“Meet me at Hollywood and Vine,” people of a bygone era once said. There was a time when the invocation of that famous intersection in Los Angeles conjured up images of all the glamor and fine living once associated with the entertainment industry. The sidewalks radiating from that intersection are collectively known as the “Walk of Fame,” where past and present notables of the film, television, radio, and recording industries are honored with their names on a star embedded in the terrazzo pavement.
In 1960, singing cowboy Roy Rogers was honored with three of these stars for his work in film, television, and radio, all of them to be found near the intersection of Hollywood and Vine. I happened to notice one of them one recent afternoon when the Dunphy family ventured in from the suburbs to take in a matinee performance of Les Misérables at the Pantages Theater. If Roy Rogers were alive today he would scarcely recognize the place, so degraded has Hollywood become since his stars were installed. Indeed, “misérables” may be le mot juste to describe some of the area’s habitués and the conditions in which they live.
The first assault on the senses comes even before one exits the Hollywood Freeway, a main artery through Los Angeles. The embankments lining the freeway are dotted with homeless encampments, each of them featuring the things to which law-abiding citizens in Los Angeles and many other cities have become wearily familiar: the blue tarps, the makeshift living quarters, and the vast arrays of clutter, always to include many bicycles and their various components, all of them no doubt stolen but never to be reunited with their rightful owners.
The new normal in Gavin Newsom's California.
After leaving the freeway we parked on Vine Street (paying $40 for the privilege, nearly the cost of a ticket to the show), then walked around the corner to the theater, passing Roy Rogers’s radio star as we did so. And as we walked, inflicted on us was the trace of an odor once confined to Skid Row and the alleyways of other, similarly seedy parts of town: the fetid, stale aroma of a place where bodily excretions are deposited wherever and whenever one might be struck by the urge. Yes, we were at Hollywood and Vine, but glamor and fine living were not what came to mind.
Moments later we saw – or rather heard, then saw – a man raving like a lunatic across the street from the theater. Perhaps he was a resident of one of the freeway encampments, or perhaps it is one of the tents lining Vine Street a few blocks to the south he calls home. No matter. He was shouting incoherently (at least to me), and as he walked westward the tourists in his path cleared the way as minnows do on a barracuda’s approach. An LAPD black-and-white passed by with the cops taking no apparent notice of the man. Why would they? Surely there were five or ten others just like him within a few blocks. Like the homeless encampments, ranting madmen have become ubiquitous in Hollywood and other parts of Los Angeles, and people unable to avoid them count themselves lucky to endure the encounter without being punched, kicked, spat upon, or stabbed.
I am old enough to remember the Hollywood of the 1960s. I grew up less than three miles from the intersection of Hollywood and Vine and I sometimes rode my bike there, an adventure unfreighted by menace save for that posed by Los Angeles traffic. If I were unfortunate enough to live in the same neighborhood today, allowing my child to ride a bike through Hollywood would be unthinkable.
I was born in Los Angeles and spent most of my life within its city limits. My father was born there, also, and by the standards of L.A., where most people’s roots are as deep as a tumbleweed’s, this is rather like tracing one’s lineage back to the Mayflower. About twelve years ago, while still employed with the Los Angeles Police Department, I made what was at the time an anguished decision to move my family to the suburbs.
How the other half lives.
Today, the only anguish I feel about Los Angeles comes when I’m obligated to go there for some work, social, or entertainment activity, and I’m grateful these are more infrequent as the years pass. In 1960, the year Roy Rogers was given his stars on the Walk of Fame, the LAPD investigated 154 murders. By 1992 the number had risen to 1,092. Owing to determination by lawmakers and the police, violence in the city fell steadily over the next 30 years, and the yearly murder count remained below 300 through the decade that ended in 2020. That year, the year of George Floyd, saw 355 murders in the city, to be followed in 2021 by 402.
Murders in Los Angeles have declined slightly in the last two years, and while this is an encouraging sign, evidence of other types of disorder is nearly everywhere to be seen. Only in such wealthy enclaves of Bel Air, Brentwood, and Pacific Palisades can one drive for blocks without seeing a homeless encampment of one type or another. Elsewhere, it’s either a tent city here or a collection of dilapidated RVs there, the residents of which have little regard for how and where their trash and bodily waste are left to accumulate.
Accompanying these third-world conditions on the streets is an unabated wave of shoplifting and other thefts, all committed by people for whom Los Angeles County district attorney George Gascón’s soft-on-crime policies have been a boon. As the criminals prosper, law-abiding residents suffer, at least until they can move away. Decline is a choice, said the late Charles Krauthammer, and elected officials in Los Angeles, who range on the political spectrum from left to far left, have chosen it.