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Hollywood Heritage volunteers preserve the Industry's earliest incarnation

Hollywood Heritage volunteers preserve the Industry's earliest incarnation
Michael Landon admires a plaque designating the old barn as a state landmark in the 1950s. (Academy of Motion Picture Arts)

If you drive to the Hollywood Bowl, you may have seen the Hollywood Heritage Museum in the historic Lasky-DeMille Barn. It's tucked into a parking lot down the street from the famed music venue.

But you may not know the vital role Hollywood Heritage has played in the community. The group got a 13-block area of Hollywood Boulevard into the National Register of Historic Places, acted as steward of the Wattles Mansion on Curson Avenue for more than two decades and for the last 30 years has owned the Lasky-DeMille Barn, funding the preservation, restoration and maintenance of the vintage building.

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Hollywood Heritage, which is run entirely by volunteers, was founded 35 years ago by five women. "There are two of us still active," said one of its founders, Christy McAvoy, who is on the board of directors. "There was just beginning to be a preservation movement in the city of Los Angeles. This is about the same time the L.A. Conservancy, Pasadena Heritage and some of the neighborhood organizations were [beginning]."

In 1980, McAvoy realized that Hollywood had no historical society or way of protecting its great older buildings, particularly along Hollywood Boulevard. So she and four other women took matters into their own hands and founded Hollywood Heritage. Former County Supervisor John Anson agreed to be chairman of the board of their nonprofit group.

The organization's first big project was to save the 1905 Janes House on Hollywood Boulevard, said Randy Haberkamp, managing director for programming, education and preservation for the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences and a member of the board of directors of Hollywood Heritage.

In 1982, Hollywood Heritage turned its attention to the Lasky-DeMille Barn, built around the turn of the last century. In 1912, the barn became home to the Burns-Revier Studio; it's the oldest existing motion picture production building in Hollywood. In 1913, it became home to the Jesse L. Lasky Feature Play Co. The company's first feature, the 1914 film "The Squaw Man," was co-directed by one of it founders, Cecil B. DeMille. In 1916, Lasky merged with Adolph Zukor's Famous Players Film Co., which eventually became the Paramount Pictures Corp.

The barn was at Paramount's original spot at Vine Street and Selma Avenue until 1926, when it was moved to the studio's current location on Melrose Avenue.

"It was used as a gymnasium and a location set," said Haberkamp. "DeMille was very sentimental about it. They declared it a national landmark."

But when the studio was redeveloping the lot, the barn was moved to a spot across the street from Capitol Records, "and sat in an empty lot looking really haggard," said Haberkamp.

Paramount and the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce donated the building to Hollywood Heritage, and it was moved to its current location in 1985. Since then, it's housed a museum featuring a treasure trove of items from early Hollywood, including some of DeMille's personal belongings.

Tourists from around the world, said Haberkamp, step into the barn and realize "this is Hollywood. This is where it started."

Helping to keep that feeling alive is Hollywood Heritage President Bryan Cooper, who's been with the organization for five years.

"I have always been a film buff and excited about classic film," said Cooper. "I have been in the trenches, which is part preservation and part community outreach, and keeping the barn up and running."

He's also heavily involved in planning the museum's Evenings at the Barn, which take place the second Wednesday of every month. Those programs have included celebrations of William Castle and Eddie Cantor of Eddie Cantor and a look at Harry Houdini in Hollywood.

The museum has been closed for several months for reconstruction and expansion of the back deck. "What we have created is a silent film stage," said McAvoy.

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The big kickoff for the fall season, said Cooper, will be an event marking the 100th anniversary of Universal Studios on Oct. 14. "We are working really closely with NBC Universal and their archives," he said. "We are going to show some of the original movies from 1915."

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What: The Hollywood Heritage Museum in the Lasky-DeMille Barn

Where: 2100 N. Highland Ave., Hollywood

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