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A red awning with a pink rose on it, the outside of Micaela’s Flowers & Party Supply, has two unicorn pinatas hanging. The shop is at the corner of Santa Monica Blvd.

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Once upon a time in my Hollywood

A photographer documents changes that have unfolded in the famous neighborhood where he grew up

I keep returning to Hollywood. My family relocated from Brooklyn, New York to Los Angeles in 1980, and we moved to Hollywood when I was 4 years old. I’ve been photographing its physical transformation for the past 15 years.

The place that I remember from childhood is mostly gone. Not too long ago, most of Hollywood was affordable and working class, and it attracted people from all over the world. The diversity was reflected in all aspects of neighborhood life, from the students in my elementary school classrooms to the teenagers playing basketball at Poinsettia park. The intersection of different cultures and their close proximity to one another contributed to the neighborhood’s eclectic composition.

Today, luxury apartments loom over old bungalows and duplexes and are an ever present reminder of rising rents and the need for more affordable homes. Almost every residential street in Hollywood is a patchwork of older apartments, construction sites, and newly completed structures. The contrasting architectural styles reveal how extensively the landscape is being remade.

Older dingbat-style apartments and bungalow courts make up the remainder of the moderately priced housing in the area. Open courtyards and decorative landscaping has given way to an emphasis on privacy in newer buildings, which conform to a minimalist aesthetic that emphasizes clean lines and enormous windows.

The rent in these buildings often starts much higher than the area’s average. The prospect alone of a new building coming to a block is sometimes enough to prompt a landlord to raise the rent. In five years, some of my family members have had their rent increased by more than $1,000. It’s overwhelming, and many long time residents have simply moved on. It’s a story that is being repeated throughout Los Angeles, from Boyle Heights to Leimert Park. Judging by the rent control law that went into effect this year in California, elected leaders and the general public acknowledge there is a problem. But it’s not enough. Unfortunately, lawmakers have responded with a tangible lack of urgency.

But traces of the Hollywood I remember can still be found, if you know where to look.

Flea market tables, with a rack of clothes, suitcases, hats and other various items, on the sidewalk outside of a strip mall parking lot.
Street vendors sale clothes and trinkets in a strip mall on Vermont Avenue.

Every Sunday in the Los Angeles City College parking lot, a weekly flea market draws a large crowd. It’s been going on for years. A side effect of this event is the organic, open air marketplace that pops up on the surrounding blocks along Vermont Avenue. Vendors set up tables, apparel racks, or sometimes just a patterned cloth on the pavement to sell all sorts of things, from used electronics to clothes to books. It’s a spontaneous expression of community that is becoming difficult to find. In another decade, it’s easy to imagine that the foundation of Hollywood will be completely consumed by the facade, eradicating the last traces of the vibrant, working class communities that once stood. It’s vital to document the parts that remain.

The people who live in Hollywood are just as important as the landmarks. In the past, relatively cheap rent and an iconic reputation combined to produce one of the most interesting neighborhoods in Los Angeles. But high housing costs have made it difficult, if not impossible, for the people who built the community to benefit from its revitalization. Life here was never easy, but looking back, there was nowhere else quite like it.

In the foreground, a faded metal fence with vines growing inside of it, in front of an open lot, next to an off white, two story, building with bushes in front and roof tile.
An older building on Gower.
The window of a donut shop in a strip mall, has a sign for Uber Eats Perfect Donuts with a picture of donuts underneath. There is a payphone outside of the story, and graffiti on the wall above the phone.
Yummy Donuts. Panderia Guila. El Guanaco. Hollywood attracted people from all over the world.
A modern glass high rise building, with two smaller modern glass buildings on either side, is seen across a highway, palm trees, other trees, and a grass divider are seen in front of it.
Netflix rents the 14-story tower on Sunset named “Icon.”
The front of an older apartment building, three concrete steps lead up to an off white building, with a red door, rounded at the top, and two long windows on either side, also painted red around the edges. Plants frame the entryway.
The corner of a street, next to a broken down building, and the sidewalk has a tent being used by a homeless man, a bicycle and other various items. A high rise building looms in the background.
Cranes have been ever-present in Hollywood over the past decade.
A red awning with a pink rose on it, the outside of Micaela’s Flowers & Party Supply, has two unicorn pinatas hanging. The shop is at the corner of Santa Monica Blvd.
Micaela’s Flowers, Western Avenue and Santa Monica Boulevard.
Tents and makeshift shelters against a fence in front of a three story apartment building.
Rents are going up and driving longtime renters out.