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New Role for Hollywood Church : Actors Guild Plans to Move Into 50-Year-Old Building

Times Staff Writer

God, it was said, was director Cecil B. de Mille’s favorite screenwriter, even if His first draft did require some revisions.

Now, Hollywood’s long-working relationship with the Bible has taken another turn: The Screen Actors Guild plans to move its headquarters into a church next year.

The guild, seeking more office space, has leased the half-century-old, Spanish-style Hollywood Congregational Church on Hollywood Boulevard near Mann’s Chinese Theater.

The property became available recently when a majority of the church congregation voted to move to Agoura, citing increasing crime, the loss of members and the high cost of earthquake-code renovations required of the building.

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While most of the church’s structure will be saved, SAG has requested developers Thomas Harnsberger and Nicholas Olaerts to make some alterations.

“The guild wants the crosses and stained-glass windows removed,” said project manager Roy Hall. “When we’re through, it will look like an early California, Spanish-style building from the outside.”

The interior of the church will be remodeled so SAG’s accounting department can sit where the parishioners did, while the union’s executive, legal and residuals offices will be in the area where the altar stood.

“We’ve had hours and hours of discussions with the guild (on the design),” Harnsberger said with a laugh. “Anytime you get a team of actors involved, everyone has a different opinion.”

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“You might spend all day talking about what kind of ceiling tile you’re going to have,” said Hall, also laughing.

Churches have been recycled in the past--into a feed store in Topanga, a theater in Northridge and, more recently, the Limelight disco in New York City, which kept the original stained glass as well as some pulpits.

But this being Hollywood, SAG’s move has become the stuff of drama, at least for local residents.

Through a bureaucratic snafu, demolition of the interiors was halted by the city last month, leaving three piles of rubble outside.

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Local street youths began hanging out in the vacant buildings at night--the property also includes a smaller chapel, a bell tower and a gymnasium.

While they have inflicted no permanent damage, the intruders have left graffiti on the walls as well as beer cans and trash on the floors, not to mention two imported mattresses.

“With all those creepos, we’re afraid of getting another ‘Hotel Hell,”’ said Elayne Blythe, who lives around the corner from the church. She was referring to the nearby Garden Court Apartments, which were razed last year after being repeatedly vandalized by youths.

“We have (part-time) security,” said Hall, the project manager, “but the transient problem here is just tremendous.”

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This week, however, a demolition permit for the project was finally granted. Harnsberger said the rubble will soon be removed. And he hopes to have work on the church completed in four months.

“I’m happy we can preserve this building instead of having a high-rise go up in its place,” he added.

Tony Drake, a nearby apartment manager who says he is also a screenwriter, said: “If I were doing a script on this, I’d say that that (the Garden Court Apartments) was ‘Hotel Hell’ and this (the church) will be ‘Hotel Heaven.’ ”


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