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LAistory: The Los Angeles Herald-Examiner

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Photo by Floyd B. Bariscale via Flickr

Photo by Floyd B. Bariscale via Flickr
By Angela Serratore/Special to LAist

Before Lindsay Lohan and Mel Gibson, Angelinos of all ages hungrily awaited news of Fatty Arbuckle and the Black Dahlia, and before TMZ and Perez Hilton fit in our pockets, there was the afternoon edition of the Los Angeles Herald-Examiner. Trafficking in the salacious and the spectacular and operating out of a building boasting hand-painted gold leaf in the lobby, the Herald-Examiner and its home said ‘LA’ like no other paper could.

The flagship newspaper of publishing magnate William Randolph Hearst (no stranger to scandal himself), the Herald-Examiner was born out of the newspaper magnate’s desire to run for President. He surmised it would be impossible to get elected without a Southern California counterpart to his already successful San Francisco Examiner, in 1903 the Los Angeles Examiner came into being (A 1962 merger with the Los Angeles Herald-Express, Hearst's afternoon paper, was merely a formality, as the two papers had shared workspace for decades.)

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1915 postcard featuring the Herald-Examiner building,
Initially a pro-union counterpart to the Chandler family’s Los Angeles Times, the Examiner quickly moved to the right—it came out in favor of the deportation and detainment of Mexican-Americans in the 1930s and again of Japanese-Americans during WWII. Like many other Hearst publications, it also traded heavily in gossip and scandal. It gave voice to legendary gossip columnist Louella Parsons, who struck fear into the hearts of badly-behaving celebrities and saw her column expand to 600 newspapers within a decade, owing largely to her championing of Hearst’s mistress Marion Davies.

The Examiner was the first to break the Elizabeth Short murder story, and news of the Black Dahlia appeared in the headlines for months. It was, in fact, Assistant Editor Warden Woolard who suggested to the Los Angeles Police Department that they attempt to send photos of the then-unnameable victim’s fingerprints to the FBI, a move which resulted in Short’s identification.


Herald-Examiner building under construction, 1914.
Of course, any paper with a larger-than-life owner and a flair for the editorially dramatic needs a space that matches its image, and the Herald-Examiner was no exception. Situated on the southwest corner of 11th and Broadway (a safe mile south of the Los Angeles Times headquarters), the Herald-Examiner building was the first Southern California commission given to architect Julia Morgan, known best at the time for her work on the University of California, Berkeley campus. Morgan, California's first registered female architect, would, of course, go on to design Hearst Castle, the newspaper magnate's San Simeon estate. The building is designed in the Mission Revival style with an elaborate lobby of grand, arched spaces lined with carved marble friezes, wood trusses spanning high ceilings, and a patterned tile floor. The gold and marble of the entry area can also be found on the top level, where Hearst maintained a private apartment for entertaining.Another series of mergers and a poor decision to go afternoon-only left the Times free to snatch up Los Angeles newspaper subscribers, and by 1989 the Herald-Examiner stopped the presses for good, prompting then-city leaders like Kenneth Hahn and Tom Bradley to bemoan the loss of an important city resource—“"It's one more blow against freedom of the press," said County Supervisor Kenneth Hahn. "We need as many newspapers as possible to tell the public about government at the local level."


Herald-Examiner staffers hear news of the paper's closing, 1989,
Another paper isn’t the only thing Los Angeles has been missing since the shuttering of the Herald-Examiner. The building, which Los Angeles Conservancy President Linda Dishman calls “a manifestation of an entire era when newspapers were revered and extremely powerful in Los Angeles life and politics”, has been vacant and closed to the public for two decades. It has been featured in films like The Untouchables and The Usual Suspects, but most days it sits empty, waiting for rebirth.

A 350 million dollar proposal, put forth in 2002, would have seen the building, one of five intact Morgan structures in Southern California, renovated as the center of a mixed-use complex flanked by Thom Mayne-designed residential towers on the site of the Herald-Examiner’s press offices, but a Hearst spokesperson confirmed to Curbed LA, in late 2009, that the project was on hold indefinitely.

The Herald-Examiner building is a Los Angeles Historic Cultural Monument, and its lobby is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, meaning complete tear down of the structure is unlikely. Still, says Dishman, we’d do well to remember that “There's nothing like it, and it can't be replaced. Our built environment helps to shape our lives every day. Our heritage belongs to all of us, and preservation affects all of us whether we realize it or not.”

Though no longer the paper of record, the Los Angeles Herald-Examiner and its physical home will continue to loom large over the city—after all, the next headline is always just around the corner.

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Angela Serratore is a writer/historian. Check out her site.

Davies, Marion (1975). The Times We Had: Life with William Randolph Hearst.
Whyte, Kenneth (2009). The Uncrowned King: The Sensational Rise of William Randolph Hearst
Barbas, Samantha (2005). The First Lady of Hollywood: A Biography of Louella Parsons
Harnisch, Larry. "A Slaying Cloaked in Mystery and Myths." Los Angeles Times. January 6, 1997.
Leicester Wagner, Rob (2000). Red Ink, White Lies: The Rise and Fall of Los Angeles Newspapers, 1920-1962

LAistory is our series that takes us on a journey to what came before to help us understand where we are today.

Check out our other entries in the series:

Val Verde; Thelma Todd's Roadside Cafe; An eclectic house in Beverly Hills; Echo Park's Bonnie Brae House; Marineland of the Pacific; Grand Central Air Terminal; LA's Own Wrigley Field; How LA got its name; The wreck of the Dominator; The 1925 "Hollywood Subway."; The Pink Lady of Malibu; Lions Drag Strip; Disneyland...when it was cheap to get in; The ugliest building in the city; Union Station; Union Station's Fred Harvey Room; A Smelly Mystery at another train station; The Egyptian Theatre; Pilgrimage Bridge; The "It" Girl, Clara Bow; Elias J. "Lucky" Baldwin; Get Involved!; Houdini's House; Spanish Kitchen; The Platinum Blonde; Chutes Park; Fatty Arbuckle; The Brown Derby; Griffith Park; The Outpost Sign; Cross Roads of the World; Sowden House; Monkey Island; Carthay Circle Theater; The Post-War House & the Home of Tomorrow; Dan the Miner; Tropical Ice Gardens; William Desmond Taylor; Alligator Farm; Schwab's Pharmacy; Tail O' the Pup; Good Reads; Fatty Arbuckle's Plantation Cafe; The Garden of Allah, Mapping LAistory, The Pan Pacific Auditorium; Pickfair; Tower of Wooden Pallets; Hollyhock House; Randy's Donuts; the Ennis House; Helms Bakery Coaches, The Ambassador Hotel; The Cocoanut Grove; Busch Gardens in Van Nuys; The Battle of Santa Monica Bay; Clifton's Cafeterias; Hollywood's Fred Harvey Restaurant & Cocktail Lounge