A Landmark Decision by L.A. Council : Hollywood Building Witness to Changes

Times Staff Writer

The 60-year-old Hollywood-Western building was designated a landmark Tuesday--but not just because it houses Hollywood's oldest pool hall.

"It was the first porno work in Hollywood too," joked its architect, 88-year-old S. Charles Lee, who still works out of his Beverly Hills office.

He was referring to the outside friezes that depict semi-nude actors and actresses performing in some spears-and-sandals epic before a megaphone-wielding director in a canvas chair.

The Art Deco-style building's landmark status, conferred by the Los Angeles City Council, means that the city's Cultural Heritage Commission could temporarily block any extensive remodeling or demolition of the structure.

Variety of Occupants

Hollywood and the entertainment business have both undergone plenty of remodeling in the last 60 years, changes that are somewhat reflected in the building's occupants.

Movie moguls Louis B. Mayer and Irving Thalberg were the original owners. Lee designed the risque friezes as a sort of "inside joke" because another tenant was the Motion Pictures Producers Assn., better known as Will Hays' Censorship Office. Central Casting also had offices there.

Today, the friezes pale in shock value compared to the items offered in the adult book store across the street.

And the building's tenants now include a couple of rock music studios, a video store and, on the ground floor, a discount store plastered with ads ("Official Olympic Wallet--$1.95!") on its outside walls.

"Most people seeing the garish signs would never look up" to see the busts and other sculptures, said Jay Oren, an architect for the Cultural Affairs Department. "That's why it's important to give this building recognition."

The Hollywood-Western's one constant has been the basement tenant, Hollywood Billiards, which posts its name in four languages--Thai, Korean, Spanish, English--these days along with the distinction, "Hollywood's Oldest Poolroom."

"I heard Louis B. Mayer had an office on the fourth floor," said Seymour Sterling, co-owner of the pool room. "And he liked to shoot pool, so . . ."

With studios like Columbia, Paramount and Warner Bros. nearby, actors comprised a large part of the clientele in the early years.

"We still get some," said Doug Stier, the day houseman. "Michael J. Fox's been down here a few times, Nicholas Cage and David Bowie--he said he liked the place because it reminded him of New York."

Sterling remembered when Central Casting still had offices in the building in the 1960s.

"Some days they'd clear out this place (the pool hall) to get extras," said Sterling, who's built along the same lines as Minnesota Fats. "Once, they needed POWs for a war movie, 'Von Ryan's Express,' I think, and they took just about everyone except me."

He paused and laughed.

"They said I was too heavy to be a POW."

Most of the regulars in recent years have been just plain characters--as opposed to character actors--guys with monikers like Wally the Weasel, the Moose, Ted the Vulture, Cuban Joe, Gypsy Joe and the late Beat-the-Price Harry.

"We get a few kooks," said co-owner Arne Satin.

"Yeah, there used to be this other guy, he'd wind up and throw an imaginary ball," said Sterling. "Pitch a whole game that way. They finally had to take him away."

"Sent him to the showers," said Satin.

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