The sign at “Hollywood Historic Site No. 38" has its facts wrong, Brian Christie says. And he ought to know, he says, because Hollywood’s first “modern” luxury hotel was his great-grandfather’s doing.
If the historical record can be believed, Christie has rich family roots.
The 52-year-old West Hills resident has traced them back to 1740, when Capt. John Christie was born in Scotland and later migrated to the United States where he fought in the Revolutionary War.
The captain’s son was captured by Native Americans in what is now Pennsylvania and held for 18 months until he was released for ransom, Christie said.
“They traded him for a couple of jugs of whiskey,” he said. “Of course, how accurate that information is I don’t know.”
Christie has good reason to be wary. For nearly two years, he has struggled to set the record straight about his great-grandfather’s Hollywood history.
Haldane H. Christie was a pioneering auto parts manufacturer who started out producing axles and springs. In 1914, he sold his Michigan-based car top company to Henry Ford and moved to Los Angeles.
Here, he quickly became a real estate developer specializing in property along Hollywood Boulevard and in the Hollywood Hills.
In 1920, he commissioned construction of Hollywood’s first “modern” luxury hotel at the southwest corner of Hollywood Boulevard and McCadden Place.
The eight-story Georgian Revival building with steeply pitched gable roofs was considered Hollywood’s first skyscraper when it opened in 1922. Architect Arthur R. Kelly, best known at the time for his residential designs, created three brick towers connected to ground-level shops.
The Christie Hotel boasted amenities that included steam heat and individual bathrooms for each of its 100 guest rooms — a first for Hollywood. It quickly became popular with those in town to work in the area’s fast-growing film industry as well as with locals.
Haldane Christie continued his ownership of the hotel and his realty work until his death in 1941 at age 71. In 1945, the place was renamed the Drake Hotel and later became the Hollywood Inn. These days, the structure is owned by the Church of Scientology.
In 2009, Brian Christie drove his parents from their Victorville home to Hollywood to take a photograph of them in front of the former family-owned hotel.
That’s when he saw the historic marker standing next to Hollywood Boulevard that identifies the hotel as “Hollywood Historic Site No. 38.”
Christie, a facilities manager for a high-tech firm, was at first pleased that his family’s place in Hollywood history was being noted. Then the three of them read the marker.
“It was owned by Al and Charles Christie, two of early Hollywood’s most powerful movie moguls. They were the first to open a studio in Hollywood, Nestor Studios,” stated the sign.
Why, that’s not true, said his father, retired teacher Richard Haldane Christie. His mother, Carol Christie, agreed.
“It was very disappointing to see,” Brian Christie said. “I told my father, ‘Don’t worry, I’m going to get it fixed.’”
But Christie hit a roadblock when he tried to correct the marker’s historic information. Besides listing the wrong people as the hotel’s developers, it also misnamed its architect as “Arthur B. Kelley.”
He contacted city officials but never heard back. He wrote the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce, which, in October 2009, apologized for the mix-up and promised to bring the mistake to the attention of the Hollywood Historic Trust, which now owns the signs.
Chamber president Leron Gubler told Christie that the mistake was probably the result of incorrect information in books consulted by civic leaders as the 46 historic markers were being designed. The $250,000 project was completed by the chamber and the Hollywood Entertainment District in 2000.
“I’m not sure they will be able to make a correction in the near future or not, but I’m sure they will keep the information on file for when they make updates to the signs,” Gubler wrote Christie.
Nearly two years later, there’s still no target date for a correction, according to Jackie Lugo, administrator of the trust.
The historic markers cost about $3,000 each to manufacture, and producing a single new one from scratch might cost double that, Lugo said. For now, the trust’s focus is on the estimated $4-million in repairs needed for damaged sections of the Hollywood Walk of Fame that are “a tripping hazard,” she said.
Christie said any Christie Hotel marker makeover would be too late for his father. Richard Haldane Christie died in April at age 88.
“I think those historic signs are a fantastic idea. It’s amazing anyone has taken an interest in Hollywood’s history,” he said.
“But it’s a must that you get the facts right.”