Crimes threaten Hollywood’s appeal

A high-profile attack on a tourist, plus a gang run amok on the Walk of Fame, hurts its image.

NEW YORK TIMES NEWS SERVICEJuly 24, 2013 

LOS ANGELES — Hollywood Boulevard is the West Coast equivalent of Times Square, an urban reclamation project that transformed a strip once notorious for crime, drug-dealing and prostitution into a tourist destination, a thriving night-life district and the home of movie premieres and the Academy Awards.

But over the past month, two high-profile crimes — a fatal stabbing of a tourist by a homeless person and a robbery spree by a gang that bounded past people gawking at the Walk of Fame — have threatened this carefully cultivated and civically critical reinvention, worrying community leaders and presenting an early challenge to this city’s new mayor, Eric Garcetti.

On paper, at least, Hollywood Boulevard — with the TCL Chinese Theatre, famous star-studded sidewalks and open-top tour vans filled with out-of-towners on what is, frankly, a mostly futile hunt for celebrity sightings — is as safe as ever. Reports of major crimes are down 17 percent over the past year.

But in this case, perceptions matter. And Hollywood visitors who already might have been disconcerted by the sidewalk hustlers dressed up as Spiderman and Captain Jack Sparrow, the wandering homeless people and the occasional boulevard fistfight have certainly taken notice of back-to-back crimes involving tourists.

“I called the Chamber of Commerce and said, ‘Is it safe?’ ” said Greg Pack, who was visiting from Florida, as he stood in front of Madame Tussauds Hollywood. “He said, ‘Yeah, it’s safe. This is an isolated incident. It happens in every big town.’ ”

“We were a little concerned when we saw on the local news last night that there was rioting here,” Pack continued.

Pack was not alone. Los Angeles, aware of how critical this strip of the city is to its international image and flow of tourism dollars, has moved to try to deal with the problem, real or imagined.

City officials are talking about imposing new measures on Hollywood Boulevard, including state legislation to bar street performers from wearing masks on heavily trafficked blocks in Hollywood.

The police are also talking about seeking more stay-away orders directed at people involved in crimes or episodes of harassment.

By any measure, Hollywood is a far cry from what it was even 10 years ago.

The prostitutes and street drug vending are mostly gone, the boulevard is well lighted at night and established businesses have replaced some of the head shops and pornography stores that once dominated the area.

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