In Hollywood, there is always a second act.
For Ovation Hollywood, a decades-old shopping center looming in the heart of Tinseltown, this is its third act.
The mammoth 475,000-square-foot retail and entertainment location has a storied past.
Originally known as Hollywood & Highland, it was built by Trizec Properties Inc. and opened with much fanfare in 2001 to help turnaround a neighborhood plagued with crime that was deterring tourists from visiting sites such as the historic TCL Chinese Theatre and the Hollywood Walk of Fame.
The iconic 1927 movie theater, located next to the shopping complex, is a popular draw for tourists searching for cement-encased hand prints of famous movie stars, such as Humphrey Bogart, Marilyn Monroe, Frank Sinatra and Clint Eastwood. Nearby is the Dolby Theatre, home to the legendary Academy Awards.
But the timing of the new mega shopping center was off. When the project opened in 2001, the U.S. was in the middle of a recession. Months later were the Sept. 11 attacks on the World Trade Center in New York City, the Pentagon outside of Washington, D.C., and the crash landing in Shanksville, Pa. Tourism plummeted. Retail sales nosedived. And Hollywood & Highland struggled.
Three years later, Trizec sold the property, once valued at $650 million, for $200 million to the CIM Group, a Los Angeles developer. The CIM Group made a few improvements, but retail traffic was always a challenge and shopping centers became less popular when online sales took off.
In 2019, Gaw Capital USA, an affiliate of Gaw Capital Partners in Hong Kong, bought Hollywood & Highland for $325 million with DJM Capital Partners Inc., a San Jose private real estate equity and development firm that rehabilitates troubled properties.
After studying the shopping complex and doing some major redesigns, the new owners have raised the curtain on their $100 million, three-year remodel done with San Francisco-based architectural firm Gensler.
“A primary and important step was to start with the design,” said Dan Lee, managing director of investments at Gaw Capital USA, which also renovated the nearby Hollywood Roosevelt hotel, the site of the first Academy Awards in 1929 and a popular nightlife spot. “The focus was always; how do we create an amazing courtyard and an amazing town center that would be highly trafficked?”
When it opened more than 20 years ago, the Hollywood & Highland center had a courtyard surrounded by a bevy of stores looking out to a concrete area with a water fountain whose spouts rose from the ground. Dominating the courtyard was a towering arch with Babylonian images bracketed by two enormous gray-and-white fiberglass elephants rising on their hind legs. The ancient images replicated a scene from the 1916 D.W. Griffith movie “Intolerance.”
The imagery was spectacular and left visitors feeling as if they were inside a movie set. But Griffith’s reputation as a racist for his previous movie “The Birth of a Nation” led critics over the years to call for the Babylonian art to be removed.
“We felt the D.W. Griffith movie set was out place,” explained Chad Cress, chief creative officer with DJM. “We wanted to freshen up the center and create something that looked at Hollywood in a different way and at the optimism of the future.”
Months in the making, those gigantic elephants were taken down and the arch got a makeover with a black-and-white Art Deco mural that celebrates a different Hollywood era. The courtyard fountains were removed and the whole area was carpeted with artificial grass, surrounded by lush landscaping and attractive outdoor furniture. The area has become a popular central plaza where tourists and locals can sit and watch their children run around and enjoy the view.
Many of the retailers around the courtyard have been there for some time. Victoria’s Secret has been at the shopping center since the beginning. A few years ago, Forever 21 took over the space once occupied by BCBGMaxAzria, which filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in 2017. Sephora, Pandora and Quay have been dominant retailers for some time as well as Pink, the teen lingerie store owned by Victoria’s Secret.
New to the courtyard is coffee roaster Café de Leche, which has been a popular spot since in opened a few months ago. In front of the coffee spot is a small replica of the famed Hollywood sign, sitting atop a mound of black outdoor carpeting. It has become a favorite Instagram photo opportunity for visitors even though you can walk over to a nearby patio and glimpse the real Hollywood sign a few miles away.
When the new shopping center owners first took over, they envisioned the barely used top two floors being converted into creative office spaces. But the 2020 COVID-19 pandemic pushed more people to work at home. “COVID really impacted the demand for office space,” Lee said. “After COVID, we saw customers coming back to entertainment centers and businesses.”
Ovation Hollywood always had a few entertainment tenants, including Dave & Buster’s, a restaurant and entertainment venue, as well as a Lucky Strike bowling alley. More recent is the virtual reality location Anvio VR.
More businesses like this are in the works. The new owners said they have signed the Kookaburra Lounge comedy club to occupy part of the fourth floor and another entertainment-centric tenant will be announced soon.
Pop-up events that cater to entertainment or philanthropic causes are other solutions to the filling vast space over the five-story complex. Earlier this year, there was a Bob Marley exhibition called “One Love Experience” that took more than 15,000 square feet in the shopping center’s second section called Awards Walk, a troubled and mostly vacant area. It houses the staircase actors walk up when attending the annual Academy Awards at the Dolby Theatre, which is part of the complex but not owned by Ovation Hollywood. At one time, there were more retail tenants in the Awards Walk, such as a large DFS duty-free store and a Louis Vuitton. But those left a long time ago and retailers started calling the walkway the “corridor of death.”
That name is not lost on the new owners, who know it needs to be revived. “Our strategy has been to focus on the main courtyard as the project’s core,” Lee explained. “Once we have the vacancies filled there, we can concentrate on the Awards Walk.”