HOLLYWOOD -- It was a sunny, blustery afternoon on Hollywood Boulevard, and it was Elvis' 57th birthday.
Of course, there were festivities.
The King and Hollywood Boulevard, after all, is one of those irresistible couplings, like Nixon and Checkers -- the lure is in the weirdness, the hint of the absurd.
There was plenty of wackiness to be had at Elvis' roped-off star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. Fans left flowers, a poster-size red glitter heart, a framed color picture of the young Elvis. Nearby, an Elvis impersonator in a white jumpsuit serenaded the passing crowd. Elvis himself was a no-show.
People stopped to stare. "It's sooooo Hollywood," they said, in a way that made perfect sense. You couldn't, for instance, say about something, "It's sooooo Cleveland" and expect people to understand.
Hollywood has an image, all right, in a way that other places don't. But not necessarily the kind of image that civic leaders want to see.
The once-glittering downtown now is legally defined as blighted in the redevelopment area along Hollywood and Sunset boulevards. Crime was up 14 percent in 1991, compared with 1990. More teen-age runaways flock to Hollywood than anywhere else in the nation. Tourists peer over the curled-up figures of homeless people asleep on the sidewalk stars of Hollywood Boulevard.
The famed movie magic of Hollywood -- the place where Cecil B. DeMille made the Red Sea part -- hasn't worked its stuff in the community itself. So, in the land famous for remakes, Hollywood is remaking itself, with a $922 million 30-year project led by the Community Redevelopment Agency of Los Angeles.
Councilman Michael Woo, who represents the area, said, "It's going to bring more tax money to the city. It will help the tourism industry because it's going to give something to people who come to Hollywood looking for some glimmer of the past glamour.
"If we can show that an area with problems as serious as Hollywood's problems -- cruising, gangs, run-down buildings and a very diverse population -- can get its act together, there is hope for other parts of Los Angeles as well."
The redevelopment plan, which began in August 1986, is one of California's most ambitious ever. The project was delayed more than five years because of legal challenges.
The redevelopment project includes money for programs to help the poor, seniors and people with the AIDS virus. There also is money for transportation improvements and business incentives such as technical, design and financial assistance. Construction already has started on the $4 billion Metro Red Line subway that will connect Hollywood to downtown Los Angeles by 1996.
So far, efforts to coax the entertainment industry back to Hollywood appear to be working. Last year, the ornate El Capitan Theatre reopened; last month, the Guinness Museum of World Records opened in the renovated Hollywood Theatre, and next month, the $48 million Hollywood Galaxy mall/theater/restaurant complex has its grand opening. The El Capitan opening was the inaugural project of an eight-block Cinema District, which will include 15 screens in six theaters.
In 1995, the Hollywood Entertainment Museum is scheduled to open with 110,000 square feet of exhibits, theaters, restaurants and archives at the Hollywood Pacific Theater. The museum is projected to draw about 500,000 people its first year, said Phyllis Caskey, president of the museum's board of directors.
There's nowhere to go but up, she said.
"I can't imagine losing an international treasure like Hollywood," Ms. Caskey said. "It may take some work to make people realize that, but it's our treasure."
There also is that image thing to take care of.
The redevelopment agency's Hollywood-ish touches include seting aside money for "star sweepers" at the El Capitan -- theater workers in black pants and bright caps hired to keep the surrounding streets clean and the tourists happy. Under development on Hollywood Boulevard is a Ripley's Believe It or Not museum, in the old Bank of America building,which will feature a 20-foot-high dinosaur head bursting through the roof. And then there are the shorts-clad cops on bikes who patrol the community.
Five million tourists annually eat up that kind of stuff. But sometimes they wish there was more of that stuff around.
"We thought it was going to be glamorous," said Australian tourist Katheryn Bond, 36, "and it's a bit tawdry."
Not that the ambience is gone entirely.
"There are still exciting things, like Elvis Presley's birthday [celebration]," Ms. Bond said. "Stuff like that, you won't see any place else."
On a recent afternoon, she snapped a picture of Roy Rogers' handprint in front of Mann's Chinese Theatre. Her friend Rosetta Hamood, also from Australia, pulled her Hollywood souvenir from a plastic bag: Tom Selleck's face on a hanger. Ms. Hamood, 29, preferred Beverly Hills over Hollywood.
"The contrast," she said, "was staggering."
In the old days, there was no contest. Hollywood was the place to be.
Don Lippman, who grew up in Hollywood, remembers the days when he ran into Sal Mineo at an Italian restaurant on Yucca Avenue and Jack Palance at his local bank. One of his first memories is going with his parents to the Egyptian movie theater and making his way up the long walkway lined with monkeys and other animals in cages. He still has a picture of himself posing with feather boa-bedecked showgirls at the Florentine Gardens nightclub for his bar mitzvah.
Hollywood never closed in those days. "It was the place to go," saidMr. Lippman, 58, a court reporter. "It was the place to be, and now?
"There isn't a place that doesn't have the gratings or the graffiti. I come home at 10 or 11 o'clock, and it's barren. Nobody. Nothing."
But on a drive down Hollywood Boulevard, H. Cooke Sunoo, who heads the redevelopment effort for the city of Los Angeles, pointed out newly painted storefronts and new buildings. No businesses or homes
will be displaced for redevelopment.
He also emphasized that the redevelopment project is not just about red carpets and neon lights. It's also about making Hollywood a neighborhood again.
But the Hollywood stuff is why the tourists come.
"If you think of the old days," Mr. Sunoo said, "and the red carpet treatment, etc., that's what this is all about."