I had never been to Los Angeles, let alone America. But, from Kalimatundu (the land of wild bougainvillea), in rural Zambia, I knew about Hollywood way back in the 1950s through watching motion pictures, as we called movies. The Hollywood so seen through performances by actors and actresses was simply enthralling.
I got hooked.
I made a secret promise, to myself:
"One day in my lifetime I must go see this Hollywood, better still, live there and own a Hollywood mailing address."
At the same time I knew this was wishful thinking since I was thousands of miles away and without the means to translate dream into reality.
An opportunity presented itself in 1972. I was accepted at UCLA to pursue graduate studies. The first Saturday after arriving in Los Angeles, I was already walking on Hollywood Boulevard feeding my eyes on the names of movie celebrities embedded in the Sidewalk Stars.
My dream of visiting Hollywood was accomplished. It was safe now to disclose my secret to my family and friends back home. However, I went back to my country after completing my studies without achieving the second goal; of living in Hollywood because I couldn't afford the high rents on a student stipend.
I was disappointed but not discouraged. I held this secret wish tucked away in my heart.
Fast forward to 1999. I was back in Los Angeles, and my dream still throbbed in my head. But Hollywood had changed, for the worse. Housing was bleak. Apartments built at the turn of the 20th Century were dilapidated and overcrowded; historic properties were being demolished; and the whole area had become a haven for transients, vandals and vagrants. A typical example of dilapidation was a sign precariously hanging on a torn-down wire fence that read: "The Future Site of Park." Inside, the fence was filled with rabble, etc. Hollywood had lost its glamour and was no longer worth "writing home" about.
But my thirst for a Hollywood address still burned inside me. When my children (who were now grown-ups) learned of my secret yearnings, there was tension in the family.
"Dad, you must be out of your mind," remarked my older son who was familiar with Hollywood. "The area's full of addicts, pushers, vagrants, you name it. It's damn too dangerous a place to live in."
"But there are people living there," I argued.
"Yes, but you aren't going to be one of them," he insisted. "You don't belong there."
"If it's dad's wish, so be it," countered the others following our cultural tradition of not contradicting one's parents.
I stood my ground.
Then I read in a local newspaper: Hollywood community Housing Corporation, a leader in the revitalization of Hollywood, provided "safe, decent, and affordable housing" for low income people. Among its on-going projects was the construction of a brand new apartment building on the corner of Selma Avenue and Schrader Boulevard. I applied and was offered a two bed room town house apartment.
Casa Verde, as the new housing complex was called, was an epitome of modern architecture: roomy, and homely, not like the match box projects of uptown Manhattan in New York City. This was Hollywood reinvented and I was happy to write home about my new Hollywood address.
My experience proves that time heals and patience (peppered with miraculous coincidences) pays.
The rural village boy from Kalimatundu in the heart of Africa had made it to the entertainment capital of the world, Hollywood. Address? 1552 N. Schrader Blvd. #103, Hollywood, CA 90028, USA.
NB. In the tradition of Los Angeles, I have since moved to a new address.
Selma Park Brightens blighted Hollywood.
For more than seven years, a sign hang at a precarious angle on a blighted plot at the corner of Selma Avenue and Schrader Boulevard across from Hollywood YMCA: "The Future Site of Selma Park."
The Los Angeles Times of September 21, 2000, observed that the sign was "no consolation" to residents of Hollywood and quoted one resident as having said, "We need a park here, but I don't know why they put up that sign if they weren't going to do something."
Well, something was done. The park was built in record time and officially opened on December 12, 2002. Residents and their elected Council and State representatives witnessed the occasion to the throbbing sounds of salsa music. The plot had lain vacant for years, populated by dying overgrown grass, and littered with trash. But work started in early 2000 resulted in a brand new and lush park with modern play facilities for children, meticulously manicured garden behind a new and high wire fence, and a resurfaced pavement around it. All in a green color that lit up the area once the lights were turned on December 2, 2002. This is real evidence of redevelopment.