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Arts and Entertainment

A History of The Famed Hollywood Reporter Building Preservationists Are Fighting to Save From Demolition

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Historic preservationists, anti-development activists, and diehard fans of old Hollywood have been rallying for months to save a 1930s office building that once housed two of Los Angeles’ most storied publications.

The Hollywood Reporter Building, named for the entertainment publication headquartered there for most of the 20th Century, also briefly served as home to the L.A. Weekly in the early 2000s. Now the property is slated for demolition, thanks to a towering hotel redevelopment of Crossroads of the World, the circa-1930s shopping center located next door.

The Art Deco Society of Los Angeles and the Los Angeles Conservancy are among the advocacy organizations leading the charge to protect the Regency Moderne-style building. The Art Deco Society nominated it for landmark status in May, around the same time developers’ renderings revealed it was set to be razed. In their petition to save the building, however, the group maintains that they’d been working on the nomination even before they learned about the building's potential fate. The Los Angeles Cultural Heritage Commission approved the nomination in August, and it’s currently awaiting a vote by the L.A. City Council.

The vote has been rescheduled at least twice already, but Adrian Scott Fine, the L.A. Conservancy’s director of advocacy, says he expects it to be on the agenda next Tuesday, when the city’s Planning and Land Use Management committee meets next. “I think we’re hopeful. Cautiously optimistic,” he says of the building’s chances of gaining landmark status. Even if the nomination is accepted, it doesn’t guarantee that the Hollywood Reporter Building, which currently houses the telefundraising firm Donor Services Group, will be protected or even ultimately saved from the wrecking ball.

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What it does do, Scott Fine says, is put more pressure on both the city and the developers to take preservationists’ concerns more seriously. “It buys us time, it raises the profile, and it really goes to the heart of what the conservancy as well as Hollywood Heritage, Art Deco Society, and others have argued,” he says. “Which is, why not look at other alternatives to try to achieve this project in a way that doesn’t call for demolition of so many of these historic buildings as part of this overall project?”

L.A. Weekly moved its operations to Culver City nearly a decade ago, and the property looks like it’s been relatively untouched since then: The alternative weekly’s name, plastered in gold capital letters, still adorns the entrance to the building, which features a wacky combination of brass molding, glass bricks, black marble, and off-white stucco. With parts of it today covered in graffiti, the shabby two-story building is easy to miss. But in its glamorous heyday in the 1930s, when it housed Hollywood’s first daily entertainment trade publication, some of the industry’s most powerful players passed through its ornate wood-paneled hallways.

Sandwiched between North Las Palmas Avenue and North McCadden Place, the property was first built as a one-story masonry building in 1924, according to the city’s recommendation report for landmark status. In 1936, The Hollywood Reporter publisher William Richard Wilkerson, Jr. hired the architect Arthur W. Hawes — the same guy who designed the Bigfoot Crest Theatre in Westwood — to add a second-floor office building behind the property to house his publication’s burgeoning editorial operations.

Wilkerson, a failed producer turned publisher and entrepreneur, was already well on his way to becoming a real estate mogul and nightlife impresario. In 1934, he founded the Hollywood nightclub Cafe Trocadero, which in 1940 hosted the premiere party for Gone With the Wind. He would also go on to open Ciro’s, a celebrity hangout that courted the likes of John F. Kennedy, Sammy Davis Jr., Marilyn Monroe, and Lucille Ball, on the site where the Comedy Store now sits. But The Hollywood Reporter was easily Wilkerson’s biggest claim to fame. He founded it as an industry rag in 1930, and it quickly blossomed into an influential publication with the power to make or break an actor’s career. By the time he moved his staff into the building on Sunset, they’d already outgrown two smaller offices.

Wilkerson also enlisted the architects George Vernon Russell and Douglas Honnold to remodel the property’s main building facing Sunset Blvd. into an upscale, rotating retail space, complete with a chimney and a fireplace. It debuted as the haberdashery and barbershop Sunset House, which Wilkerson advertised as “the finest men’s store in America.” He later reopened the space as a specialty store known as Vendome Wine and Spirits Company. But the property’s lifeblood — and the entity for which it’s now named — was always The Hollywood Reporter. By the 1950s, the front and the rear buildings had been connected by another building that housed the paper’s new printing plant, and not long after that, the entirety of the property became devoted to The Hollywood Reporter’s operations.

Over the next several decades, the building underwent so many alterations — additional floors, stairs, bathrooms, windows, and doors — that it may as well be considered the Winchester Mystery House of office buildings. Among its more curious features today are a series of industrial-looking roll up doors that now cover the former retail display windows and an installation of street-level glass bricks whose origin and year appears to be unknown. (Perhaps it was in the 1980s, when glass bricks were a trendy throwback to the Art Deco period.)

After Wilkinson passed away in 1962, his sixth wife Tichi — an industry philanthropist and the founder of the gender advocacy organization Women in Film — took over the Hollywood Reporter as owner and publisher until her death in 1988. In 2005, after 74 years of occupying the building on Sunset, the Hollywood Reporter moved out, and for a short time the L.A. Weekly took its place. In its application nominating the building for landmark status, the Art Deco Society argues that the building is worth preserving in part for its Regency Moderne architecture, but even more so, for the significant cultural history housed within its Frankenstein-like facade.

“At the time it was first published, The Hollywood Reporter was one of only two local newspapers that were devoted strictly to entertainment news, much like it still operates today,” the application states. “Although there have been many alterations to the property over time, the majority of these changes occurred during the six decades that The Hollywood Reporter enterprise occupied the building and reflect the newspaper’s growth and influence in Hollywood.”

Imagine that: A time when newspapers grew instead of shrunk. The building could be worth saving as a reminder of that glorious publishing era alone.

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