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SURROUNDINGS HOLLYWOOD WALK OF FAME

Gallery of Stars Only Comes Out at Night

A beautification project puts artists to work painting portraits on steel roll-up doors.

November 07, 2002|Bob Pool | Times Staff Writer

Call it Hollywood's really late show.

Only true night owls are around to watch when this group of movie stars drops in on Hollywood Boulevard for a little after-hours whimsy.

The celebrities are wearing acrylic smiles as their likenesses are painted on the roll-down security doors of nearly 150 shops that line part of the Hollywood Walk of Fame.

It's part of a city-sponsored beautification project for the beleaguered street.

Trouble is, the stylized portraits of Harrison Ford, Myrna Loy and others are visible only when stores are closed and tourists are gone.

No wonder the artists who have spent hundreds of chilly nighttime hours painting the corrugated steel doors call their growing exhibit the "Night Gallery."

"This is such a big project. And, at the moment, such a big secret," lamented artist Susan Krieg, who has supervised the crew of professional painters and muralists handling the boulevard brush-up.

Most of the security doors were installed after the 1992 riots. Dark and grubby-looking, they shut off the light and liveliness of the street when shopkeepers lower them, lock them and leave for the night.

Even worse, they are targets for graffiti.

When the roll-down doors began being spray-painted, a community-based cleanup group called the Hollywood Beautification Team experimented with placing celebrities on them to dissuade the vandals.

As a test, five faces were painted along a stretch of the boulevard west of Cherokee Avenue. When only one was vandalized, officials decided to launch the art project using an $80,000 first-phase grant from the city's Community Redevelopment Agency.

Forty-four doors have been decorated so far with durable mural paints topped with an anti-graffiti coating. The artists intend to return to paint 50 more after taking a winter break. Fifty additional portraits after that will complete the project.

Those who have seen the paintings are enthusiastic.

"I can tell you that this door sure looks a lot better than that one," said Bob Allen, a Hollywood home improvement products salesman, as he paused to admire a door depicting singer-actor John Raitt that is next to an unpainted door in the boulevard's 6500 block.

Krieg, of North Hollywood, said she and her team of six artists try to match celebrity faces with the stars names along the Walk of Fame. The Hollywood Beautification Team provides portraits of the stars selected to be painted.

Some stores have put in special requests.

"Frederick's of Hollywood wanted females. They got Eva Gabor and Norma Shearer. The Hollywood Magic owner demanded Orson Welles. A sex shop wanted a really sexy person. Eva Gabor was already taken, and I didn't think Angela Lansbury wanted to go there. So they didn't get anything," Krieg said.

Zgan dancewear shop owner Morris Sharaf was uncertain of the real names of the stars on his double-wide security door. "It's Tarzan and his girlfriend and their chimp," he said.

That would be Johnny Weissmuller and Maureen O'Sullivan and a 1930s scene-stealer named Cheetah.

"I've been here 22 years, and this is better than changing the trees or putting in new asphalt. Whoever thought of this is a genius," said Sharaf. "Even though I'm not here at night, it's a fabulous thing they did for Hollywood Boulevard."

Sharaf's store is flanked by paintings of Gene Autry and Frank Sinatra.

Nearby, at Cherokee and Hollywood, a seven-door section outside a T-shirt shop features the largest single installation: Gene Roddenberry, Leonard Nimoy, William Shatner, DeForest Kelley, George Takei, James Doohan, Nichelle Nichols and Walter Koenig.

"Sadly, they don't go down until about 11:30 at night," Krieg said of the "Star Trek" doors, which artist team members Preston Craig, Jasser Membrano, Jennifer Snoeyink, Todd Swerdloff, Kate Jones and Geoff Tuttle helped her paint.

Craig, of Van Nuys, said painting realistic-looking portraits on the three-dimensional corrugated steel roll-ups was a challenge.

So was dealing with some of the characters who inhabit the boulevard at 2:30 a.m.

"The drama of Hollywood doesn't begin at the studios. It begins at street level," Craig said with a laugh. "Between the hookers coming by and propositioning you and the gangbangers and the clubbers going to and from nightclubs, we had quite an audience."

The artists learned to look the other way when drug dealers did their business along the sidewalk. Most of the time, patrolling police officers kept an eye on the painters during their six-hour nighttime stints, Craig said. So did some of the street people.

"Some came by several times a night to check on us. Some would just come and talk to us. I had one guy stand two hours one night talking about everything -- art, history, the studios.

"He was still standing there talking when a British tourist stopped to watch. Soon he was talking to the British guy about Winston Churchill. It was like a scene out of Monty Python."

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