Outside Los Angeles City Hall on Tuesday, police had prepared for chaos. Half a dozen officers stood at the top of the steps at the Spring Street entrance, looking down towards the costumed characters on the sidewalk.
Many characters made a living posing for pictures with tourists, but some people complained that the masked characters harassed tourists and demanded payment for pictures; legally, they can only request tips. Around Memorial Day, the Los Angeles Police Department arrested many of the characters, some for demanding money for pictures, other for lesser offenses like loitering or blocking the sidewalk. Since then, the presence of characters on the boardwalk has dwindled.
Superman, who goes by Chris Dennis when not in costume, organized the protest at city hall to protest their removal from Hollywood Boulevard. The Hulk, the White Power Ranger, and Darth Vadar joined Dennis at the protest, though characters were outnumbered at least three-to-one by journalists and public relations agents.
“The LAPD ripped the heart out of Hollywood,” Dennis said. “Instead of just going after strong-arm solicitors, they decided to just come down and arrest all the characters.”
Without Hollywood Boulevard as a stage, characters have been searching for other ways to make a living. Some have moved to other locations; some have found other jobs; and some, like the four characters who gathered at city hall, are hoping to get back on Hollywood Boulevard. Dennis and six other characters have filed a lawsuit.
“According to our constitutional rights, we have the right to wear whatever we would like in public as long is it’s not offensive to anyone or obscene,” Dennis said. He began performing on the boulevard 19 years ago, but said five years ago, the block just west of the Highland Avenue turned into a free-for-all.
“They told us if we ever set foot on Hollywood Boulevard, we’d be arrested and prosecuted,” said Rebecca Holland, who portrays the White Power Ranger.
Capt. Beatrice Girmala, of the LAPD’s Hollywood Division, said no one was ever told they would be arrested if they returned to Hollywood Boulevard.
“That’s by their own choice that they haven’t come back,” Girmala said. “There was no blanket prohibition coming out of my office preventing them from coming here. That was something some of these people have created a myth around. We’re not there to violate anyone’s first amendment rights. We did not just round people up. When we have observed violations that characters are involved in, after they’ve been under surveillance for a period of time, we’ve taken action.”
Girmala said that complaints from tourists, residents, and businesses have decreased this summer, with the characters absent from the boardwalk. Kerry Morrison, CEO of the Hollywood Business Improvement District, agreed that the lack of masked characters has changed the atmosphere in the neighborhood.
“This will go down as the summer of peace in Hollywood,” Morrison said. “We have not had anybody calling us to complain or asking where the superheroes are, where in past summers, people complained about being harassed and chased and touched and harangued.”
Some characters have moved to The Strip in Las Vegas to work. Others have begun working at the Santa Monica Pier, where they enter a weekly lottery in hopes of winning a spot to perform. Rosa Flores, an administrative assistant at the Santa Monica Pier Restoration Corporation, which runs the lottery, said the pier has seen an influx of costumed characters since they were moved off Hollywood Boulevard around Memorial Day. Flores said the response at the pier has been mainly positive.
Still, other characters, some of whom are members of the Screen Actors Guild, are struggling to find work.
“A lot of us do this for a living,” Holland said. “We want to go back to work. A lot of us are at risk of getting evicted because we can’t make any money. I need money to feed my family.”
Dennis hopes that Hollywood might adopt a permitting system similar to the one used in Santa Monica, where performers have to pay to be eligible to work on the pier or the 3rd Street Promenade.
“When I started 19 years ago, there were just a few of us,” Dennis said. “Now there are eighty-five characters, and some of them are what I would call riff raff, people that would come out there with bad attitudes and chase people down and yell profanities. That’s not what we designed it to be. I want to get it back to how it was when it first started. We always accepted tips, but it wasn’t mandatory. The only rule was you had to leave with a smile.”
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