Merchants Push for “Hollywood Village”

By Ryan White, Ledger Contributing Writer

HollywoodVillage2HOLLYWOOD BLVD—A group of merchants are hoping to garner more buzz and city services for a stretch of Hollywood Boulevard just east of the 101 by recasting the area as “Hollywood Village.”

The proposed designation would cover Hollywood Boulevard from Wilton Place to Western Avenue.

“We’ve been trying to revitalize this part of Hollywood Boulevard because it has been forgotten for years now,” said Mickey Maravic, owner of the restaurant I Panini Di Ambra.

Business owners hope the new identity will help them gain more access to city services and amenities, such as regular street cleaning and pedestrian-friendly sidewalk lighting. Benches, trash cans and bike racks are also on the wish list.

“That is the beginning that will allow this village to become a village,” said Bechir Blagui, owner of Hollywood Rent-A-Car, describing his dream of holding street festivals and fairs along this stretch of the boulevard.

The Hollywood United Neighborhood Council unanimously approved a motion at its January meeting to support the Village concept and is sending a letter recommending the initiative to City Councilmember Mitch O’Farrell. The council also pledged $150 toward window decals that will bear a new logo.

An informal survey of Hollywood Boulevard businesses in the area found that “98% of the businesses have enthusiastically jumped on board,” according to Cindy DuHaime-Londberg, block captain of the Garfield Neighborhood Watch and proponent of the Village concept.

Rent-A-Car’s Blegui, who sat on the Hollywood United Council for the better part of a decade, said the area has often been overlooked by the city in favor of nearby hill-dweller’s concerns.

“This stretch of Hollywood Boulevard has received the least improvements,” he said.

Blegui said he takes inspiration from the reinvention of nearby Franklin Village —a stretch of Franklin Avenue just east of Beachwood Drive —into a buzzing, thriving pedestrian zone full of shoppers, diners and nightlife. Franklin Village became an official neighborhood when it was recognized by the city of Los Angeles in 2007. Hollywood Village supporters hope for similar recognition at some point.

Maravic, owner of the panini shop, says the neighborhood has predominantly consisted of older Armenians, but that’s changing.

“There is a new movement of people coming in—a younger crowd in the entertainment business,” he said.

Those new residents, bolstered in ranks by a number of new mixed-use housing developments going up on the boulevard, mean more foot traffic for local businesses. Maravic said his panini business previously relied on catering to crews in the film industry, but now foot traffic from the neighborhood is tipping his scales toward walk-ins.

But merchants say crime is still a problem in the area. Graffiti isn’t uncommon, and last summer some three dozens businesses were robbed. Maravic had his front-door window smashed and cash register ransacked, he said.

Merchants hope that a cleaner, better lit street will make the area more enticing to pedestrians from the neighborhood as well as tourists or visitors from Thai Town, Little Armenia or the nearby Hollywood/Western Red Line metro stop. With a bit of love and sprucing up, they say the street could really take off.

“Basically what we need is more pedestrians on the street—more family-friendly little shops, little markets and cafes,” Maravic said.

The nascent Hollywood Village Business Group held its first meeting last November, and a field deputy from O’Farrell’s office spoke to a group of nearly three-dozen on strategies for moving the business community forward.

With a vote of support from the Hollywood United Neighborhood Council, the merchants have now turned to lobbying O’Farrell and the mayor’s office for more city services and an official designation; the latter would require a City Council motion.

O’Farrell’s office did not return multiple requests for comment.

“We’re positive, we’re hopeful,” Rent-A-Car’s Blegui said. “I think it’s the right thing to do for the neighborhood. The ball is in Mitch’s office and the mayor’s office.”

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