As development continues at traditional spots around Hollywood, Western Avenue is quietly emerging as Tinseltown's new eastern boundary.
Historically, Hollywood has been bounded by Highland Avenue to the west and Vine Street to the east, but as the city and private developers try to resuscitate a neighborhood dulled by years of transients, drugs, prostitution and neglect, momentum is spilling over its normal banks.
"Our redevelopment project area is LaBrea Avenue to Serrano Avenue," according to John McCoy, deputy administrator for operations at the CRA. "From our perspective, that is Hollywood as we've defined it."
Much of the impetus for the latest round of development has been attributed to the CRA's solicitation of development proposals for the Hollywood Boulevard and Western Avenue subway station. Still, the CRA has commitments that go beyond the MTA stop announcing it would spend as much as $13 million on Western alone to encourage and assist development.Among the developments transforming Western Avenue:
- Hollywest At Hollywood Boulevard and Western Avenue, $37 million mixed-use project being developed by San Francisco developer MacFarlane Partners. It will include 100 units of senior housing and 120,000 square feet of retail.
- Gershwin Hotel Hollywood Also at Hollywood and Western, renovation of the 164-room St. Francis Hotel as envisioned by Karim Rashid, a designer from New York via Egypt.
- Louis B. Mayer Building 5500 Hollywood Blvd., renovation of historic 1930s art deco office building into office space by a partnership led by Urs Jakob.
- Carlton Court Apartments Carlton Way and Western, 60-unit affordable housing complex that opened in January and is 100 percent occupied. Developer McCormack, Barron, Salazar Inc.
- MTA Metropolitan Transportation Authority is in exclusive negotiation with McCormack Barron and Hollywood Community Housing Corp. to build retail, childcare and housing at the Hollywood and Western subway station.
Most point to the subway station as the catalyst for development on and around Western Avenue.
"There was not anything happening there until the portal opened," McCoy said. "That was a very, very problematic area for five or six years."Underground advances
For all the positives the MTA station has brought to the area, the Hollywest project has, until recently, threatened to keep the neighborhood treading water. After battles with the city over permitting and funding, developer Ira Smedra this year sold the project to San Francisco-based MacFarlane Partners.
Hollywest, which will be anchored by a Ralphs and a Ross Dress for Less, had been limping along for more than 10 years.
Leron Gubler, president and chief executive of the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce said the transfer of control of the site to MacFarlane re-establishes the project's credibility and re-instills the confidence of the community.
To some, the development of Western is just the natural result of developers looking for places to build.
"Because the central part of Hollywood is already being developed the opportunities are limited," Sotelo said. "So people naturally head to the fringes."
Jakob said the momentum is about to explode and the neighborhood is going to become a hip spot with the relocation of Fuel, one of the hottest nightclubs in all of Los Angeles, to Western Avenue, and a new club designed by Rashid called Plastique.Diverse markets
Dalila Sotelo, vice president at McCormack Baron, said the diverse ethnic population of what's sometimes referred to as East Hollywood has given rise to legitimate political and consumer forces.
"Thai Town is four or five years old. Little Armenia is established," Sotelo said. "By the time a sign goes on a community it's because it's so obvious that you can't deny it."
Removing some of the more unsavory aspects of its diversity, however, was a component of the current development boom.
Jakob, a partner in the St. Francis Hotel, likes to take a little credit for sparking the turnaround of the area. By snatching the hotel, which he said was a "flophouse" when he bought it, he helped purge the property of the drug dealers, prostitutes and gang bangers.
"In order to change a neighborhood, it's necessary to control the architecture and control the tenancies," Jakob said. "We figured if we bought enough property we could make it happen. We have enough here that we've started it."
Jakob said the last issue to confront is changing perceptions among Angelenos about what is going on in the community. He expects the community to become a Hollywood branch office, of sorts.
"I think there will be new pockets of Hollywood," he said. "Eventually, they will grow together."
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