Cross Roads of the World, a landmark that continues to uphold the make-believe tradition of Hollywood, will mark its 50th anniversary Wednesday with a private celebration and recognition by the Cultural Heritage Commission.
Opened Oct. 29, 1936, as Los Angeles’ first cosmopolitan shopping mall with second-story studio space, Cross Roads of the World is now mainly a complex of offices and wholesale outlets with its own restricted parking area.
The property at 6671 Sunset Blvd. stretches from Sunset Boulevard north to Selma Avenue, with an additional side entrance at Las Palmas Avenue and retains its original architectural exterior.
Delighted tenants refer to it as an “oasis"--a hassle-free environment in which they can work and create--enhanced by fountains, courtyards, shade trees and quaint Old World architecture.
Mecca for Celebrities
Along with such famous locations as the Garden of Allah, Cross Roads of the World was a mecca for celebrities of the ‘30s--W. C. Fields, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Robert Benchley, among them.
Today it attracts leading recording artists, such as Lou Rawls, Jackson Browne, Graham Nash and Bonnie Raitt and houses the Hollywood Photographic Archives, which Humphrey Bogart’s daughter Leslie helped organize.
Photographers are frequently seen around the premises and producers of such TV shows as “Matt Houston,” “Remington Steele,” and “Malice in Wonderland,” have shot there, in addition to numerous commercials.
An interesting mix of tenancy includes fashion designer Luiz Archer’s wholesale showroom; Gormley/Takei Inc., the Hollywood Arts Council run by Oscar and Nyla Arslanian; Interlok Studios, which occupies a high-tech sound studio housed in a Moorish structure; Cypress Entertainment Inc., National Media and music production and artist management firms, in addition to Artistic Hand Beading, which does all the intricate bead embroidery for costumes worn by Lionel Richie, Michael Jackson, Diana Ross and other celebrities.
Recently listed on the National Register of Historic Places and previously elected a Los Angeles Historic Cultural Landmark, the commercial property is owned by developer Morton La Kretz, who purchased it in 1977, saving it at the auction block from developers who wanted it for high-rise construction.
“It was a time when Hollywood was a ‘violent eyesore in the geographical and sentimental core of Los Angeles,’ and the community was especially vulnerable,” said La Kretz, whose daughter Margaret assists him in the management of the Cross Roads of the World complex and in its on-going rehabilitation program.
Last year, for the first time since it was placed atop its 55-foot tower, the giant globe at Crossroads of the World was grounded to replace the motor which kept the globe turning, and to repair the neon sign that for nearly half a century had been one of Hollywood’s most familiar beacons.
“At the time we felt that the much needed restoration was symbolic of the new world of Hollywood, which is just as much part of the past as it is of the present,” said La Kretz, who feels encouraged by other redevelopment action that is now apparent for the Hollywood area.
“When we purchased the property, it was badly run down with tenants living in the offices, people sleeping in the hallways. It took us about three to four years to upgrade it.”
“It was crying to be saved,” said Margaret La Kretz, who shares her father’s enthusiasm for preserving their own Hollywood legend.
“There is no doubt that Hollywood is long overdue for a comeback. We just have to hang there and do our share,” La Kretz added.
“We are happy to see renewed investor interest in improved office space and the new housing and with what has happened with the Hollywood Roosevelt and projected plans for a shopping complex and new hotel adjacent to Mann’s Chinese Theatre.
“Even through its worse times, Hollywood has never quite lost its appeal and its glamour as a center for celebrities, film and music. Geographically, it is centrally located to the Westside, downtown Los Angeles, the San Fernando Valley,” he said, adding that rentals are reasonable in Hollywood and are attracting a younger, successful segment of the population that seems to enjoy the amenities of refurbished older buildings.
Turning New Leaf
The origins of Crossroads of the World reveal some intriguing history, linked to an outbreak of gangster warfare in Los Angeles in the 1930s and the bizarre, unsolved murder of realtor Charles Crawford and newspaperman Herb Spencer.
The site of Crossroads of the World once housed the realty offices of Crawford, variously known as Goodtime Charlie, the Underworld Czar and The Wolf of Spring Street, who left the property to his widow, Ella Crawford.
She in turn, wishing to turn a new leaf and to show her faith in Hollywood’s future, envisioned a complex patterned after the internationally famous trade market in Jerusalem.
“It would be like taking a trip around the world,” she once said. “Visitors coming here expect to see something beautiful and unusual, given the widespread publicity in some of our motion pictures.” She wanted the facility to serve as a cultural, as well as a business, center and in its original version, the project had seven art studios and a theater.
Featured Two Themes
Ella Crawford conveyed her basic concept to Robert V. Derrah, one of the more imaginative architects of the 1930s who also created the Farmers Market and the unusual Coca-Cola plant, with a nautical theme that was prevalent during the era of the great ocean liners.
A master of the Streamline Moderne style, Derrah created a shopping center with two themes: a ship, repeating his earlier idea of the Coca-Cola plant, and a European Village with Spanish, medieval English, Oriental, French and Cape Cod styles.
The ship design, complete with decks and port holes and designed as a marine-modern structure, is figuratively anchored at the Sunset entrance and features a 60-foot tower topped by a lighted turning ball that represents the world.
On the Selma side of the block-long center is a lighthouse; a Cape Cod village on Las Palmas led to one side of the mall with buildings of the French, English and Italian architecture. On the opposite side are various structures suggestive of the Moors, the Turks, the Spanish, with appropriate detailing in hand-painted tiles, minarets, balconies and wood carvings.
The structures were originally designed with bay windows to enhance display of the merchandise and to appeal to the pedestrian, with inviting entryways and system of walkways that tied the complex together in a smooth transition from one country to another.