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COVER STORY

Remake of a classic

Sure, they've been talking about improving Hollywood and Vine for decades. Now it's really happening, and the changes are everywhere.

January 30, 2003|Maria Elena Fernandez | Times Staff Writer

You could go on and on about Hollywood and Vine, what with its Art Deco architecture, glorious radio and film history, celebrity sightings and sidewalks of gold stars. You could track the world-famous intersection's tragic downfall and then record the dignity with which it is now rising. But let's begin instead with the pigeons because Hollywood, after all, is a town of wonderfully eclectic characters here at one time or another -- not because of who they are but because of who they want to be.

Not that the pigeons are trying to be more than nature dictates. It's just that they are resilient, as resilient as the town itself, and their story is just as illustrious as the tales about Clark Gable walking to the Brown Derby or Charlie Chaplin working at his office inside the landmark Taft Building. These pigeons -- and their ancestors -- lived on the roof of the Henry Fonda Magic Box Theatre from 1935 until last fall, when Thaddeus Smith and his partners, Marco Roy and Burt Nelson, evicted them so they could refurbish the beleaguered historic site and open it as a special events and concert hall.

But getting rid of all 200 pigeons has proved to be a handful. When shooing and starving them didn't work, Smith tried scaring them off with 6-inch rubber snakes. Instead of flying away in fear, the birds flew away with the snakes. And then they returned.

"They must have thought I was providing them with toys," said Smith, who also owns the Blue Palms restaurant on La Cienega Boulevard. "These were the oldest pigeons I've ever seen. Some of them, I swear, had crutches. It took two months to get rid of them."

Resourceful and feisty, the pigeons are emblematic of Hollywood and Vine's renewal. In its 93rd year, the legendary corner, originally a grape vineyard, is in the middle phases of a much-anticipated transformation. Hollywood's "downtown" has been slowly coming back to life since the Hollywood Entertainment District was formed in 1996 to revitalize 18 blocks of Hollywood Boulevard from La Brea Avenue to Gower Street. With a subway stop at Hollywood and Vine in place, a sellout show at the Pantages and several nightclubs and bars that have cropped up, the place is recapturing its energy. The next five years will likely see the addition of a museum, two hotels, more bars, restaurants and shops and luxury residential housing to the fabled neighborhood.

So then who can fault the pigeons for wanting to share space with the soft-spoken Adelaida Lozano, a great-grandmother who has been selling roses and daisies for a living on Vine Street for seven years? Or Roxanne Felten, who, like the pesky birds, cannot get enough of Hollywood and Vine?

Known in the neighborhood for her elegant dress and sweet manner, Felten, who lives at the Hollywood Plaza on Vine Street, crosses Hollywood and Vine every morning on her way to the Studio Cafe for her oatmeal, the market and the beauty salon. "I like living in this area very much because everything is close to me," said the 77-year-old Finnish native who was looking stylish on a Thursday morning in her purple leather skirt, butterscotch wool sweater and red hat.

"Once in a while I have problems with the guys trying to get acquainted with me, but other than that, it's very nice." The guys Felten might meet on her travels are skateboarder Davon Reece, who rolls through town listening to meditation music on his headset, or DJ Biscuit, a friendly homeless man who turns on the neighborhood with his funk, soul and hip-hop mixes.

"It's not the buildings that do it for me," said Reece, 22, who grooves through Hollywood and Vine on his way to the subway. "It's the people and the history. I don't go into any of these buildings, but it's the people you meet around here that make it happen for me. They come from everywhere." Originally from Houston, DJ Biscuit is a Hollywood Boulevard night owl and music lover who plays records on his turntables from a shopping cart, hoping to make a few tips now that the area is a magnet for chic club hoppers. On a recent Thursday night, DJ Biscuit's funk was moving young girls to dance on the sidewalk and club kids from Star Shoes to linger outside with their cigarettes.

"Other people sell hot dogs for a living, I like to play my records around town," said the 31-year-old DJ. "I'm just trying to keep the culture of my music alive and, right now, this boulevard is my home."

Biscuit's boulevard especially thrives at night, particularly on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays, when scenesters compete for entry into several trendy nightclubs that have opened within the last two years. Even Dan and Olga Roseblade of Seal Beach, who recently celebrated her birthday with dinner at the Hollywood and Vine Diner and 14th-row seats at "The Lion King," say they will drive up again to check out the bustling night life. "Our next move is to go back with some friends and go dancing," said Olga, 25. "The atmosphere on the street was phenomenal."

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