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8. Hollywood(s): Powers of Simulation

For the last seventy-five years there has been an uneasy fit between movie-made HOLLYWOOD glamour and the dowdy Hollywood district. Movie stars, of course, have never lived in the tenement flatlands, and most of the big studios moved long ago to the suburbs. The actual Hollywood of the 1930s was best described by Nathanial West: home of the "flea people" -- -the extras, laborers, grips and failed starlets.

The HOLLYWOOD in the imagination of the world's movie public, therefore, was kept tenuously anchored to its namesake location by regular rituals (premieres, the Academy Awards, etc.) and the magical investment of a dozen or so places (the Bowl, Graumann's, etc.) as tourist shrines. But over the last generation, as the real Hollywood has become a hyper-violent slum, the rituals have ceased and the magic has waned. As the linkages between historic signifier and its signified decayed, the opportunity arose to resurrect HOLLYWOOD in a safer neighborhood. Thus in Orlando, Disney created a stunning Art Deco mirage of MGM's golden age, while arch-competitor MCA countered with its own idealized versions of Hollywood Boulevard and Rodeo Drive at Universal Studios Florida.

Meanwhile, the elopement of Disney and HOLLYWOOD to Florida further depressed real-estate back in real-time Hollywood. After bitter battles with local homeowners, the major landowners were able to win city authorization for a $1 billion facelift of Hollywood Boulevard. In their scheme, the Boulevard would be transformed into a gated, linear theme park, anchored by mega-entertainment complexes at each end. But while the redevelopers were still negotiating with potential investors, MCA pulled the rug out from under Hollywood Redux with the announcement that its nearby tax-dodge enclave, Universal City, would construct a parallel urban reality called "CityWalk."

Designed by master illusionist Jon Jerde, CityWalk is an "idealized reality," the best features of Olvera Street, Hollywood and the West Side synthesized in "easy, bite-sized pieces" for consumption by tourists and residents who "don't need the excitement of dodging bullets ... in the Third World country" that Los Angeles has become. CityWalk incorporates examples of Mission Revival, Deco, streamlined Moderne, and "L.A. Vernacular" (the Brown Derby), as well as 3-D billboards, "a huge blue King Kong hanging from a 70-foot neon totem pole," and a sheriff's substation for security. To alleviate the sense of artificiality in this melange, a "patina of age" and a "dash of grit" have been added:

Using decorative sleight of hand, the designers plan to wrap the brand new street in a cloak of instant history -- on opening day, some buildings will be painted to suggest that they have been occupied before. Candy wrappers will be embedded in the terrazzo flooring, as if discarded by previous visitors.
Hollywood redevelopers immediately responded to construction of CityWalk with a $4.3 million beautification plan that includes paving Hollywood Blvd. with "glitz" made from recycled glass. But even spruced up and glitzified there is almost no way that the old Boulevard can compete with the hyper-real perfection on Universal's hill. As its MCA proprietors have taken pains to emphasize, CityWalk is "not a mall" but a "revolution in urban design ... a new kind of neighborhood." -- an urban simulator. Indeed, some critics wonder if it isn't the moral equivalent of the neutron bomb: the city emptied of all lived human experience. With its fake fossil candy wrappers and other deceits, CityWalk sneeringly mocks us as it erases any trace of our real joy, pain or labor.


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