It was one of the first architectural...

It was one of the first architectural jewels in the publishing crown of America's most flamboyant press lord, William Randolph Hearst. And although it sits abandoned today, it once was home to one of Hearst's journalistic triumphs.

For 86 years, the modified Mission Revival-style headquarters at 11th Street and Broadway housed the Los Angeles Examiner (and later the Herald Examiner), one of half a dozen or more newspapers that heralded the daily comings and goings of a burgeoning Los Angeles. It served up a brew of news, political insight, scandal and gossip.

For decades, it was a focal point not only of Hearst's empire, but also in the careers of a number of fascinating women.

The building brought such delight to its owner that Hearst decided to entrust the construction of his legendary castle in San Simeon to its architect, a woman in a profession then dominated by men.

Julia Morgan, a tiny woman with horn-rimmed glasses, was ideally suited to the task. A perfectionist with a passion for quality detail, she designed more than 700 buildings in a career that covered over half a century.

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The architectural scholar and Hearst were one of the era's truly odd couples.

The Chief--as Hearst was known to all--started wars and built castles, wooed and won San Francisco, then set his sights on Los Angeles. In 1903, the Examiner (Hearst's seventh paper) was founded at 5th Street and Broadway.

The arrival of the gangly, personally shy publisher marked Los Angeles as an emerging city and national force. In 1913, Hearst decided he wanted a new home for his Los Angeles acquisition. He insisted that it be the best-equipped and largest structure in the world devoted exclusively to the production of a newspaper.

Morgan offered him a hand-painted, tiled lobby of gold and marble and a private apartment upstairs for his personal use. The block-long structure on a half-acre was set off with colorful domes at each corner.

In 1917, Hearst met the second woman whose life would be inextricably linked to the Examiner building. During a trip to New York, Hearst bought two seats at the Ziegfeld Follies, one for him and one for his hat. It was there, legend has it, that he fell in love with young, fun-loving Marion Davies, the future mistress of his castle.

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W.A. Swanberg, author of "Citizen Hearst," wrote that although "Hearst was not oblivious to her beauty, he was smitten with her bubbling vitality, her appreciation of the ridiculous."

Davies called him "Pops" and, in her uninhibited way, would tousle his hair and fling affectionate insults at him, which amused him greatly.

Davies wanted to be an actress, and Hearst was a man who made things happen. He founded a movie studio to keep her working and ordered all his newspapers to give her rave reviews.

Show business columnist Louella Parsons, like Morgan, began her long career in a field dominated by men. She was initially hired by Hearst to promote the movies of Davies and ended up wielding immense power. Nobody was allowed to change a word of her copy.

In 1922, Hearst bought the afternoon Herald (founded in 1876), and in 1931, he bought the Express (founded in 1871).

Those were wild days, and no one epitomized Hearst's papers better than reporter and later Herald-Express City Editor Agness Underwood.

She was a mother of two and wanted extra spending money. So Underwood became a telephone operator at a newspaper. She went on to become a celebrated crime reporter and then the crime-oriented city editor of the Herald. Crime, after all, was what sold newspapers, along with sex and skulduggery. She retired from the Herald Examiner as assistant managing editor in 1968.

The Chief died in 1951, at age 88, in Marion Davies' Beverly Hills home. She had remained loving and loyal for more than three decades--even though Millicent Willson, Hearst's wife since 1903 and the mother of their five sons, had refused to divorce him.

For decades, Hollywood buzzed with rumors that the liaison between Hearst and Davis had produced a child. The stories never were confirmed, but in 1993 the death announcement of 73-year-old Patricia Van Cleve Lake described her as "the only daughter of famed movie star Marion Davies and famed (publisher) William Randolph Hearst."

In 1962, the Examiner merged with the Los Angeles Herald. Five years later, on Dec. 15, 1967, employees at the Herald Examiner went on strike. By the time the strike ended 10 years later, one non-union printer had died from a gunshot wound and the Herald's circulation had dropped to 330,000. The strike changed the paper, its standing, the people who continued to work there and just about everything else. In 1989, it ceased publication.

Julia Morgan's building, which was added to the city's list of historic cultural monuments in 1977, has been vacant since then. Today, it is used occasionally by an itinerant movie crew, but few of their films have leading ladies quite as compelling as the women who once trod the corridors of the Herald Examiner.

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