Hollywood Museum Saga a Cliffhanger With Socko Finish : 1913 DeMille Barn Will Open at Permanent Site in Hollywood, Thanks to a Years-Long Effort That Turned a Dream Into Reality

Times Staff Writer

Make the final score 10 for the believers; 0 for the skeptics. There will, Doubting Thomases, be a Hollywood Studio Museum, after all. But it wasn't easy doing.

Just ask Marian Gibbons of Hollywood Heritage, who spearheaded the efforts for years to save the 1913 barn and turn it into a film museum. The barn, the Hollywood site where Cecil B. DeMille made his first feature film in December, 1913, will have its formal dedication and opening on Friday at 10 a.m. at its permanent home on Highland Avenue across from the Hollywood Bowl.

'Charismatic Story'

"It's amazing," said Gibbons, who founded the Hollywood Heritage preservationist group in 1980 with the late John Anson Ford. "It's an unbelievably charismatic story. A lot of people gave so much. A lot got tired because it took so long. But some of us hung in there, and here it is, finally finished."

The saving of what was then called the DeMille Barn and/or the Lasky Studio began in 1979 when Paramount Studios gave the barn to the Hollywood Historic Trust, a cultural heritage section of the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce. Paramount had housed the old barn since 1926, when it was moved from its original site at Vine Street and Selma Avenue to the Paramount lot at Melrose Avenue and Marathon Street.

Paramount was founded in 1926 with the merging of Lasky's Feature Play Company, with Jesse Lasky, Samuel Goldfish (Goldwyn) and C. B. DeMille and Famous Players, with Adolph Zukor.

It was Lasky's Feature Play Company, with DeMille as director general and Goldfish as the financial backer, that produced "The Squaw Man" in 1913. The studio spent $15,000 making the movie, formerly a successful Broadway play, but it earned $250,000.

Print of 'The Squaw Man'

"We're to have a screening room here too," said the museum's exhibit director Richard Adkins, 37, newly elected Hollywood Heritage president. "We have a print of 'The Squaw Man,' and the screening equipment already has been donated, as has almost everything else here."

Adkins, director of design graphics at KABC-TV, did the extensive research for the photo blowups of the history of the barn and its film contingent, and wrote the captions.

He also supervised installing the replica of Cecil B. DeMille's office at the back of the museum, and did research on the donated camera equipment and film artifacts.

"All the furniture in the DeMille room and most of the film-related artifacts in the exhibit room were donated by Paramount," said Adkins. "The typewriter in the DeMille room is actually the one that 'The Squaw Man' was written on. It belonged to Stella Stray, the secretary and the first employee hired. She made $15 a week, but DeMille fired her, because you could hire a good male secretary for less. She picked up her typewriter and was about to leave. She told DeMille the typewriter was hers and she was taking it with her. He said that she'd have to stay then. She stayed on until the '50s."

Adkins said he used to have an exhibit of his own paintings once a year, but since he got involved with Hollywood Heritage in 1983, he hasn't had a showing.

"I haven't had time, but this is important," he said. "Because my fine art paintings come from Hollywood as a source, I wanted to do something. Hollywood is a real important source of my imagery and I want it to remain so. This was definitely a labor of love. And the donors have been remarkable. Bob Olson donated all the photo blowups; Marc Wanamaker from Bison Archives, the photos; KABC, the art production; Tichi Wilkerson donated the printing work.

"Somebody from the Paramount lot gave us a Zenith projector," added Adkins. "And a woman from Laguna Hills, the Bausch & Lomb camera. Things have trickled in. Mary Anita Loos gave us a 1918 autograph book from a war bond drive that has autographs of Helen Keller, Douglas Fairbanks and the Gish Sisters. There's a Mary Pickford dresser set and Gloria Swanson's costume from 'Sunset Boulevard.' The list goes on and on."

Said Gibbons, who had checked into the barn to go over last-minute arrangements for Friday with Adkins: "If it hadn't been for Richard, I couldn't say this barn would be opening Friday."

Adkins said that the museum would concentrate on exhibits dealing with the early days of filmmaking in Hollywood.

"This exhibit traces the history of the two companies, Famous Players and Lasky in early Hollywood," Adkins said. "It will be open only Saturdays and Sundays from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. and by appointment until May. Since we're all volunteers we can't be open all the time, until we get the docents for the museum organized."

After the barn moved to Paramount, it became a studio library for a while, then later a gymnasium. When a porch and railroad tracks were added outside, the structure was used as part of the "Bonanza" television series set. It was dedicated as registered California landmark No. 554 on Dec. 27, 1956.

While preservationists tried to find a permanent site for the barn, it sat deteriorating in the parking lot of Dennis Lidtke's Palace on Vine Street north of Hollywood Boulevard from October, 1979, to Feb. 15, 1983, when it was moved to its current home on a grassy area of a parking lot across from the Hollywood Bowl.

"There are more 'if they hadn'ts' in this building than anything else I ever worked on," Gibbons said during a recent tour of the museum. "If somebody hadn't donated this, or if somebody hadn't come in with some money when they did. Well, we still wouldn't have a museum."

Even though several years have passed Gibbons, 60, recalls the names of those who helped save the barn and can tick them off on her fingers.

"To start with there's Dennis," she said. "If it hadn't been for him letting us leave the barn at the Palace all that time, the barn would have ended up at Universal. Nobody wanted that. We wanted it in Hollywood since it is part of Hollywood's earliest beginnings. Then Ed Edelman got interested. He got us the site at the Bowl. There are just so many people who came in to help."

Edelman, supervisor of the Third District where Bowl is located in county, not city, jurisdiction, was instrumental in the county being able to lease the parking lot site to Hollywood Heritage for the museum for $1 a year.

Edelman will be on hand Friday, along with Ralph Cryder, director of the Los Angeles County Parks and Recreation Department, who will emcee the dedication.

"Residents and tourists who have an interest in Hollywood history will enjoy this museum for many years to come," Edelman said this week.

"As far as we're concerned, the county is happy to accommodate," said Cryder, whose department oversees the Bowl and its surrounding area. "The museum was a long time coming, but it makes a nice addition in keeping up the historic tradition of Hollywood."

Said Lidtke of the studio museum's opening on Friday: "It's rewarding to know the all the effort and the money weren't wasted. God bless them for it. I'm glad that it happened."

Gibbons went on to laud others who had donated their time and money to building a museum in the old barn. "You can't forget the Max Factor Foundation, the DeMille Foundation, Daniel Mayer Selznick of the Louis B. Mayer Foundation, Darrilyn Zanuck de Pineda, Nick Olaerts and Tom Harnsberger.

"Sherwin-Williams Co. of Santa Ana that gave us all the paint, Coyne Roofing of Culver City, GPL Industries of Valencia that paid for having specially treated shingles shipped from Canada for us, LeRoy McAfee Construction in Long Beach that came with a bulldozer to help us get the lot excavated for the foundation, Andy Gump, the portable toilet company, that kept toilets here for people working on it for two years.

"You can really say that this is truly a community project," Gibbons continued. "People came from everywhere to help, not just from Hollywood. Hollywood is just not a geographic place. Everybody in Southern California thinks of Hollywood. Today we just got Gene Owings of Arco to donate a cake for the dedication. It's going to be in the shape of the barn (a two-story redwood-sided structure that is painted yellow). People come through when we need them."

The idea for a motion picture museum in Hollywood is hardly new. It's been around for 25 years or so.

Plans for a Hollywood film museum at the Bowl site were begun by the county in the 1950s, after John Anson Ford requested that county supervisors have a feasibility study done on the idea of a motion picture museum on a site at the Bowl.

In the 1960s, the county began buying property near the Bowl where the supervisors wanted to construct a motion picture museum. The county bought some land, but encountered opposition from some homeowners' groups, and in particular, from an ex-Marine named Steven E. Anthony, who lived at 6655 Alta Loma Terrace and refused to move.

In January, 1964, the District Court of Appeals ruled against Anthony and said the county could buy the condemned house, but Anthony refused to go. He sent his family, his wife and three small children, to stay with relatives, and armed himself with a shotgun. He held out for 10 days before he was removed from his house by sheriff's deputies.

Even though Anthony's home was razed, the museum never was built. Neither were others that have been proposed for Hollywood over the past 20 years.

A Hollywood museum that was opened on Hollywood Boulevard near La Brea Avenue for a short time is now in bankruptcy.

"People hear that, and they say, 'How do you think you're going to make it with your museum?"' said Gibbons. "But you have to remember that that other museum was a private museum for profit. We're a nonprofit group, so we don't have to make money to pay back creditors and answer to shareholders. We're charging $1.50 for adults, 75 cents for children, so we can pay light bills and things like that. We're not in business to make money. We're in business for Hollywood."

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