Construction is set to begin today on a long-awaited $600-million hotel, residential and retail project at the iconic intersection of Hollywood Boulevard and Vine Street in Hollywood.
The massive development is regarded by planners as a bookend to the glitzy retail and entertainment complex nine blocks away at Hollywood and Highland Avenue, which is the home of the Kodak Theatre and next to Graumann's Chinese.
The new project calls for a 305-room W hotel with 143 adjoining condominiums that would receive hotel services, the first such complex in Los Angeles. Also part of the plan for the southeast corner of the intersection: 375 luxury apartments, restaurants, a nightclub, stores and a spa.
Major development is already underway at two other corners of the famed intersection.
"We'll see a lot of activity up and down Hollywood Boulevard" prompted by the project, predicted one of the developers, Dennis Cavallari, senior vice president of Legacy Partners.
"Everyone is hoping for a renaissance that will make it a pedestrian-oriented retail district," he added.
The project on a site surrounding a Metro Rail subway stop has been planned for about five years.
Some real estate industry observers were skeptical that it would ever happen because they doubted that there would be enough demand among travelers and buyers to support it.
The blocks around the intersection, once at the center of the region's broadcasting industry, had fallen into disrepute by the 1980s.
"Hollywood used to be the last place you would think affluent people would want to reside," said real estate broker John Tronson of Ramsey-Shilling Co. "I think a lot of people had doubts anybody would truly sign up to build a high-end product."
The project is being developed by Legacy Partners of Foster City, Calif., and Gatehouse Capital Corp. of Dallas. Gatehouse President Marty Collins said the Hollywood "brand" had survived the down-and-out decades and still held global appeal that can be capitalized on.
By the time the project is completed in mid-2009, Collins hopes to attract buyers willing to pay from $600,000 to more than $1 million for condos. He expects the hotel to appeal most to business travelers in the fields of entertainment, fashion, art and design.
The builders have applied to the nonprofit U.S. Green Building Council for certification of the project as an environmentally friendly development.
"It's going to be one of the very first full-service" green hotels, Collins said. For potential guests that W is targeting, "the whole idea of going green resonates."
Most of the project will rise on land owned by the Los Angeles Metropolitan Transportation Authority, which is encouraging dense development around more than 20 train stations in hopes of limiting traffic congestion and air pollution, said Roger Moliere, chief of real estate management and development for the MTA.
It will also surround the Taft office tower, a landmark completed in 1924 that once housed the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.
Also remaining on Vine Street will be the one-story Bernard Luggage store completed in 1928. Its owner, Robert Blue, successfully resisted the city's eminent domain proceedings intended to remove his building to make way for the new project.
This project is the largest at an MTA station since the $615-million Hollywood and Highland complex completed in 2001 and is one of the most expensive in the history of the district.
Two other large projects are nearing completion at Hollywood and Vine: Palisades Development Group's $50-million conversion of the former Equitable office building to condominiums and Kor Group's $70-million conversion of the former Broadway department store also to condos.
The Broadway, Equitable and Taft buildings are links to the era when Hollywood and Vine was one of the city's great crossroads. In the 1920s, it was the second-busiest intersection after Wilshire Boulevard and Western Avenue.
It was a gateway to the San Fernando Valley in pre-freeway Los Angeles and a draw for the movie industry from the beginning. Cecil B. DeMille shot "The Squaw Man," Hollywood's first feature film, at the nearby corner of Selma Avenue and Vine in 1914.
Later, radio and then television stations set up operations in the neighborhood and KFWB announcers repeated often that they were broadcasting "from Hollywood and Vine," according to historian Marc Wanamaker. "It was considered the downtown of Hollywood," he said.
Such mass appeal was a distant memory by the 1980s, when parts of the neighborhood fell prey to such activities as drug dealing, prostitution and panhandling.
By the early 1990s, the Community Redevelopment Agency had come up with a plan for improving Hollywood that called for commercial and residential development at the intersection. Changing political administrations, subway construction and real estate downturns kept builders at bay, however.
Finally, a city ordinance that simplified the conversion of commercial buildings to residential use, along with the Hollywood and Highland development and the recent housing boom, spurred developers to action.