- The Washington Times - Sunday, March 24, 2002

HOLLYWOOD Forget actors Russell Crowe and Halle Berry. Here in Hollywood, the most anticipated arrival at the Academy Awards tonight will be the little gold man himself.
Oscar is coming home.
After stints at music halls and auditoriums throughout greater Los Angeles, the Academy Awards will be held in Hollywood for the first time in more than 40 years.
It's not just the return of the movie industry's best-known symbol to the place where films began that has Hollywood excited. It's also what comes with it.
The new home for the Academy Awards is a new theater, housed in a recently built $615-million shopping and entertainment plaza in the heart of a promising new Hollywood.
"You wouldn't believe the buzz in this town right now," said Johnny Grant, known as Hollywood's unofficial "mayor." At 79, the colorful Mr. Grant has announced celebrity arrivals at six Academy Awards and has presided over the dedication of 551 stars in Hollywood Boulevard's Walk of Fame.
"When I first heard it, I called the Academy [of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences], and when they told me it was true, I jumped up and down and hollered 'Whoopie,'" he said.
The development, known as Hollywood & Highland, has kicked off a spurt of redevelopment that is cleaning up, cleaning out and reshaping the Los Angeles neighborhood.
"People have said, 'Sure, Hollywood is coming back they've been talking about that for years,'" said Leron Gubler, president of the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce. "But once [Hollywood & Highland] got started, people started to believe it. It gave us instant credibility."
Built around the Academy Awards' new 3,100-seat Kodak Theater, the Hollywood & Highland complex reflects what Hollywood has always been about: a mixture of fantasy and money.
The project's centerpiece, Babylon Court, is modeled after the set of D.W. Griffith's 1916 film "Intolerance." Two 33-foot-high statues of elephants overlook the courtyard, and a giant archway frames the famed Hollywood sign perched high on a nearby hillside.
The walkway where Oscar nominees will enter the Kodak Theater today is lined with etched-glass banners listing every Best Picture winner from inaugural winner "Wings" in 1928 to "Gladiator" last year. Empty spots have been saved for Best Picture winners through 2071.
Whimsical quotes engraved in the walkways from "anonymous" actors, directors, musicians and others true fans can figure out the source of the quotes guide visitors through other parts of the development.
"With the whole design, what we wanted to do was tell a story," said Russ Joyner, vice president and general manager for Hollywood & Highland.
And then there is the money part.
Along with pure Hollywood comes pure Main Street, with everyday retailers such as Gap and Tommy Hilfiger and Aunt Annie's Pretzels filling the 225,000 square feet of retail space at Hollywood & Highland.
The commercialism naturally has some worried that the Tinseltown of old, like it or not, is being lost and forgotten.
Some in the movie industry have complained about the Academy Awards' move to the Kodak Theater, partly because the theater is only about half the size of the previous venue, Los Angeles' Shrine Auditorium, and partly because of the shopping center.
Others have mixed emotions.
"It's great … but this isn't Hollywood," said Cliff Holbrook as he hawked tours of stars' homes from a stand across from Hollywood & Highland. The part-time actor and entertainer in Hollywood, everybody's in the business or wants to be came to town in 1964.
"It used to be quality over quantity here," Mr. Holbrook said. "But this is just like the movie industry itself. It's all about the dollar."


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