Boston Theater District Works for Recognition
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It's a tendency of city planners, no matter what city they're in, to think big.
In Boston, officials have just finished a $15 billion dollar big, big highway project. Now they've set out to revive the city's theater district.
As NPR's Tovia Smith reports, they want to make it into a major tourist attraction, including a Boston version of the Hollywood Walk of Fame.
TOVIA SMITH reporting:
As a tourist destination, Boston has got what they call in the business, "great brand." There's Fennell Hall, the Freedom Trail, Fenway Park, and who hasn't heard of the Boston Tea Party or the Bunker Hill Monument?
But now, city officials are hoping that Boston's list of must-see attractions will also include the theater district.
Mr. JOHN TOBIN (Boston city planning official): Hello? I have tickets on hold for Seinfeld for tomorrow night. They're for Tobin, T-O-B-I-N.
SMITH: Boston City Counselor John Tobin, once a manager for a local Comedy Club, is not just a Boston theater aficionado, but also a city planner helping to transform the city's combat zone, refurbishing theaters that have been dark for years and attracting swanky new restaurants and posh, high-rise hotels; including one with bright, flashing, LED billboards like New York's Time Square. The Boston Walk of Fame, Tobin says, will tie it all together.
Mr. TOBIN: Well as you walk along, and it could be an icon similar to right up the street, the Freedom Trail...
SMITH: Walking in front of the Wang Theater, Tobin imagines miles of bronze plaques imbedded in the sidewalk, honoring Boston-bred stars like Jay Leno, Aerosmith, Matt Damon and Ben Affleck. And the list goes on.
Mr. TOBIN: Arthur Fiedler and John Williams for music; J. Giles, Boston, Donna Summer, New Edition. And then you go into movies; Jack Lemmon is from Newton, Edward Norton was born in Newton.
SMITH: It may not be the Hollywood A-List, but officials say the city will honor a uniquely Boston-brand of stars, and it will do so not with the star-shaped plaques you see in Hollywood. Rather, Boston Redevelopment Authority head, Harry Collings, says the plaques will have a distinctly Boston flavor.
Mr. HARRY COLLINGS (executive director, Boston Redevelopment Authority): For example, lobster, cod, as an example.
SMITH: Not quite as glamorous as the Hollywood stars.
Mr. COLLINGS: No, but we don't want to look exactly like Hollywood.
SMITH: But do we want to look like a lobster?
Mr. COLLINGS: But we want it to look a bit like Boston. We want it to have its Boston image.
Ms. JILLIAN MARIANOVICH (Bostonian): The Walk of Fish? (Laughs) Um...I'm going to go ahead and vote stupid on that one.
SMITH: So far the idea of a codfish plaque is getting not quite the standing ovation. Jillian Marianovich(ph) and Laura Mulling(ph), both beginning advertising careers in Boston, say it's not just the fish idea that stinks. But trying to build a Hollywood-like Walk of Fame in Boston, they say, may end up being more of an embarrassment than a showcase of celebrity.
Ms. MARIANOVICH (Bostonian): It'd be slim pickings, wouldn't there be? Yeah, I can't think...Janeane, no Janeane Garofalo isn't from here. But...it'd be a very short walk.
Ms. LAURA MULLING (Bostonian): It would be more like a hop.
Ms. MARIANAOVCIH: A Hop of Fame?
Ms. MULLING: Well yeah!
SMITH: The Hop of Fish!
Ms. MARIANOVICH: The Hop of Fish, yeah. And singing!
SMITH: Others, passing by a ticket kiosk in Boston, like Eric Delot(ph) and Ed Ryan(ph), were just as stumped for nominations.
Mr. ERIC DELOT (Bostonian): I don't know who else is from Boston, though.
Mr. ED RYAN (Bostonian): That kid from the TV show The Office is from Boston.
SMITH: What's his name?
Mr. RYAN: I forget his name, but...
SMITH: It's not an easy exercise in a city known for a bit of an inferiority complex. This city that calls itself: the Hub of the Universe still struggles with feelings of insecurity as the smaller sister to the Big Apple. So the idea for a kind of "me too" Walk of Fame may be understandable.
But this is a town that is far more tweedy than glitzy. Allen Dershowitz and Ted Kennedy are this city's sort of celebrities, and tourists passing through Fennell Hall, like Debby Renner(ph), from Florida, say Boston should stop trying to be something it's not.
Ms. DEBBY RENNER (tourist): You can't be all things, you know? I think you have to realize what you are, and, you know, keep your self-respect I guess. You know, to me, it'd be kind of a sellout to do something like that.
Mr. TORBIN: Just sign the bottom here?
UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: Sign the envelope for me please.
Mr. TORBIN: Terrific.
UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: You're all set.
Mr. TORBIN: All right, great. Thanks a lot.
SMITH: Back at the box office, City Counselor John Tobin says he's used to the snickering about his Walk of Fame idea. He says the codfish and lobster suggestions were unfortunate and have made a bit of a mockery of what he insists could be a great tourist attraction.
Mr. TOBIN: Sometimes you have to evolve. And you have to sort of think outside the box of what's quaint. We own the brand on history, but we can also be modern too, you know? We're not 1840 anymore. It's 2006, and cities are competitive now.
SMITH: Hey, who knows? In a city where half a million tourists fight for a seat on Duck tours every year and quack out loud as they take their guided tour of the city, maybe the Walk of Fish would fly after all.
Tovia Smith, NPR News, Boston.