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Moving to New Haunts : The Unexplained: Western Costume Co. is packing to leave its old building. Nobody knows whether the warehouse’s ghost is coming along or packing it in.

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TIMES STAFF WRITER

What will a ghost wear when it goes haunting for the last time at a soon-to-be-demolished Hollywood landmark?

Anything it wants, if it is the mysterious spirit that, according to legend, has roamed for 58 years inside the Western Costume Co., where narrow aisles were jammed with Roman gladiator tunics, 1880s cowboy outfits, World War I soldiers’ uniforms and chic 1940s evening clothes.

Workers today will pack up the last of more than 3 1/2 million movie costumes and props from a jumbled Melrose Avenue warehouse and move them to an aircraft-hangar-sized, computerized storage building on Vanowen Street in North Hollywood. The move is being made to give the owners of the world’s largest costume collection room to expand and update their rental stock and to make way for a new Hollywood office building planned by Paramount Studios.

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The question of whether the company’s legendary poltergeist will travel with the costumes to North Hollywood or remain in the rambling building in Hollywood sparked a spirited debate Tuesday among workers. Although no one could describe actual sightings of the ghost, several employees talked of feeling “auras” and hearing odd sounds at night in the creaky corridors.

Costumer Denise Bear predicted the spirit will stay in the dark passageways, secret cubbyholes and narrow, wooden stairways that connect a series of wooden structures to a six-story concrete tower.

“There is so much charm and history over there,” she explained.

Bear insisted that the ghost has helped with the packing.

“I’d turn around and there would be stuff in the box that I didn’t put there. And there was nobody else around,” she said.

Company vice president Eddie Marks countered his belief that the phantom will move along with his staff. “I don’t think the ghost is territorial,” he offered.

And mover John Marshall suggested the ghost has already left the old building, perhaps in one of the 34,500 boxes of clothing and props that he and his workers have relocated. “Some of the boxes I carried out felt light,” Marshall said.

He said he became a believer in the costume company’s ghost when he encountered it one night while packing on the second floor. It chased him out, he said.

Although the ghost’s origins are uncertain, company workers believe that it may have come from the nearby Hollywood Memorial Park Cemetery, the final resting place of producers and studio heads and actors ranging from Rudolph Valentino to Marion Davies and Tyrone Power.

“They say there’s a tunnel beneath the Paramount lot that connects this building with the cemetery for the ‘Phantom of Western,’ ” said costumer Les Aubin, who spent Tuesday packing Western’s 15,000-volume costume-design reference library.

Costumer Hamlet Tescione, the company’s military specialist for 27 years, said: “We’d see the strangest things . . .”

“I’m glad to be out of that building, period,” said costumer Fran Murphy. “I would get a chill, the heebie-jeebies, a creepy feeling when I would go in certain areas. The northeast corner of the building, by the nurses’ costumes and Hawaiian stuff, was the worst.”

Company chief costumer Bob Pecina said workers will miss the atmosphere of the old building. But they will not miss its cramped aisles, its cranky elevator and its dark interior.

And if they miss the company ghost, they’ll simply have to wait for a new one, Pecina said.

“I’ve been here 47 years,” he laughed. “Someday my ghost will be around this place.”


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