With Facelift, Hollywood Prepares For A Close-up

Among tourists, Hollywood has long been synonymous with the glitz and glamour of showbiz. But Angelenos know better. Since the 1980s, the neighborhood has been more likely to lure panhandlers than A-list celebs.

But with the infusion of new business life and traditional and guerrilla marketing campaigns, the neighborhood may once again be ready for a close-up.

“It’s the most gratifying, exciting time possible. Hollywood is almost at the tipping point,” said Kim Sudhalter, president of independent Urban Legend Public Relations, which has created outdoor banners and worked with freelancers to promote the area.

The firm, which has offices on Hollywood Boulevard, has been spearheading the marketing campaign that broke in June for the non-profit Hollywood Entertainment District, a business improvement district funded with taxes from local property owners.

HED’s campaign, dubbed “Hollywood Live 24/7,” showcases the 18-block area as a place not only to drink and dine, but to live (many new condo and apartment units are in various stages of construction). Included in the campaign are radio and print ads, as well as a four-minute video (on the Web and airing at trade shows) promoting 90028 as “a desirable ZIP code [where] you don’t need a car, [and] all the amenities are right around you,” Sudhalter said. The group will unveil tongue-in-cheek outdoor banners in the coming weeks, she said. (One banner co-promoting Wicked at the Pantages Theatre welcomes people to “Emerald City, Calif.”)

Retailers, too, are beginning to view the long-neglected neighborhood in a new light. The $360 million Hollywood & Highland mall, for example, has finally started to see an influx of desireable tenants—something it had lacked since its opening in 2001. Touted by its original Canadian developers as the project that would save Hollywood—home of landmarks such as the Kodak Theatre and Mann’s Chinese Theatre, as well as retail shops—the complex was sold in February at a fraction of its initial cost to Los Angeles-based real estate developer CIM Group. By May, the new owners had tapped independent House Design and Film, in Los Angeles, to create the marketing campaign.

“It’s very cutting-edge, just right for our urban theme,” said Hollywood & Highland vice president, marketing Annette Bethers. The effort began in June with Twister- mat-colored posters of elephants, accompanied only by the words “Live large,” throughout the city. Two weeks ago, a second set of postings appeared, encouraging Angelenos to come for “shopping, dining, nightlife, elephants.”

To capture the hip, young local crowd—as opposed to tourists—House Design eschewed celebrities and history for humor and ironic pretension. Thus, the admittedly over-the-top elephant theme that originates with the Hollywood & Highland mall’s Babylon Courtyard, which recalls D.W. Griffith’s 1916 film Intolerance, with towering stone pillars topped with huge elephants.

Everyone was asking, “What’s with the elephants?” said Bethers. “Hey, we have them. Let’s embrace them.”

Meanwhile, other “new Hollywood” investors such as The Dolce Group (partners include trendsetting Los Angeles restaurateurs Lonnie Moore, Mike Malin and Adolfo Suaya, promoter Michael Sutton and actor Ashton Kutcher) and David Judaken (who owns the hot spots Garden of Eden and Mood) are relying on buzz marketing techniques to draw a crowd.

But all the buzz can’t help one remaining fact: Hollywood has on two previous occasions backed redevelopment efforts to less-than-stellar results. “It’s been slow for a long time,” admits Judaken. While efforts are certainly “all moving in the right direction,” he said, “it will take another five to eight years” to see results like those of the Third Street Promenade in Santa Monica. “It’s a very big street.”