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Hollywood's Epic Remake

New home of the Oscars, glitzy redevelopment recasts set of 1916 film to draw crowds back to the heart of Tinseltown

April 01, 2002 |

When the klieg lights went up last month on the new Kodak Theatre's first-ever hosting of the annual Academy Awards gala, the drama behind the scenes might have matched anything on the screen.

But the March 24 Oscars were just the latest of a series of milestones in the redevelopment of one of Hollywood, Calif.'s, most prominent sites into the new 1.3 million-sq.-ft. Hollywood & Highland mixed-use development. The massive complex brings together retail, restaurants, hotel, theaters, television studios, parking facilities and a subway station into an 8.7-acre site along Hollywood Boulevard and Highland Avenue at the foot of the Hollywood Hills.

"We set out over five years ago to create a place that would rewrite the story of Hollywood — a place that would recapture the glamour of the past yet reconnect with today's entertainment world," says Lee Wagman, president of TrizecHahn Corp., Toronto, developer of the $615 million complex, which drew 300,000 people to its official opening last November.

Famous set recast

Sinking its roots into Tinseltown's lore, Hollywood & Highland's main thoroughfare, Babylon Court, is a recreation of the set from D.W. Griffith's 1916 landmark film "Intolerance," which featured a replica of ancient Babylon. One of the first true epics, the film cost a then-staggering $493,000 to produce and had one of the largest early sets, stretching nearly a mile down Hollywood Boulevard.

Just like the old movie, the modern court is adorned with monumental steps and elephant statues leading to a giant archway. But instead of hollow walls and false fronts, today it is surrounded by retail stores and restaurants.

"The 'Intolerance' theme made sense to us, because it was the first epic created on the West Coast," says Vaughan Davies, project principal with design architect Ehrenkrantz Eckstut & Kuhn Architects (EE&K), New York City. "So this is a little bit like bringing back the memory of what it was in the heyday of making those great movies on the streets (here)."


Design of the mixed-use development is based on the set of the 1916 epic “Intolerance”, one of the first films produced in Hollywood. Two colossal stone elephants, each weighing nearly 7 tons, pay silent homage to the statuesque herd.

The three elephant-topped columns stand 33 feet high and each elephant weighs nearly 7 tons, while the archway frames the famed "HOLLYWOOD" sign in the hills beyond. "It is the only place on the boulevard that pedestrians can still view the sign," adds Davies.

Leading role

Spanning nearly two square city blocks, Hollywood & Highland incorporates some of the town's most famous tourist attractions, including Mann's Chinese Theatre and the Hollywood Walk of Fame. The crown jewel, however, is the new 3,650-seat Kodak Theatre, the permanent home of the Academy Awards ceremonies starting this year.

Designed by Rockwell Group, New York City, the five-story, 180,000-sq.-ft. venue features an interior design highlighted by an oval-shaped chandelier intertwined by smaller ovals and coated in silver leaf. It is sited in the center of the block, behind Mann's Theatre and retail portions of the project.

"Placing the theater in the back helped free up the front for retail uses," says Davies. "We linked the theater to Hollywood Boulevard with a galleria, called Awards Walk, that extends from the lobby of the theater to the street."

Two five-story structures along Hollywood Boulevard house 640,000 square feet of specialty retail stores, restaurants, nightclubs, studio/production space and a six-screen addition to the Mann's Theatre. A 25,000-sq.-ft. grand ballroom, designed by Dianna Wong Architecture & Interior Design Inc., Los Angeles, tops the retail building adjacent to Mann's Theatre, providing a sweeping five-story view of the city. Underneath the development is a massive six-level, 1.1 million-sq.-ft. parking garage large enough to hold 3,000 cars.

"Designing the retail structures was challenging, because we had to design the buildings so that the space could be flexible," says Davies. The solution was to incorporate two structural systems: precast concrete for the parking garage and a steel frame for the retail structures.

"The frame is a hybrid precast concrete with structural steel infill," says Greg Schoonover, project director with general contractor McCarthy Building Companies Inc., St. Louis, Mo. Precast concrete moment frames extend 120 feet from the bottom of the garage to the full height of the retail buildings, and were infilled with steel columns and beams to complete the frame structure.

Randy Larsen, partner in charge with executive architect Altoon + Porter, Los Angeles, says the team considered using less costly steel moment frames for the garage and retail structures, but it would have delayed the schedule. "The size of the steel members that would have been required would have dictated going overseas for the steel, which was not possible from a schedule standpoint," says Larsen. "Precast offered a more timely alternative."

Prior to excavation for the garage, which commenced in January 1999, McCarthy demolished several structures on the site, including a 12-story office building on the southeast corner and a parking structure in the middle of the block. An annex building next to the landmark Mann's Theatre was also gingerly dismantled.

Once digging started, Schoonover says the team used a shoring and tieback system to support the land under Mann's Theatre, an existing hotel on the north end and a subway station on the southeast corner of the block.


Under tight security, the 74th annual Academy Awards show went off without a hitch on March 24 at the new 3,650-seat Kodak Theatre, now the permanent home of the Oscars.

"We drilled 80 feet down, installed soldier beams and slurry-filled it," he says. "Then as we excavated down, we installed lagging between the shoring beams, and at certain points drilled tiebacks under the adjacent properties to hold the soldier beams in place."

Seismically safe sequel

While excavation and shoring continued at the core of the site, the existing 22-story, 440-room hotel on the north end was simultaneously renovated and expanded with the addition of a new 22-story tower. Designed by Wimberly Allison Tong & Goo (WATG), Honolulu, the $130 million Renaissance Hollywood (Marriott) Hotel features 640 rooms, including a rooftop suite that offers a panoramic view of the city.

According to Lawrence Ho, a principal with Englekirk Partners Consulting Structural Engineers Inc. (EPI), Los Angeles, seismic testing revealed that the existing hotel was well braced, except at lower levels, where strengthening was necessary in the transverse direction.

The solution was to connect the two towers at each level. Built by general contractor Matt Construction Corp., Santa Fe Springs, Calif., the addition acts as a seismic brace to stabilize the entire hotel (see sidebar, left).

"The idea was to essentially bolt the two buildings together," says Brad McNamee, project manager with WATG, who adds that tight site constraints required the hotel addition to be situated perpendicular to the existing tower, creating an L-shaped building.

Logistical production

Aside from the technical hurdles, building such a large project in a dense and heavily trafficked area also posed inherent logistical challenges during construction, says Schoonover.

"The project was built out to site lines on all four sides, so we had little room to stage materials," he notes. "It required us to bring in enough materials for just a day or two of work."

Working with large precast concrete pieces complicated the coordination efforts. "We had pieces that were as long as 80 feet, requiring a special permit just to bring them to the site," says Schoonover, who adds that installation of the larger pieces often required the use of two cranes.

Larsen concurs, adding that some of the concrete girders in the retail structure were up to 8 feet deep, requiring the team to use a combination of cast-in-place and precast concrete.

"These massive horizontal members are required to transfer loads from the retail to the parking below, since the column grids of the two structures do not coincide," he says. "The shear size made it impractical to cast and ship them as a single piece, so they were manufactured one-half precast with rebar sticking out, and the top half was cast in place following erection."

Construction Costs

General requirements $11,438,083
Sitework 16,301,996
Concrete 78,995,960
Masonry 2,157,855
Metals 44,091,195
Wood/plastics 465,772
Thermal/moisture control 4,746,377
Doors/windows 5,920,020
Finishes 56,370,088
Specialties 1,268,853
Equipment 2,270,619
Vertical transportation 7,052,751
Mechanical 27,342,155
Electrical 24,128,857
GC fee/tax/insurance 19,949,419
TOTAL $302,500,000

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