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Issue: Issue Summer 2000

Discovering the Past in Hollywood's Future


THERE'S AN AIR OF REBIRTH IN HOLLYWOOD THESE DAYS, AN EXCITED FEELING OF BEING ON THE EDGE OF CHANGE, NOT UNLIKE WHAT THE HOLLYWOOD PIONEERS MUST HAVE EXPERIENCED IN THE EARLY DAYS.

The elation is natural. Hollywood has seen cherished institutions like the Masquers Club, the Garden Court Apartments and the Brown Derby demolished - replaced by parking lots and faceless structures. 

Suddenly, generated by the award-winning El Capitan restoration, followed by Trizec-Hahn's upcoming Hollywood & Highland project, momentum is gathering. The dream of a revived Hollywood doesn't seem so impossible after all.

Yet, important questions still remain. In the rush toward the new - will the old be overlooked? The real Hollywood, not the state of mind - the historic infrastructure that ties the community to its glorious past.

Take a walk down the Boulevard. Look up, just above the signage on the cluttered facades - you'll see row upon row of exquisite Churrigueresque ornament, classic friezes, colored marble and tiles on faded buildings. Amid Spanish Colonial Revival, Art Deco and Streamline Modern buildings, there's the intact arches of the wonderful 1922 Café Montmartre, and the sloping roof of the 1930 French Chateauesque Johnny's Steak House - boarded up and awaiting rescue.

A birds-eye view shows our Beaux Arts and Italian Renaissance Revival-style commerce buildings still scraping the sky.

Yes, it's all still there! You could almost be standing back in 1929 when Hollywood Boulevard was the place to see and be seen.

Although not generally known, the 13-blockstretch between North Argyle and North La Brea, was designated a National Historic District in 1985. It has one of the greatest concentrations of significant period architecture in the world, built in the 1920's and 30's by the leading architects of the era, among them, noted theater designer S. Charles Lee (the Max Factor Building), Rudolph Schindler and Richard Nuetra. 

Adjacent to the district eastward along the Boulevard, past Wilcox, the distinctive tower at 5620 Hollywood Blvd. was designed by John and Donald Parkinson , architects of Los Angeles City Hall and Bullock's Wiltshire. North of Hollywood and Highland, the classic American Legion Hall is a creation of Eugene Weston, Jr. who was possibly influenced by the L.A. Public Library.

From classic California bungalows that line the streets of its neighborhoods to hillside residence designed by Paul Williams, Frank Lloyd Wright, and his son, Lloyd, Hollywood is a preservationist's dream.

Greater Hollywood has over a dozen national landmarks and twice that many city cultural monuments. And that's only those properties that have been designated. Take a ride on any Hollywood side street and you'll see vintage theaters, studios (six, built between 1915 and 1926!), TV studios, civic buildings, and countless unnoted residences, from 19th century Craftsman bungalows, to 1920's manors and movie star estates.

In all, Hollywood has one of the highest concentrations of such buildings in the city. It could be argued that Hollywood is no less valuable a cultural resource than Boston, old Virginia, or any historic place people visit around the world. In Boston, Paul Revere rode to warn that the British were coming. Here stars of Hollywood's Golden Era walked and rode these streets as their playground.

Certainly, said Ken Bernstein of the Los Angeles Conservancy, it's been important to both the growth of the Los Angeles and the world.

"What's very significant about Hollywood is all the movie premiers that took place here, and Hollywood Boulevard as a shopping district... the social significance as well as the architectural makes it historic," said Bernstein.

Thus, Security Trust, designed by Parkinson & Parkinson, the architects who built Union Station, is notable also because Charlie Chaplin, Lana Turner and W.C. Fields banked there. Yet, in a town famous for its lore, we cannot assume old Hollywood will be with us forever.

"There's a lot of misconceptions out there about about historical protection," said Bernstein. "Even our most cherished landmarks are ultimately at risk."

Robert Nudelman, president of Hollywood Heritage, Inc., explained, "Under the Redevelopment Plan, which covers 1,100 acers, hundreds of buildings were earmarked for historic protection. Even so, there's still pressure to demolish buildings, as well as insensitive remodelings, which are illegal,"he said.

The Hollywood Redevelopment Plan, adopted in 1986, specifies "recognize, promote and support the retention, appropriate reuse of existing buildings . . . especially those having significant and/or architecture to ensure that new development is sensitive to these features..." Since that time, nearly $12 million has been generated by the Agency was lending money for historic rehab, facade improvement and the restoration of historic neon signs."

"IT'S NOT SO MUSH THAT THE BUILDINGS ARE ENDANGERED ANYMORE, BUT A LOT OF THEM HAVE BEEN COVERED UP AND UNFORTUNATELY RUINED."

Now there is a growing current of rediscovery among a cadre of independent spirits who are putting their money on old Hollywood.

A sterling, oft-cited example, is the 101-year-old Hollywood Forever Cemetery (formerly, the Hollywood Memorial Cemetery). In a story quickly becoming legend, young Midwesterner Tyler Cassity rode in to rescue the ruined resting place of the stars, restoring the magnificent mausoleums and crypts. Recently he unveiled plans to revive a historic chapel as the DeMille Museum.

Visionary developer Tom Gilmore is renovating the 12-story Gothic Deco Equitable Building on the northeast corner of Hollywood and Vine vowing to "make it look like 1929." Interestingly, in fact, in the digging process, architects for Gilmore Associates uncovered the original California Bank signage, and, among other relics, unearthed half-intact hand-carved gargoyles.

BRICK BY BRICK, IT'S A POSSIBILITY STILL BEING UNCOVERED.

The tide may be turning. Due to public outcry, and intervention from the L.A. Conservancy and Hollywood Heritage, the Cinerama Dome preservation both exterior and interior is insured. And, in preparation for the September opening of "The Lion King," the vaunted $10 million restoration of the Pantages Theater will return it to its 1930 glory days. "Nothing is totally out of danger, of course," said Malagon. "People can still just come in and think they can do whatever they want, because it's been done in the past. We're learning to become aware of the importance of restoring and keeping the history of Hollywood-not just to consider things old and out-of-date."

Jeff Rouse who spearheaded the renovation of the El Capitan Building's $14 million restoration of CUNA Mutual summed it up, "Historic properties such as ours are part of the fabric that ties a great community together. 

"We're proud to have lead the way for a major preservation effort in Hollywood." This confirms the contention of Hollywood Heritage's Nudelman, "People are seeing that preservation is to everyone's best advantage. No-one's ever restored a building and said, "I made a mistake.

The Hollywood ending hasn't happened yet, but brick by brick, it's a possibility still being uncovered.

Editors note: Waiting in the wings is the soon to reopen Max Factor Building reborn as the Hollywood History Museum, and the Hollywood Country Church soon to open for weddings and special events, CIM Group's redo at Hollywood and Orange and the Hollywood Marketplace which saved a historic façade on Vine Street slated for demolition. It now appears that Hollywood's past is definitely opening up an exciting new future.