In my recent superficial and impressionistic review of Hollywood Boulevard, I was inevitably guilty of some misapprehensions, which I would like to correct.
I am told, for one thing, that Irma, the invisible pianist who plays the piano at the Magic Castle, is "but an illusion."
I was guilty of publishing the house legend, which is that Irma was one of seven daughters of the original owners of the mansion, and that because of her eternal practicing on the piano she was banished to the attic. When the place was converted into the Magic Castle in 1963, Irma's ghost emerged to play requests on the piano in the music chamber. Though she remains invisible, Irma plays almost any song a visitor can request.
Abraham Hoffman of Reseda writes that the house was built in 1910 by Rollin Lane, a Redlands financier and orange grower, and that Lane and his wife were very staunch and benevolent Hollywood citizens; but he implies that they did not have seven daughters.
Art Dowling of Manhattan Beach suggests that Irma is either a computer that has instant access to hundreds of tapes or, more likely, a person in another room who plays a piano wired to the one in the public chamber.
He notes that Irma played my request for "Has Anybody Seen My Gal," which a computer couldn't have done, since the correct name of the song is "Five Foot Two, Eyes of Blue."
I am more dismayed by my reference to the "abandoned Broadway building" at Hollywood and Vine. I meant that it had been abandoned by the Broadway Department Stores, but I admit my words would give the impression that it was empty.
I received a call from Steve Meringoff in New York, co-owner of both the old Broadway Building, on the southwest corner, and the Taft Building, on the southeast corner, inviting me to visit his Hollywood offices and find out what is happening.
I was happy to oblige.
Once I got inside the Taft Building I saw that it was undergoing a thorough restoration. The white marble lobby gleamed. The old chandeliers were back. The false ceiling in the vestibule had been removed to reveal the original Renaissance coffered ceiling. On the upper floors, the walls were pristine white and the old marble panels had been cleared of their yellow stain.
M & S is on the eighth floor. Rob Langer, vice president for commercial leasing, and January Garabedian, vice president, operations, were expecting me. They were both young, attractive, enthusiastic. Bill Welsh, the dedicated president of the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce, was visiting.
Langer and Garabedian assured me that the Taft Building, now known as the Hollywood Taft Building, was 70% leased, and the old Broadway Building across the street, renamed the Hollywood and Vine Plaza, was 100% leased, or just about.
Clients in the Hollywood and Vine Plaza building include Capitol Records, which took the top floor for its legal department, Televisia U.S.A., Metmor Financial, and deForest Research.
Down on the street I saw that the storefront space of the Taft Building was being remodeled. Future tenants so far include a movie memorabilia shop, a tourist shop, subway sandwiches and a croissant shop.
Workmen were replacing the old decorated terra cotta mouldings below the windows with new ones. "They're fake," Garabedian said. "It's called Faux-stone."
A workman handed me one of the pieces. "It's Fiberglas," he said. It looked exactly like the terra cotta, including the texture and the tiny blue dots, but it was lightweight and it looked tougher.
"They're working on making it graffiti-proof," Garabedian said.
In the lobby of the Hollywood and Vine Plaza, a sign said, "Excuse our dust while we beautify our lobby."
We rode up to the ninth or top floor, which Capitol Records had taken over, and walked down a long corridor lined with law books. It looked like enough law books for the Supreme Court. The recording industry must be extremely litigious.
The executive suites opened onto the balconies with their ornate columns and capitals. The view swept the boulevard clear to Highland Avenue. We could see up Vine to the Capitol Records building and beyond it the Hollywood sign in the hills; to the east the Art Deco facade of the Pantages Theater; and down below us, on the boulevard, the Cave--adult movies, live nude show--and next door to it, Le Sex Shoppe. That, too, is Hollywood.
Every old building has its legends. Langer said Howard Hughes had once occupied the penthouse above us and that he had brought his Cadillac up the freight elevator rather than walk from a parking lot.
That seemed like the height of arrogance until Garabedian said Hughes also reputedly had the rooftop flooded and sat in a dinghy shooting ducks when they flew over.
I wasn't sure I believed that, but when we went downstairs they showed me the freight elevator. It looked just big enough for a 1940s Cadillac.
By way of emphasizing the point--that Hollywood is coming back--we had lunch in the elegant restored dining room of the Hollywood Roosevelt.
Langer's car was parked just south of the Hollywood Plaza Hotel, on Vine, and I couldn't help noticing that an enormous mural of Angelyne, the busty blonde who has had her picture painted at various prominent locations lately in a brazen campaign of self-promotion, covered the hotel's south wall.
I didn't think anyone should be embarrassed by it. It was pure Hollywood. Vain, extravagant and hopeful.