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Walk of Fame going to have a little work done

Cosmetic surgery is planned for hundreds of stars that are dangerously showing their age.

July 22, 2008|Bob Pool | Times Staff Writer

Throckmorton P. Gildersleeve is about to get another shot at Hollywood stardom.

That was the name of the lead character played by actor Willard Waterman in the hit 1950s radio comedy "The Great Gildersleeve."

The show went off the air in 1957 and Waterman died in 1995. Since then, Waterman's commemorative plaque with its bronze depiction of a microphone has slowly faded from the Hollywood Walk of Fame too.

Chunks of the pink terrazzo inside the outline of the bronze star have come out. One of the star's five points has disappeared. An asphalt patch fills the hole.

Today, though, Waterman's battered and broken sidewalk marker will be designated one of 778 bronze stars to be replaced as part of a wholesale Walk of Fame makeover.

Hollywood leaders, transit officials and Los Angeles representatives are mapping plans for a major restoration of the 50-year-old black-and-pink terrazzo sidewalk along its entire 2 1/2 -mile length.

In the meantime, officials have issued a report card on the condition of all 2,365 stars on the walk, giving each a letter grade from A to F.

Walkway honorees whose stars were graded F were Waterman and Richard Boleslawski, Joan Collins, Ellen Drew, Paul Douglas, Peter Frampton, Andrew L. Stone, Dick Van Patten, Frank Crumit and Bobby Sherwood.

Fifty celebrities' stars received D grades, including Art Linkletter, Ida Lupino, George "Gabby" Hayes, Virginia Mayo, James Arness, Bud Abbott, Walter Matthau, Edgar Bergen, Melvyn Douglas, Jean Hersholt, Vin Scully, Burt Lancaster and Gloria DeHaven.

"We get calls from celebrities and their families also asking when their star will be repaired," said Ana Martinez-Holler, a chamber of commerce executive who has helped oversee the Walk of Fame. "Producer Mace Neufeld's family called about his star in front of the Pig 'N Whistle, and we fixed it. But Peter Frampton's office calls often and his star can't be fixed until the overall repairs are made."

Officials are forming a "Friends of the Walk of Fame" group in hopes of raising about half the estimated $4.2-million cost of the upcoming repair job. Financing from public agencies will be sought for the rest.

Details of what is expected to be a two-year repair project will be outlined at 11 a.m. atop the most heavily damaged portion of the walkway -- the area in front of the Kodak Theatre and the entrance to the Metro Red Line subway at the Hollywood & Highland Center. Ninety-one stars and blank terrazzo squares there need replacing.

At the same time, Hollywood leaders will toast their first donation: several hundred thousand dollars from the makers of Absolut Vodka.

"What needs to be repaired is more than just what is around the subway," says Leron Gubler, president and chief executive of the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce. "But the problem in front of the subway entrance was the impetus for this."

The wide terrazzo walkway lining the Hollywood & Highland Center is one of the newest sections of the famed celebrity sidewalk. But since its installation it has suffered continuous buckling. Some blame underground settling caused by "voids" left by the subway construction.

But Metropolitan Transportation Authority officials have blamed heat expansion of the black terrazzo, caused by sunlight. A study of a 60-foot stretch of the walkway near the corner of Hollywood Boulevard and Highland Avenue last year recommended replacing the walk's 3-inch-thick base with one 8 inches thick. Additional expansion joints between the walkway slabs were also suggested.

Although the MTA indicated last week that it planned to take the lead in the Walk of Fame restoration, Gubler said Monday that his organization will oversee the creation of the "Friends" funding group. The city will be in charge of the overall repair project, he said.

Gubler said an assessment team organized last year by Los Angeles' Bureau of Engineering inspected the entire Walk of Fame. All 2,365 stars were graded on the basis of their physical condition. Then the estimated cost of repairs was tallied.

"The city has said from the start there has to be a private match" to public money spent on the restoration, Gubler said.

"Our goal is to have it repaired in two years for the official 50th anniversary of the dedication of the first 1,500 stars. Some of the original 50-year-old stars are in better shape than the new ones."

The Walk of Fame was proposed in 1953. The first demonstration stars were installed Aug. 15, 1958, at Hollywood and Highland, with actor Preston Foster's the first to be unveiled. The walkway was formally dedicated Nov. 23, 1960.

Curbside ficus tree roots are blamed for causing some of the walkway's squares to buckle and crack. Heavy trucks driving over the sidewalk into driveways have also damaged some sections, Gubler said.

In all, about 25% of the walkway's stars are so badly damaged that they must be replaced, he said.

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