March 2022 Update:Ovation Hollywood, formerly known as Hollywood and Highland, is currently undergoing a $100 million remodel after being purchased for $325 million in 2019 by Gaw Capital, a Hong Kong real estate investment firm. The remodel started in 2021 with the removal of the elephants, and continues in removing the Babylonian elements, replaced by a modern take on Art Deco. The change is a long time coming for some, who see the shopping center a tribute to D.W. Griffith, considered to be one of the most racist directors for his 1915 film The Birth of a Nation. The remodel also includes the removal of the public art work “The Road to Hollywood” a mosaic pathway that curves through the courtyard toward a casting couch with views of the Hollywood sign, which sadly I did not photograph prior to its removal. Some stores will be replaced by office space. The following post remains simply for historic purposes showcasing what once was.
Located at what is considered to be the center of Hollywood, among grand old movie palaces and tourist traps is the Hollywood and Highland shopping center, with a Forever 21, Victoria’s Secret, Sephora, and more. But this isn’t just any ol’ shopping center, it’s attached to the Dolby Theatre (formerly the Kodak), the home of the Oscars, and if this shopping center reminds you of an old Babylon, well, that’s because it’s suppose to.
When the Hollywood and Highland Shopping Center was built in 2001, they decided to take inspiration from what many consider to be one of the greatest films ever made, but at the time of its release, it was a total flop, D.W. Griffith’s 1916 Intolerance. At 210 minutes in length at its release, the film follows four similar stories, but each taking place at different moments in time, with each showcasing mankind’s…you guessed it, intolerance, beginning with a story in old Babylon.
Originally this corner of Hollywood and Highland was home to The Hollywood Hotel, a “large, quiet, country resort, nestled among lemon groves.” The hotel was built by George Hoover, and opened in 1903 at the height of LA being a hot health resort spot before the pictures came to town. Just a couple of years later, in 1907, the hotel was sold to chocolate heiress, Mira Hershey.
By the time the movies had taken over the sleepy towns of Los Angeles and Hollywood, the likes of Douglas Fairbanks and Lon Chaney dined and danced at the Hollywood Hotel, while Rudolph Valentino was married and honeymooned here – rumor has it the hotel refused him a room until he provided the hotel with the marriage license!
But by 1956 the hotel had run its corse, and it was demolished. But prior to the hotel’s demolition, D.W. Griffith’s Intolerance had taken over the Fine Arts Studio at 4500 Sunset Boulevard, with its massive Babylonian set reaching 300 feet in height. According to some sources, the set just for this single portion of the film cost $1 million to build, and with it being box office failure, D.W. Griffith supposedly spent the rest of his life trying to pay off the debts. As a result, the set stood for years, as it was too costly to demolish. It was finally dismantled in 1919. Intolerance is often described as Griffith’s response to his earlier, racist work The Birth of a Nation.
Now, you’re probably wondering what the sets actually looked like, well, you’re in luck, here are two screenshots…
As the years have gone on and film critics look back at early films, many now consider Intolerance a masterpiece ahead of its time, but where did the idea to build a mall based on this set come from? Well, apparently the idea dates back to the 1970s, and is thanks to renowned author Ray Bradbury, who also gave time and thought to city planning. In the 1970s as San Diego began to work on improving its downtown, Bradbury wrote an essay called “The Aesthetics of Lostness” for architect John Jerde, and a few years later Hollywood was in the same boat, looking to improve its cultural core. Bradbury claimed:
…a planning group looking at ways to rebuild Hollywood came to me and asked if I would help rebuild Hollywood. Hollywood at that time was beginning to resemble Hiroshima at high noon. I told them that somewhere in the city, they had to build the set from the 1916 film Intolerance by D. W. Griffith. The set, with its massive, wonderful pillars and beautiful white elephants on top, now stands at the corner of Hollywood and Highland avenues. People from all over the world come to visit, all because I told them to build it. I hope at some time in the future, they will call it the Bradbury Pavilion.
So the idea arrived sometime in the 1970s, but it took 30 more years for Bradbury’s idea to see the light of day. And it is quite the sight, as the arch and elephant pillars are full scale to Griffith’s mammoth set. The large archway acts as a bridge, and a perfect photo opt for the Hollywood sign off in the distance.
The Hollywood and Highland Shopping Center is located at 6801 Hollywood Boulevard, Los Angeles.