By Craig Davis, CraigslegzTravels.com
Hollywood, Florida, has always had an identity crisis, eclipsed by its glitzy West Coast namesake and overshadowed by nearby Fort Lauderdale and Miami.
Broward County’s second-most populated city has in recent years created its own mark of distinction with a colorful array of outdoor murals adding an eye-catching flare to formerly drab walls and buildings downtown.
The Hollywood Downtown Mural Project hasn’t received as much notice as Miami’s Wynwood district but is funky and fun in its own right. More than two-dozen murals in a nine-block area between U.S. 1 and Dixie Highway have given much-needed cultural pizzazz to a city that struggles to stand out locally and is constantly confused with the more famous Hollywood.
You went to Hollywood? Did you tour the film studios?
No, but we saw Dali. We took pictures of all the cool art on the walls.
The Hollywood Community Redevelopment Agency tapped into local talent as well as artists acclaimed nationally and internationally to curate the outdoor murals.
Hello, Dali; surrealist greeting to mural district
Miami artist Fabio Onrack created an eye-catching image of the mustachioed surrealist Salvador Dali. It’s well situated to be seen by motorists eastbound on Hollywood Boulevard at Dixie Highway.
Dali shares the wall with a couple of other famous faces, alongside Frida Kahlo, one of Mexico’s most celebrated artists, and farther down Jean-Michel Basquiat, an influential African-American artist from the 1980s.
It is a fitting lineup of artistic talent and diversity to set the tone for the city display.
Outdoor urban art is a worthy tableau to rally a city that has struggled to maintain an appealing nightlife in the downtown area and shake the reputation of the beachfront Broadwalk cluttered with old men in Speedos.
In quest of a more appealing identity, a city commissioner in 2016 suggested consideration of changing the name of the city to Hollywood-by-the-Sea. The idea didn’t gain traction, though the following year the commission did approve changing streets named for Confederate generals Robert E. Lee, Nathan Bedford Forrest and John Bell Hood to Freedom, Hope and Liberty.
Hollywood has put an emphasis on art-related activities to attract businesses and events in the downtown area with an ArtsPark at Young Circle and its Art and Culture Center/Hollywood featuring contemporary gallery exhibitions and live stage performances. The Hollywood Downtown Mural Project was designed to feed that vibe.
One of the most popular murals is Mermaids at Play at 2020 Harrison St., where six doe-eyed mermaids frolic in a whimsical undersea setting spanning 114 feet, created by Miami artist Tati Suarez.
Faces add personality, distinction
The grandest is the multicolored parking garage. Most personable is the Mona Lisa face that wraps around one corner building.
Faces of various moods give life to previously characterless concrete throughout the downtown concentration of restaurants and shops. There are silly faces, such as pop artist Kenny Scharf’s cartoonish conglomerate depicting an array of human emotions.
Others are serene, sultry, serious and surreal.
The ones that made me smile were the happy robots at work at 1909 Harrison St. They are the handiwork of the internationally renowned pop art duo known as The London Police. Bob Gibson and Chaz Barrisson are known for singing while they work and bringing joy to drab city streets throughout the world.
Hollywood, Fla., was founded in 1925 by Joseph Young, a former California resident who was fond of Tinseltown and decided to use it as inspiration for what he envisioned as “Dream City in Florida.”
Young touted it as “a city for everyone – from the opulent at the top of the industrial and social ladder to the most humble of working people.” It has evolved into a diverse place though falling short of those grander hopes as a place of distinction.
South Florida’s Hollywood can’t claim to be the haven of motion-picture stars. But the murals project that began in 2012 has made it a more picturesque place for a stroll.