Movie producer Joel Silver brought his Hollywood panache to Venice on Wednesday, unveiling plans for revamping the former Venice Post Office as the new headquarters of his Silver Pictures.
With Tom Hanks putting in a cameo appearance, Silver and his design and construction team spoke to dozens of invited guests amid the exposed concrete and wires of the 1939 Works Progress Administration building that the producer of "The Matrix" and "Lethal Weapon" franchises recently bought from the downsizing U.S. Postal Service.
"Joel's decision to restore this historic post office is a win-win for Los Angeles," Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa told the guests. Silver "will now have an address that matches his grand imagination," he added.
Silver, 60, began seeking a new corporate location last spring, after Warner Bros. Pictures ended a long-running relationship under which he had operated out of posh offices on the studio's Burbank lot.
Plans call for transforming the post office structure over the next 18 months into a high-tech office and production facility with a screening room on the main floor and editing suites in the full basement. The facade and windows will be restored and the lobby will be rebuilt, with ceilings reconstructed to match their early opulence.
In his remarks, Silver said he wasn't going to make fun of Burbank but that after 25 years "it was kind of nice to be voted off the island."
He praised Venice as a vibrant hotbed of creative tech and entertainment companies.
"I think we're going to make a difference here," he said. "Our intention is to make this place a center of new digital technology."
Gone from the building's interior is the long counter where residents bought stamps and mailed packages. Still in place is the 1941 lobby mural by Edward Biberman that depicts Venice's early history, with founder Abbot Kinney front and center.
The mural, which remains the property of the Postal Service, was "one of the reasons I loved this building," Silver said. As he spoke, conservationists on scaffolding painstakingly brushed or washed away decades of grime. Once the mural has been cleaned, it will be removed and fully restored, then reinstalled. Silver said he plans to let members of the public make reservations to see the artwork.
Silver said he and his 25 employees were "joining the community." He plans to allow nonprofit groups such as the Los Angeles Conservancy to use the space for fundraising. Also under discussion is a lecture series about WPA art and architecture and a program to expose Venice High School students to the movie business.
The redevelopment team includes architect Bret Thoeny of Santa Monica, mural restorer Nathan Zakheim, custom builder Dan McGhee and landscape architect Mia Lehrer. The team has been aided by the discovery of many original drawings and plans in a locked cabinet.
Silver praised the federal government's sturdy construction. "It is a magnificent building," he said. "It could take a direct hit from an ICBM missile and still be here."