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Hollywood's Future at the Cross Roads

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"Manhattanization" has, usefully I think, lately fallen out of the descriptive vocabulary of those cheering on or decrying the greater density and verticality proposed for Los Angeles's future. Los Angeles, even if all the tall condo and mixed-use projects were to be built, would never be another Manhattan, even in part.

Los Angeles will forever be itself.

A good example of Los Angeles being itself is the proposed redevelopment of seven acres of retail and residential property fronting on Sunset Boulevard around the 79-year-old Cross Roads of the World. The preliminary design scheme for the site includes a 308-room, 31-story hotel, a 32-story apartment tower, a 30-story condo tower with 950 units, 95,000 square feet of office space, and a total of 125,000 square feet of new retail/commercial space. Parking for about 2,500 cars would be underground.

The quirky Cross Roads complex would remain, but with a pedestrian mall connecting the old and new (and tall) parts of the site.

Bit of England at the Cross Roads
Bit of England at the Cross Roads, | Photo by Herman Schultheis, courtesy L.A. Public Library

Densifying Hollywood to this extent hasn't been going smoothly. The city council's Hollywood Community Plan, designed to allow greater density, was overturned in 2013 by Superior Court Judge Alan J. Goodman. He found that the plan was "unsupported by anything other than wishful thinking." An earthquake fault under the disputed Millennium Hollywood towers project at the Capitol Records Building still threatens to derail that project. It's now been slowed further by Environmental Impact Report deficiencies that, Superior Court Judge James C. Chalfant ruled, were serious enough to require a new study.

Objections to greater density and height in Hollywood's future have mostly come from neighborhood groups, all of them represented by the same lawyer, Robert P. Silverstein, according to the Los Angeles Times.

Cross Roads of the World
Cross Roads of the World, by klxadm

Release of the conceptual plan for the Cross Roads of the World site seems partly designed to bring out the inevitable anti-development forces. Perhaps the developers hope to reach a compromise with them early on. The developer is Harridge Development Group, which has turned to major players in architecture and landscaping for this project, including Skidmore, Owings & Merrill and Rios Clementi Hale Studios.

Cross Roads of the World owner Mort La Kretz will retain ownership, at least initially, of the land under much of the project.

Complicating the politics of the Cross Roads development plan are height limit and zoning changes needed to build eight new structures and the "conditional use permit" that would make it easier for the developer to manage the fragmented site. Each of these steps requires city council action; each decision could end up in court.

Some retail units, homes, and low-rise apartment buildings would be demolished as part of the project, another source of neighborhood conflict.

What won't be demo-ed is the oddest and oldest part of the site -- the collection of idiosyncratic buildings that make up Cross Roads of the World, known to drivers at least, by a spire and revolving globe that rises over the theme building at Cross Roads.

It looks partly like a mid-1930s drive-in and partly like the bridge of a tugboat. The architect was Robert V. Derrah, who also designed the steamship-themed Coco-Cola bottling plant on Central Avenue.

Critics see places like the Cross Roads of the World as proof of Los Angeles' essential inauthenticity. A mash up of architectural styles -- Moroccan souk, English village, Paris street, Mexican hacienda, and Bavarian schloss -- Cross Roads delighted tourists from Iowa when it opened in 1936 and confirmed the darkest opinions of those whom Los Angeles disappointed then as now

Despite all the whimsy and the early ballyhoo, Cross Roads of the World wasn't particularly successful as a retail destination. The deluxe shops moved out in the 1940s and the Industry (as it's known in Hollywood) moved in.

 Crossroads of the World neon sign
Crossroads of the World neon sign | Photo by Herman Schultheis, courtesy LA Public Library

What had been intended to be a "permanent world's fair" became a collection of offices and studios rented over the years by F. Scott Fitzgerald, Alfred Hitchcock, Warren Zevon, and Tim Burton. Other tenants included musicians Jackson Browne and Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young. It's said that "MacArthur Park" songwriter Jimmy Webb was reduced to sleeping in the hallways when his career faltered.

Cross Roads of the World may be a bit player in films and a genuine Hollywood landmark, but the complex has a distracted air today. Bay windows that were meant to display Paris fashions and Oriental antiques are papered over. Renovations made in the mid-1980s have themselves become worn.

Some tenants remain. Art book publisher Taschen has offices there, perhaps partly because of Benedikt Taschen's fondness for noir-ish L.A.

In the 1960s and into the 1970s, Cross Roads was home to porn producers, fringe record businesses, suspect talent agents, and other Hollywood scammers. Its builder had been the widow of "Good Time" Charlie Crawford, a crime boss gunned down in 1931 along with a business partner, presumably in retaliation for having double crossed another gangland boss in notoriously corrupt Los Angeles.

Nostalgia for "old Hollywood" (particularly of the noir-adjacent kind) may be the fig leaf to partly shield development plans for the Cross Roads site from the outrage of local NIMBY-ists. The preservation of phony (but historic) Hollywood just may make the new, denser Hollywood more palatable.

Tower | Photo by Burton O. Burt, courtesy LA Public Library

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