HOLLYWOOD, Calif. — Incorporating legendary venues from the Chinese Theatre to Boardners, Hollywood just might be the most recognizable neighborhood in LA, but the challenges it faces are not unique.
Like so many other places around greater Los Angeles and the United States as a whole, the pandemic radically altered the landscape, shuttering businesses, leaving vacancies and creating opportunities for a new vision of what might be.
“I just see so many ways we can impact this community positively,” said Kathleen Rawson, who took over as chief executive of the Hollywood Partnership in February.
The nonprofit manages the public space within the 90-block Hollywood Entertainment District, which stretches west from La Brea Ave. to the 101 freeway, and south to Santa Monica Blvd., housing dozens of restaurants, nightclubs, shops and other tourist attractions.
Rawson was formerly the chief executive of Downtown Santa Monica, Inc., where, most recently, she collaborated with the coastal city on a revitalization plan for the Third Street Promenade. Now she’s bringing fresh eyes to the Hollywood Partnership, where she’s tasked with running programs and launching initiatives that enhance the public realm above and beyond what the city is able to provide.
Much like Los Angeles, Rawson said the biggest challenges facing Hollywood are homelessness, public safety and cleanliness. Funded by the area’s property owners, 75% of the Hollywood Partnership’s $8.75 million annual budget is spent on cleaning services like emptying trash, cleaning sidewalks and removing graffiti and stickers.
“A cleaner, safer environment is better for everybody,” said Rawson, adding that the Hollywood Partnership provides safety ambassadors that are supplemental to the police department and can be called to businesses to de-escalate situations that often involve individuals showing signs of mental illness. “They’re the initial eyes and ears on the street to deter anti-social behavior and to call in problems.”
The Hollywood Partnership considers itself a conduit to help connect disparate public and private agencies and the services they provide. It is working with LA City Councilmember Mitch O’Farrell’s office, the Los Angeles Police Department’s Hollywood division and nonprofits to help address homelessness, Rawson said.
Such strategies are a benefit to business owners as well as the people who live in the area. Home to the Hollywood Palladium and Sunset Room, among others, Hollywood is one of Southern California’s biggest tourist draws, but detour from the main drags of Hollywood and Sunset Boulevards, and the area is largely residential.
Rawson is bringing a locals-first attitude to the Hollywood Partnership “because if it’s for locals, the tourists will be delighted,” Rawson said.
A dog park is one of the public improvements she would like to bring to the area, she said, not only for residents but tourists “because a ridiculous number of people travel with their dogs now. It’s a community benefit.”
Another community benefit she’s overseeing is addressing blight. Like many other business districts, Hollywood lost a lot of retail during the pandemic, driving up commercial vacancy rates. That’s left a lot of buildings, especially along Hollywood Blvd., creating “dark, challenging areas that could be changed overnight with a few lights,” said Rawson, who is working with property owners to paint or light their storefronts to “help the experience of a pedestrian feel safer, more energetic, more fun as you walk down the street.”
“These past two years have not been easy for anyone. The whole nation is in a state of grievance politics, and being in a leadership role, people want answers,” Rawson said. In her role as Hollywood Partnership CEO, that’s what she hopes to provide.
”Everything is new now. I’m coming in with that attitude,” she said. “Let’s take another stab at this old problem in a different way because solutions that may have been discarded in the past could completely be viable now.”