I hadn’t been to Hollywood before traveling there last week to attend the groundbreaking of Emerson’s new campus. After juggling my camera and phone to photograph and live tweet the ceremony, I spent some time exploring Hollywood — and realized that that city was perfect for Emerson. In addition to the obvious industry correlations with Emerson’s curricula, I was surprised to find the neighborhood around Sunset Boulevard and Gordon Street strikingly similar to our own around Boylston and Tremont Streets.
Just like downtown Boston, Hollywood is a touristy area. But fortunately, Sunset Boulevard, one street away from the more famous Hollywood Boulevard, is shielded somewhat from the onslaught of tourists, just as we are cushioned by several blocks from Newbury Street. Wander onto Hollywood Boulevard, though, and you’ll find never-ending crowds of tourists, who swarm museums like Madame Tussauds (“more than just a wax museum!”) and lie down to pose by their favorite celebrities’ engraved plaques on the Walk of Fame.
Hollywood has a shady side, too. It’s not hard to find medical marijuana dispensaries — and parking lots and unlit storefronts which reek of the drug, procured legally or otherwise. Lingerie stores — as many as three per block — line Hollywood Boulevard with marble-white models, dressed in neon pink and lime green undergarments, who stare down at passersby. Liquor shops are common: there’s one right across the street from the future campus. An eclectic group of people — some old, some young, some local, some foreign (but most sweaty) — inexorably fill the sidewalks on Hollywood Boulevard to shamelessly promote their tours of the city, like more aggressive versions of the vested volunteers from Planned Parenthood and Greenpeace who stand around the Ansin and Walker buildings. Just like our Chinatown, Hollywood is probably not somewhere you’d want to walk around alone at night.
Yet we also have much to look forward to and discover. There’s The Mission Cantina, a cozy restaurant and bar, like a combination of Maria’s Taqueria and the Sweetwater Cafe, which is so close to the upcoming campus that dust from the construction streams in during the day. The familiar aroma of Starbucks is only two blocks away (and a Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf). Nearby, one can find a movie theater, record store, and myriad tiny cafes, like those scattered around Boston, to explore and enjoy. And there are, without fail, brilliant and kaleidoscopic sunsets at the end of each day, which bathe the sky in intense reds and oranges, even more vivid than those at the Esplanade.
Hollywood is certainly no facsimile of Boston. It’s like an inaccurate automated translation from English to another language back to English: understandably similar but of an unmistakably different tenor. Future students at the Hollywood campus will find an area similar to Boston, which will feel familiar but sufficiently distinct to provoke them with new experiences, new challenges, and new opportunities.