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LETTER FROM L.A.: Ode to North Hollywood
copyright 2002, Jim Chevallier


                Some time back, there was a pilot in the works about North Hollywood. While it was very likely that most of this would be filmed somewhere in Canada, I nonetheless welcomed the chance to have friends back home know more about my neighborhood. As it is, despite a scene at the start of "Erin Brockovich" (shot a block from my house) and the film "Magnolia" (I live right off Magnolia Boulevard), I still have to annotate an address that is (not so accidentally) a little misleading.

                While it's not exactly untrue that where I live is north of Hollywood, there are certainly places that are far closer to our more famous namesake, and more directly north. Los Feliz, for instance, whose residents would probably die a thousand deaths rather than have it be considered an extension of the far more famous but far less trendy piece of city to the south. Studio City, too, is at least partially north of Hollywood, and lies between us and the City of Dreams.

                Even Burbank, our near neighbor, is somewhat closer.

                North Hollywood, as it turns out, was once called Lankershim, and Lankershim Boulevard still cuts sturdily through it. It's not entirely lacking in history either. A statue of Amelia Earheart, a former resident, stands by the North Hollywood library. And I'm told that it was actually fairly colorful, way back when Westerns were the rage. Apparently, there are still hitching posts on Lankershim where cowboy actors once tied up their horses. And a woman in her twenties remembers corrals and horses in the area.

                For a long though, it seems, it was a dicey place to be. The stretch across from the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences (home of the Emmy), for instance, once offered entertainments for which the prize was strictly monetary, and paid up front. And when I first moved into my place, some 'freelancers' in the building next door thrust their hips from their windows and yelled endearments.

                At that point - five years ago - the city was already trying to re-invent itself as "NoHo". In case anyone didn't get the point, this was short for "The NoHo Arts District". When I arrived, this was still largely wishful thinking. Yes, there were a bunch of theaters (including the then unrenovated El Portal, a fine old space.) But only one cafe and, at the now-busy intersection of Lankershim and Magnolia, empty lots diagonally opposed. The North Hollywood subway promised to bring in business once it was done, but meanwhile the construction drove some businesses into the ground (including the picturesque Phil's Diner, whose image - ironically - is woven into the decor of the new subway stop.)

                Now the L.A. Times has called North Hollywood “one square mile of cool.”  A gourmet pizza place has replaced one lot and (sure sign of growth) a Starbucks the other. (The Starbucks however had to close almost as soon as it opened, after a stolen Mercedes crashed right INTO the store. It was months before they were ready to try again.) Now we have five pizza places, at least three coffeehouses, several dance studios and who knows how many theaters. Not to mention a big beautiful subway station (which looks to be L.A.'s last.) And more and more actors I know seem to live in my neighborhood.

                All in all, a pretty successful exercise in urbanism. Now all we really need is.... a good TV show.