souvenir/tattoo-shop-dotted spots between these two glitzy poles should, within five years, make the street the sparkling strip tourists hope for. ”We’re actually creating a Times Square,” says Lee Wagman, president of TrizecHahn, the Canadian Hollywood & Highland developer.

Finally, Hollywood will again be more synonymous with klieg lights than police lights. The boulevard owed its early fame to ornate and cavernous movie palaces like the Chinese and the El Capitan, but their popularity ebbed in the late ’50s with the growth of television and L.A.’s suburbs. Businesses began fleeing and the seeds of seediness were sown. From the ’60s to the mid-’90s, other than the Mann’s concrete, there was little you’d want to set foot into. ”It’s a wonderful source of local color,” says Stan Ridgway, the ex-Wall of Voodoo singer- turned-soundtrack composer who lived on Hollywood Boulevard from 1977 to 1983, ”for anyone interested in the pathology of American culture.”