Gigi Perreau and Linda Darnell, center, at the groundbreaking for the Walk of Fame, with Francis X. Bushman and Charles Coburn, right, in an L.A. Times photo.
“Everyone needs a gimmick” goes a lyric in the musical “Gypsy,” and the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce dreamed up a great one in the mid-1950s to attract business and tourists to the area. Tying in with the concept of Hollywood and fame, the group decided to fashion dream streets filled with flashy lights, colored sidewalks, and starry tributes to filmland celebrities, what we know now as the Walk of Fame. In August 1958, the first test stars were premiered to test the viability and look of the notion.
In the 1920s, Hollywood Boulevard stood as one of the most glamorous streets in the world, filled with upscale shops catering to celebrities and other cognoscenti. Posh restaurants and nightclubs lined the boulevard, which attracted thousands of people to watch the annual Santa Claus Lane parade. By the 1950s however, much shopping and retail had moved to suburbs and neighborhood centers, leaving Hollywood Boulevard a shell of its former success……
A new mural commemorates the Walk of Fame.
The Hollywood Chamber of Commerce, created in 1921, worked to change that. Leader Harry Baines had devised the Santa Claus Lane Parade in 1929 specifically to draw consumers to the street, and subsequent officers continually offered new ideas to revitalize the area and boost sales and tourism. From special sale days to holiday decorations to gimmicks, creative concepts had been employed to lure potential customers.
When the Hollywood Knickerbocker Hotel announced a $750,000 remodeling plan in May 1954, Broadway Hollywood General Manager and former Chamber President E.M. Stuart recognized the perfect synergy of revitalizing and beautifying the Hollywood/Vine area at the same time, after suggesting a simplified proposal the year before. By September, Stuart proposed that Hollywood merchants participate in a massive promotional campaign to boost sales. A veteran with Broadway Department Stores and the Better Business Bureau, Stuart had devised successful promotional campaigns downtown. Howard Bohannon, manager of the Hollywood Merchantors Association, offered a plan to draw customers to the area, suggesting improved parking and other transportation facilities, better merchandise training of staff, increased marketing, and more advertising for the Christmas Parade.
At a November 8 meeting of the Hollywood Advertising Club, Bob Cobb of the Brown Derby and chair of the new Hollywood Chamber Tourism Bureau and Loren Pratt, executive secretary of the group, pitched a “special ‘tourist treatment’ for Hollywood Boulevard, with such things being considered as pastel-colored sidewalks with motion picture stars’ names, footprints and handprints in the walks; erection of landmarks at such famed spots as Hollywood Boulevard and Vine Street, and planter boxes at certain corners.” In effect, the show would start on the sidewalk, selling Hollywood as the intersection of style and glamour reflecting that of its world famous celebrities. The group hired the design firm of Pereira and Luckman to prepare engineering studies for the proposed project.
Pratt disclosed Chamber plans to the Los Angeles City Council on November 10, 1955, “to make Hollywood Boulevard look like the tourists think it should look.” This five-year, multimillion-dollar plan would basically give “Hollywood Boulevard a face lift.” As Pratt stated, “Tourists come to Southern California to see Hollywood, and when they get there all they find is just another modern progressive city – probably just like the one they left back home.” Their glamorizing touches included adding flashing neon signs at street intersections, putting a 92-foot lace-metal tower at Hollywood and Vine with colored search lights, lining the boulevard with canopies, adding colored street benches and trash cans, and colorizing the sidewalks. These decorations would line Hollywood Boulevard from La Brea to Gower, and Vine Street from Sunset to Yucca, adding pizzazz to buildings and streets.
The Hollywood Chamber of Commerce previewed their proposed sidewalk stars on February 16, 1956, in front of Grauman’s Chinese Theatre. Chamber President A.E. England, head of development E.M. Stuart, Councilman Earle Baker, Fox West Coast Theaters General Manager Edwin Zabel, and actress Kipp Hamilton applauded artist Jack Lane’s planned design, a caricature of actor Cary Grant’s face and signature inside a coral star. Celebrities, city officials, as well as curious residents attended the special unveiling, with England acknowledging, “Naturally we would stress stars. After all, that’s what Hollywood is famous for.”
Examples of the brown and blue sidewalks and tree-bearing islands intended for the select area stole the most attention that day, bringing beauty as well as novelty to Hollywood’s busy streets. The chamber announced that later additions would include benches, searchlights, and landscaping at an estimated cost of $400,000, with street lights and conduits adding another $160,000 and $500,000 to repave the street.
Over the next few months, the chamber unveiled plans and works on this clean up campaign. On April 17, the chamber incorporated the Hollywood Improvement Association to fund and finish the updated sleek look of this lavishly decorated entertainment district. Actress Virginia Mayo nailed the first silver-plated star among gold-painted ones at Hollywood and Argyle on June 27, the start of the facelift work in colorizing the sidewalks, adding stars, installing new exotic street lights, and creating new intersection treatments.
The official grand opening of work on the new Walk of Fame occurred July 25, when actress Dorothy Lamour dropped one of her famous sarongs into a glass enclosed box embedded in the sidewalk at Hollywood and Vine, one of several to serve as the “Hollywood Sidewalk Hall of Fame,” featuring film relics from the Golden Age of Hollywood.
On August 15, 1958 after the City Council approved the project, the chamber installed the first test coral colored stars inside its charcoal terrazzo sidewalk at the northwest corner of Hollywood Boulevard and Highland Avenue, the former location of the famed Hollywood Hotel. Drawing from a list of celebrities, the organization first selected Preston Foster, before also adding Ronald Colman, Burt Lancaster, Olive Borden, Louise Fazenda, Ernest Torrence, Joanne Woodward, and Edward Sedgwick to the list of honorees. Contact Engineers was awarded the right to complete the project in December 1958 but not until October 16, 1959 did Superior Court Judge Fletcher Bowron give approval to the contract.
By January 1960, designs and work had been finalized, with the city formally signing off on the $1.151-million contract on January 15. Actors Francis X. Bushman and Charles Coburn and actresses Linda Darnell and Gigi Perreau, employing gold-plated shovels, broke ground for the beautification project on February 8. The official first star installed on Hollywood’s new Walk of Fame was that of director/producer Stanley Kramer on March 28, 1960 before the special district was formally dedicated on November 23, 1960. Because of the pandemic in 2020, not until June of this year did the chamber announce the unveiling of a large mural to honor the 60th anniversary of the now iconic Walk of Fame.
Originally totally laid out and paid for by the chamber, for many years now honorees or those nominating them pay for the honor of receiving a Hollywood Walk of Fame star. An over 60-year tradition, the sidewalk memorial salutes those young and old who have contributed to the growth and successful of the Hollywood entertainment machine, allowing fans and tourists an easy way to recognize and salute their favorite personalities.