Looking for history in Hollywood

Times Staff Writer

Los Angeles city officials are seeking help to pinpoint historically important homes and structures in a 2 1/2 -mile-wide swath of Hollywood that includes some of the entertainment industry’s most significant sites.

But some in Hollywood are questioning the sincerity of the preservation effort as they complain that officials seem to be in a headlong rush to modernize the area and pack more people in.

The “historic resources inventory” is being compiled for the city’s Community Redevelopment Agency, which is overseeing construction of housing and commercial buildings in neighborhoods it considers blighted.

The agency has indicated that 404 low- to moderate-income apartments as well as hundreds of new hotel rooms and upper-income dwelling units will be built between now and 2013 in an area bounded by La Brea and Serrano avenues on the west and east, respectively, and Santa Monica Boulevard and Franklin Avenue on the south and north.


Sometimes “historic resources don’t yell out at us” and we need help in identifying them, agency consultant Robert Chattel told residents gathered Tuesday night at Hollywood’s Will and Ariel Durant Branch Library.

Chattel’s Sherman Oaks-based architectural firm specializes in historic preservation. Its $110,000 survey is being conducted in coordination with the city’s Office of Historic Resources.

Similar lists of historically significant buildings will be compiled for the MacArthur Park and Koreatown areas, officials said.

Jenna Snow, an associate with Chattel, said survey teams will scour Hollywood neighborhoods, looking for buildings constructed before 1964 and meeting with residents willing to provide historic photographs that can be scanned on the spot into an inventory database.

Many nondescript-looking buildings may have hidden significance to Hollywood, she said. Other seemingly routine-appearing structures, such as 1950s-era apartment buildings adorned with “dingbat” architectural touches, might also be worth long-term preservation.

Snow, whose preservation work has included a stint with the National Trust for Historic Preservation in New Orleans advising Hurricane Katrina victims on restoration techniques, said a questionnaire asking residents to identify Hollywood “focal points” and places “associated with important persons or groups that shaped the history of your community” would also be distributed.

Some at the library meeting appeared skeptical.

People living outside the redevelopment agency project boundaries voiced frustration that the inventory would exclude parts of Hollywood not considered its “core.” They said historically significant homes in the Hollywood Hills north of the project area and in neighborhoods to the west and south should also be included.

They also condemned the proliferation of giant advertising banners and billboards on older Hollywood buildings that many consider landmarks. “The view and beauty of the greatest town in the world is being destroyed by these supergraphics,” longtime Hollywood resident Duke Russell complained.

Christopher Rudd, the agency’s senior planner, said officials succeeded in getting the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel to remove a giant sign and were working on others. “We’re trying,” Rudd told residents.

Jim Brownfield, a 1947 graduate of Hollywood High School and former president of its alumni association, expressed alarm that the 105-year-old school may be a redevelopment target.

Occupying a full city block a few steps from Hollywood’s busiest corner, Hollywood Boulevard and Highland Avenue, the campus is billed “the world’s most famous high school” and features a museum display on 700 celebrity alumni in its original 1910 library building, Brownfield said.

On Sept. 3, the Los Angeles Unified School District will open a $142-million campus, Helen Bernstein High School, 15 blocks from Hollywood High.

School district spokeswoman Shannon Haber said Wednesday that there were no plans to close Hollywood High. “That’s just a rumor,” she said.