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The Best...The Beautiful...and the Bizarre

The Neon Lights Aren't Bright

July 18, 1999|Mary Melton

"Hello!" it cried out to motorists and canyon dwellers, and Ricky and Lucy, who couldn't miss seeing it out their hotel suite window during the Hollywood sojourn episodes. "I'm a fabulous department store at the glamorous intersection of Hollywood and Vine. Come shop!"

"The Broadway Hollywood" sign jabs the skyline as mightily as that of the Hotel Knickerbocker, as piercingly as the Capitol Records spire. Its lettering bespeaks Deco as succinctly as the New Yorker logo: the way the R curls however slightly northeast, that crisscrossed W, the wide-open O's.

It's "one of the most identifiable visual symbols of Hollywood's commercial past," says Ken Bernstein, director of preservation for the L.A. Conservancy. And it may soon fall from the rooftop. The building's owners, who lease the space as offices, want to dump the sign for one that reads "Hollywood and Vine." Asks Pietra DuBuclet, who represents the management: "The Broadway lost faith in Hollywood back in the '70s and left. Why should we continue to glorify a company that is defunct?"

The Los Angeles Cultural Affairs Department would like to relight the sign, as it has more than 100 other neon beacons. "It's my favorite sign in Hollywood," says Al Nodal, the department's general manager. "It has transcended its original purpose, to be an ad for the business below, and become a landmark." Literally. A nomination for historic-cultural landmark status for the Broadway sign and building is pending before the City Council. However, the local designation often serves as little more than a stalling mechanism. "A determined owner could proceed after a year to demolish and replace it," Bernstein concedes.

Until then, it still beckons motorists buzzing along the 101 Freeway--only now, as a distress signal.

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