Like a receding tsunami, COVID-19 has ravaged L.A.’s once-bustling artery of Hollywood Boulevard, leaving behind only sad remnants of the iconic strip, and dark prospects for its future.
“The pandemic has canceled what I do for a living,” street performer Mark Roman tells the Hollywood Reporter. For six years, Roman portrayed Captain America—and occasionally a Reno 911-inspired character called “Lieutenant Frank”—as one of the army of people who lived on tips from tourists by dressing up as superheroes, movie creatures, and other figments of the showbiz imagination. But now most of the strip that once welcomed 10 million visitors a year is boarded up, and Roman hasn’t busked since COVID-19 first hit Los Angeles.
To make ends meet Roman has tried working as an extra and making Cameo videos, with limited success.
“I don’t know how I’m going to financially survive,” he says, “but I’m trying to figure it out.”
The street’s biggest draws have largely been non-operational since spring. At Hollywood and Highland, the Dolby, the TLC Chinese Theatre, and Madame Tussauds have been shuttered since March, as has El Capitan across the street, plus the Hard Rock Café and Ripley’s Believe It or Not. In all, 185 area businesses have been closed since September, according to the Hollywood Partnership’s third quarter report. Many remain boarded up, even after election-related unrest failed to materialize.
Mark Echeverria, COO of 101-year-old Musso & Frank Grill, has watched the neighborhood being ravaged by the virus, telling THR, “Seventy-five percent is boarded up, and that’s depressing. It never really saw any kind of larger-scale reopening.”
Even the Hollywood Walk of Fame, a landmark that’s continued to be accessible to tourists, has dedicated just one new star since the pandemic blew in, when it celebrated Black-ish leading man Anthony Anderson in an August virtual ceremony.
The other 2020 honorees have been pushed back for lack of an audience. As Walk of Fame producer Ana Martinez puts it, “They want the hoopla. They want the fans there, they want more family members.”
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Even at the best of times, crime was a constant problem on Hollywood Boulevard. That issue has reportedly only worsened since it became a de facto no man’s land.
Colton Weiss, the owner of Mel’s Drive-In on Highland just below Hollywood, tells THR he hired night shift security after several break-ins, but he wonders if the area has already suffered too much of a reversal to see the good times roll again.
“I don’t know what we’re going to do in Hollywood right now, honestly,” he tells THR.
It’s not just the famous locales that are suffering. Pedro Consuelo has worked at Souvenirs of Hollywood for almost 30 years and has recently seen the shop’s employee numbers dwindle from a team of 30 to just three.
“Never have I ever seen a time like this. Never,” Consuelo tells the Los Angeles Times. “Very slow. Super dead. Look down the boulevard, nobody is coming.”
Nearby, a young man selling tours of the stars’ homes from a dilapidated van says he isn’t earning any money because, with the dearth of vacationers, the tour operator can’t even cover the costs of gas, insurance, and a driver.
A tourist from Cedar Rapids, Iowa, the Times spoke with said he braved the virus to come here over Thanksgiving because, “I didn’t want to leave before I saw the stars.” Instead, he ended up just tooling around aimlessly in his rental car.
“The good thing is that you can go to a big city like this now and it’s not crowded anywhere,” he said. “The bad thing is that unfortunately so much of it is closed.”
With the streets left desolate for so long and crime on the rise, it’s anyone’s guess how much of the old crowd will ever come back to Hollywood Boulevard. When Echeverria of Musso & Frank tried to lure back some familiar faces, he was met with a disheartening response.
“I reached out to many, many, many of our real loyal customers and I asked them point blank, ‘If we had tables in the parking lot, would you guys want to come?’ And I didn’t get a single yes.”
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