image Architecture & Planning

The Story Behind the Historic Hollywood YMCA

The YMCA in Hollywood is a huge deal for a number of reasons, but here are two big ones. Firstly, as a Class A building it has major curb appeal. And secondly, it was designed by the legendary and prolific architect Paul R. Williams, a trailblazer in all senses.

Hollywood’s historic YMCA building, still operating today. (Photo by Richard Bence)

Paul Revere Williams, born in Los Angeles on February 18, 1894, became the first black member of the American Institute of Architects (AIA) in 1923. “I cannot stress enough how important Paul Williams is to the history of architecture in the country let alone the history of architecture in Los Angeles,” explains Hollywood Heritage co-founder Christy McAvoy. “His career in the national history rivals that of people like Frank Lloyd Wright,” she continues.

Tenacity, charm, self-confidence, talent: these four traits served him well in dealing with his well-heeled clientele. Although he built homes for celebrities including (deep breath) Barbara Stanwyck, Bert Lahr, Bill “Bojangles” Robinson, Charles Correll, Danny Thomas, Frank Sinatra, Grace Moore, Julie London, Leon Errol, Lon Chaney, Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz, Tyrone Power, Will Hays, and Zasu Pitts; Williams supposedly rarely discussed his wealthy clients and his real sympathies were with the poor.

“He was a very community-minded architect,” says McAvoy. “He took commissions that would help the people of Los Angeles, not just the rich and famous. He designed a lot of celebrity houses and houses for very rich people but he also in his own community designed banks and insurance buildings and schools and funeral homes. This is a man who was giving back even as he was climbing the ladder, despite racial prejudice.”

Architect Paul R. Williams shown in a poster from Office of War Information, Domestic Operations Branch, News Bureau, 1943. (Public domain image)

The Hollywood Y was one of many popular men’s clubs built in 1920s Los Angeles that encouraged social, moral and physical development through physical fitness (this group also included the Athletic Club on Sunset Boulevard). Built in 1921 on the undeveloped Thomas Hudson property, the original much smaller Hollywood YMCA building was designed by the Los Angeles architectural firm Hunt and Burns.

Unable to serve its growing membership, the Hollywood YMCA raised funds by appealing to important members of the entertainment industry stressing the value of the organization as a “wholesome alternative to the young’s wild and out-of-control” interest in the violent sport of boxing. Even the local clergy touted the need for the Y in their Sunday sermons saying, “Hollywood would be better off with the YMCA than a fire department.” (Gregory Paul Williams. The Story of Hollywood: An Illustrated History, 2011)

In 1927 Paul R. Williamsfirm was hired to expand and improve on the Hunt and Burns original design. The Williams’ building opened in 1928. “This building is important to Hollywood because its a significant community institution built when Hollywood was coming into its own as a Golden Age,” explains McAvoy. “So you have this major community institution being built by the players in Hollywood who were funding it. But in any community a building of this size and this type would be a major endeavor.”

By the mid 1920s, the film industry was starting to contribute to the community’s welfare. “There was a lot of money for civic endeavors fueled by the new infusion of capital,” says McAvoy. There was another building down the street—the Hollywood Athletic Club—that was being built concurrently. “The fact that two institutions are going up at the same time across the street from each other just shows that people were thinking about the community and where the recreational spaces were going to be and who was going to be able to participate,” explains McAvoy.

Exterior of the Hollywood YMCA at the corner of Selma Ave. and Schrader Blvd. (Photo by Richard Bence)

The addition of the YMCA was a signal that Hollywood had arrived. “You needed a critical mass to have a building of this size. They were strategically placing their institutions to serve the community of Los Angeles,” explains McAvoy. “As their buildings went into major neighborhoods, its a mark of a community institution that has a lot of pull and is doing a lot of good work. In Hollywood in those years, they were looking to establish themselves as a premier community among many in Los Angeles,” McAvoy explains.

In designing this newer and bigger facility, Williams built on his earlier success with the African American 28th Street YMCA. “While Paul Williams did other YMCAs in Los Angeles this was a signature statement for everyone that was involved: the promoters of the building, the architects, the contractors, everybody did their best work here,” explains McAvoy. “The materials are superior, the architects are superior, the layout is superior, what it did for the community is superior. That’s the reason it’s on the National Register of Historic Places, not just as a contributor to a district, but as a standalone building. It has significance in and of itself for its architecture and its community cultural resources. This is a star,” continues McAvoy.

Interior courtyard of the Hollywood YMCA building. (Photo by Richard Bence)

Though both buildings shared the same popular Spanish Colonial Revival-style, served like purposes, and had similar ceramic and terra-cotta interior decorative details, there was one major difference. While the 28th Street branch had two main entries, the Hollywood Y had only one. Williams reconsidered how and why users circulate in a building allowing him to create a more useful design. “What he did was that he figured out what the population of who the user was,” explains McAvoy. “So you have good public spaces in this building: the recreational and residential spaces, the pool and the running track, the basketball court—those were all major spaces that were very well designed.”

Back then, the Hollywood Y used to be strictly a men’s hangout. For working class (male) Angelenos, part of the Ys appeal was that it catered to everyone, especially those short on dough. And there were a lot of working class families in Hollywood: not everyone was a star. “A lot of workers in the film industry were working class families in small bungalows whose children went to Hollywood High with the elite families that lived in the hills. Not everybody was famous,” explains McAvoy. “And even people that became famous later, like Carol Burnett, those are people that didn’t have anything when they were here. She became a star later.” 

Original entrance of the Hollywood YMCA building. (Photo by Richard Bence)

No YMCA is the same, each adapting to the particular needs of the local community—and the realities of the era. As the demographic of the neighborhood changed so did the Y. “I think that’s really important because the Y has widened its clientele—it moved with the times by allowing women and men,” explains McAvoy. These days, while the night-lighted rooftop jogging track is no longer, the Hollywood Y has expanded beyond being just a gym. It now offers a range of adult and youth programs and services—from various spinning, Pilates, yoga and swim classes to child care services and day camps, along with family-focused events on the front lawn, slap bang in the heart of Hollywood.

Williams, who had several types of practice, displayed a similar versatility. “He had the celebrity clientele and they liked him because the houses were beautiful and had gorgeous details. They had good construction and he was a nice guy to deal with and so on, but he also did a lot of commercial and institutional work. He gave the same fine detail to that. He also was someone who was very collaborative. He had a very long career and worked into the 60s and 70s, often with several architects on municipal projects, and was still moving with the times,” says McAvoy.

A student practices on the YMCA Hollywood’s basketball court. (Photo by Richard Bence)

The architect’s granddaughter, Karen Hudson, estimates that Williams was involved in 3,000 projects. In addition to his many residential projects, he is credited with the design of the LAX Theme Building.  “Because there are thousands of Williams buildings, some people say that denigrates his significance, but it doesnt. He was just a very prolific architect of extraordinarily high quality,” says McAvoy. It’s also worth remembering that the private homes he designed in Hollywood, Midtown, The Verdugos, San Gabriel Valley, and the Westside were in areas effectively off-limits to would-be black homeowners. And he rode to them on Los Angeless segregated streetcars. Paul Williams left more than elegant buildings as his legacy: his quiet, unspoken struggle against racism continues to inspire today.

Hollywood YMCA
1553 Schrader Blvd.
(323) 467-4161


Los Angeles is both muse and home for British-born culture journalist Richard Bence. His mission is to chronicle and unearth the hidden stories of Hollywood with a special focus on its heritage. He has a passion for preservation, loves all things midcentury and enjoys getting close to nature on a canyon hike or lapping up the architectural riches of the city he calls home. He contributes to Monocle, Monocle 24 and United’s Rhapsody magazine. richard-bence.com

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April 12, 2017

image Architecture & Planning

QuakeSmart Preparedness Workshop for Businesses and Organizations

The Quakesmart Preparedness Workshop for businesses and organizations is being offered on Thursday, May 18, 2017 from 9:00 a.m. until 2:30 p.m. at Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels, 555 W. Temple Street. The event is co-hosted by FEMA and FLASH.

At this workshop, you will identify your risk; learning about business continuity, disaster response, and the cost benefit of preparing for earthquakes and other business interruptions. You will learn how to develop a plan, identify preparedness and mitigation actions needed to ensure safety and business continuity. Complete assessments and begin planning for retrofit projects. You will also learn how to perform preparedness and mitigation activities using the QuakeSmart Community Resilience Program.

The Workshop is free, but registration is required. For more information, contact Barbara@flash.org. To register, click here.

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April 11, 2017

image Events

Old Hollywood Locals Night – April 19

Come celebrate the historic neighborhood of Hollywood on April 19, from 5:00 – 8:00 p.m. at the first Old Hollywood Locals Night, presented by Suaya Properties and the Hollywood Property Owners Alliance. The community is invited to come explore the unique micro-neighborhood which stretches from Las Palmas Ave. to Cahuenga Blvd. on Hollywood Blvd. Many of Hollywood’s “firsts” were located in this section, and we are honoring its legacy.

The hub of the event will be a block party on Hudson Ave., just north of Hollywood Blvd. There will be an acoustic stage featuring local musicians Sunshine and Moon, and Arthur Autumn. Marky Make-Up will be airbrushing stenciled temporary tattoos, and several community organizations will have booths.

In addition, attendees who pre-register will be given a passbook containing coupons for samples and discounts at local restaurants and merchants, such as Boardner’s, Hart’s Café, Saint Felix, Loteria Grill, Peperone, Rise n’ Grind, and The Record Parlour. Those who complete their passbooks by visiting all locations will be entered into a raffle for prizes donated by Mama Shelter, Amoeba Music, Live Nation, and more!

There will be several art galleries and pop-up events in coordination with Old Hollywood Locals Night. They include:

  • LACE (Los Angeles Contemporary Exhibition), 6522 Hollywood Blvd. – Gallery will be open from 5:00 – 6:00 p.m. At 7:00 p.m., Jessika Khazrik or The Society of False Witnesses will be doing a presentation in conjunction with the exhibit “I Can Call This Progress to Halt.” (Guests will be asked not to come and go after 7:00 p.m.)
  • WUHO Gallery (Woodbury University school of Architecture), 6518 Hollywood Blvd. – Gallery will be open for viewing with it’s current exhibit, “BREACH: Ersela Kripa + Stephen Mueller | AGENCY Architecture LLC.”
  • HPOA Storefront Office, 6562 Hollywood Blvd. – “Hollywood Daydream” pop-up art show featuring Hollywood-inspired works by Thaddeus Hunter Smith.

Additional pop-up art galleries are being confirmed and will be included in the official program.

Click here to pre-register, which will include your passbook. There is no charge for this event and all ages are welcome! Let your friends know that you’re going by RSVPing on the Facebook Event Page.

This event has been made possible with cooperation from AMDA College and Conservatory of the Performing Arts, LAPD Hollywood and Councilmember Mitch O’Farrell.

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April 10, 2017

image Dining

Get Wealthy + Healthy at H&H’s New Mongolian-Style Grill, Whealthy

Whealthy, now open on the level three dining deck at Hollywood & Highland, serves delicious fusion healthy foods with fresh meats, seafood blends, vegetables served with rice and a variety of noodles. You get to pick what goes into your meal!

Interior of Whealthy at Hollywood & Highland. (Photo by Devin Strecker)

Upon entering, you will be greeted and offered assistance in getting started with your meal. To the right side you will find a station with bowls which you can fill with fresh veggies, including cabbage, broccoli, peppers, jalapenos, mushrooms, corn, onion, garlic, and many more. Once you have filled your bowl to your liking, move on to the proteins station. There, you can select up to two choices from chicken, bacon, meatballs, sausage, scallops, shrimp, tofu and more.

Lastly, select the type of noodle or rice you would like and then choose your sauce – options include garlic curry, soy chicken, teriyaki, spicy and more.

Your meal is then cooked right in front of your eyes with a special automatic cooking machine.

Whealthy uses automated cookers to prepare your custom meal! (Courtesy photo)

Whealthy is what future restaurants look like: modern, fresh, environmental, and with the newest technology. Try it today!

Fresh, delicious meals from Whealthy at Hollywood & Highland. (Photo by Devin Strecker)

Whealthy
6801 Highland Ave., Hollywood & Highland Level 3 Dining Deck
(949) 648-3666

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April 10, 2017

image Events

Hollywood Heritage Celebrates the 90th Anniversary of the Chinese Theatre

On May 1, 2017, Hollywood Heritage, the TCL Chinese Theatre, NBCUniversal and the Hollywood Foreign Press Association will celebrate the 90th Anniversary of the opening of one of the nation’s most iconic landmarks, The Chinese Theatre on Hollywood Blvd., with the premier presentation of the newly restored 1934 Cecil B. DeMille film, Cleopatra. This event will be kicking off the organization’s National Historic Preservation Month activities.

DeMille’s version of the Cleopatra story with Claudette Colbert as the legendary siren of the Nile was a critical and financial success for Paramount.  In addition, Cleopatra received several Academy Award nominations and was given the Best Cinematography award.  The film is noted for its magnificent Art Deco-inspired sets.

The Chinese Theatre, designed by the celebrated architectural firm of Meyer and Holler, was built in 1927 for legendary promoter Sid Grauman and was the second of his movie palaces on Hollywood Boulevard.  The theatre is listed in the National Register of Historic Places and is a Los Angeles Historic Cultural Monument.  For nine decades, the owners of the theatre have shown remarkable stewardship of the historic features while carefully updating the viewing experience to IMAX.

The mission of Hollywood Heritage, a 501(c) 3 public benefit corporation celebrating over three decades of service, is to educate the public about the role of the early film industry and its pioneers in shaping Hollywood history and to preserve the historic built environment in Hollywood. There is no better way to illustrate the organization’s mission than with the presentation of a restored film in a magnificently preserved theatre.  For additional information about sponsorship opportunities and to purchase tickets, please visit www.hollywoodheritage.com and http://www.brownpapertickets.com/event/2916255

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April 7, 2017

image Shopping

Amoeba Music: Making Hollywood Rock

What makes Hollywood rock? Amoeba Music. From live free concerts to a vast selection of vinyl, cds, dvds, and more, this outpost of all things music has been a mainstay of Hollywood for the last 17 years.

Marc Weinstein, founder and co-owner of the Hollywood store as well two Bay Area locations, says his Hollywood spot is absolutely unique.

Amoeba Hollywood at night. (Courtesy photo)

“This is just such a music-centered town. Historically, there are so many people in the music business here. There are so many different kinds of collectors and enthusiasts. We feed off these different groups, and the unbelievable cultural diversity here in Los Angeles. That makes us rightfully called the busiest record store in the world, at least outside of Japan,” he laughs, “they have busy record stores there, too.”

According to Weinstein, Amoeba Music Hollywood literally carries about one million actual items in house. “We have about 250,000 different titles or more in all formats. The actual number of LPs on the floor is about 150,000 at any given time.” He adds that the store is also known for carrying a variety of unusual formats such as 8-Tracks, laserdiscs, and 78s. “No one else carries those formats. That’s part of the appeal for collectors.”

Vinyl records at Amoeba Music in Hollywood. (Courtesy photo)

Weinstein says the store’s most popular genre is rock. “But we have a number of strong demographic slices that shop here buying soul, hip hop, and jazz among other genres. Not many stores have a jazz section anymore. We also have a gigantic soundtrack section, which appeals to a demographic we really cater to right here in the media district in Hollywood.”

Weinstein says the store frequently buys collections and estates, and ends up with incredible collections related to the entertainment business.

“We try to go deep in all genres based on the idea that each of our sections are like little record stores. For example, we have a comprehensive reggae section and an experimental music section, as well as carrying all different kinds of metal with lots of sub-genres,” he says. In fact, record buyers come from all over Southern California to search Amoeba’s wide selection of metal. “We get things other stores rarely get, and we can order in quantity. We don’t get just one copy, we get ten,” Weinstein adds, meaning shoppers can come in and count on getting what they want.

Blu-ray discs at Amoeba Music in Hollywood. (Courtesy photo)

Along with an inclusive and deep selection of recorded music, Amoeba also offers live music in the form of free concerts. “The concerts are very specific, it’s all about new releases,” Weinstein notes. “If an artist is coming out with something new, and if they are local or putting on a tour through town, we try to host a concert for them. We especially try to feature local artists, but our concerts all have to be built around a new release.”

Generally, shows at Amoeba serve as a celebration of a new record; the store plays the record, the artist plays some of the music from that record; the concert is directed at getting people interested in that artist’s new title.

Ryan Adams performed at Amoeba Music in Hollywood on February 22, 2017. (Courtesy photo)

“The biggest concert in our store was Paul McCartney back in ‘08,” Weinstein recalls. “It was kind of a perfect venue for Paul. He just wanted to do a couple of small shows to promote his new record at that time, Memory Serves. He played Amoeba here, and at a ballroom in New York City, and that was all.”

Weinstein is proud of serving so many different groups of people with its eclectic concerts. He likes that the crowds receive not only the opportunity to hear an artist, but to explore the store itself. “The crowd that is enthusiastic enough to wait in line and see the show may also be experiencing Amoeba for the first time, even after all these years. It’s not only a good draw and a great experience because it’s free, but concerts can serve as an initiation to Amoeba,” Weinstein attests. “And because it is in a record store, the concert is all ages, which is a big deal for young people. Artists with a young audience just love playing here because they can get their people out without a hassle.”

Pink Floyd CD/DVD/Blu-Ray box sets at Amoeba Music in Hollywood. (Courtesy photo)

Appealing to music fans of all ages and genres, Amoeba Music offers an incredible music inventory, live concerts, varied formats, plus posters and T-shirts. This isn’t just a store, it’s a Hollywood experience.

Amoeba Music
6400 W. Sunset Blvd.
323-245-6400


Genie Davis is a multi-published novelist and journalist, and produced screen and television writer. Passionate about everything-Los Angeles, you can see her work in the arts on her own www.diversionsLA.com.

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April 6, 2017

image Entertainment

TCM Classic Film Festival in Hollywood April 6-9

Held over four days in the heart of Hollywood, the TCM Classic Film Festival is a place where movie lovers from around the world can gather to experience classic movies as they were meant to be experienced: on the big screen, in some of the world’s most iconic venues, with the people who made them. Moreover, the TCM Classic Film Festival strives to be a place where a community of movie fans of all ages can share their love of classic movies with each other, make new friends and see films as they are seldom seen today.

“A day without laughter is a day wasted,” said Charles Chaplin, and all at TCM concur. Join us for the 2017 TCM Classic Film Festival, exploring COMEDY IN THE MOVIES. From lowbrow to high, slapstick to sophisticated comedies of manners—we will showcase the greatest cinematic achievements of lone clowns, comedic duos and madcap ensembles.

Announced films include “Arsenic and Old Lace” (1944), “Best in Show” (2000), “Bonnie and Clyde” (1967), “The Graduate” (1967), “The Maltese Falcon” (1941), and “Top Secret” (1984). Venues include the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel, TCL Chinese Theatre, Egyptian Theatre, Arclight Cinerama Dome, and the Montalbán Theatre. For a complete schedule of programs and screenings, visit filmfestival.tcm.com/programs.

This year the TCM Classic Film Festival celebrates Robert Osborne by dedicating the Festival in his honor. There will be special programming on Thursday, April 6: TCM will host “REMEMBERING ROBERT,” a panel featuring TCM staff members, and actress Diane Baker, who will be on hand to share their stories about Robert. All passholders and pass levels are invited to attend. (Courtesy photo)

The ideal way to experience the TCM Classic Film Festival is with a Festival pass. There are four levels of passes: The Palace, The Classic, The Essential, and The Spotlight. Whichever pass you choose, you’re sure to have the classic cinema experience of a lifetime at the 2017 TCM Classic Film Festival.

Need help deciding which pass is right for you? Click here to compare pass levels and benefits.

 

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March 31, 2017

image Dining

Musso and Frank Grill: Hollywood History

Classic American cuisine and perfect martinis in a beautiful and historic setting: that’s Musso and Frank Grill, Hollywood’s oldest eatery. While Hollywood may be known for capricious diners interested in checking out the next trendy spot, Musso and Frank remains exceedingly popular. According to manager Bobby Caravella, there’s a reason for that.

“The reason it’s so successful is that it’s not just a restaurant, it’s a time machine. When you walk in you’re cut off from today’s Hollywood. It’s the same room that opened in 1919, it could be then, or 1930, 1945, 1955. You can expect to turn the corner and see the people who dined here, Charlie Chaplin, Marilyn Monroe, Tony Curtis,” he attests. “The other reason it’s so popular is that our quality has really gone up in every aspect in the last several years, the food, the service, the bar, when the fourth generation of the family who owns the restaurant took the reins.”

Musso and Frank Grill, circa 1919 (Courtesy photo)

Opened by Frank Toulet, who partnered with restauranteur Joseph Musso, the team hired French chef Jean Rue to create the menu, a good portion of which is unchanged today. They sold the restaurant in 1927 to Italian immigrants Joseph Carissimi and John Mosso, and today, the restaurant is owned and operated by John Mosso’s three granddaughters and their children. Through the years, the restaurant’s name never changed: according to Caravella, John Mosso thought “close enough” and left the name alone. Mosso is the restaurant’s current managing partners great grandfather.

Red booths at Musso and Frank Grill. (Courtesy photo)

“We had the best year we ever had last year,” Caravella reports. “There is a real family attitude toward all the staff here, you’re not just an employee, you’re a partner, and our owners known that their success is hinged on us and our performance. They take care of us in all aspects, and you want to come to work here.” That warmth and commitment is a big draw to customers as well as creating a significant standard among staff members.

Still a spot where celebrities show up to dine, the restaurant has a strict no-photos policy, and does not display photographs of celebrity customers on the wall. Caravella knows how to treat celebrities with discretion, having spent fifteen years working as an assistant director on a variety of films in New York. It’s all about privacy and respect, according to Caravella, who notes that “Everyone is treated as a celebrity as soon as you walk in the door. And we keep the anonymity of people who dine here. People come here for lunch or a great dinner. If they want to be seen, they go to The Ivy,” he laughs.

Grenadine of Beef from Musso and Frank Grill in Hollywood. (Courtesy photo)

Among the restaurant’s most popular dishes are its steak. “We have several different options on our menu. With a grill in the middle of the dining room, people can watch their steak being made. Our grill guy has been here thirty-two years, and never misses. I have never seen a steak go back. He’s incredible,” Caravella reports.

Along with its steaks, there are signature dishes that are authentic classics and authentically popular. “Things like our stuffed celery appetizer, our olive plate, or our features of the day. Over the course of the week we have a different feature every day. Our chicken pot pie is so popular that people call up the day before to order it, and we have to get their credit card to hold the dish for them.” Italian dishes are another big hit with diners. “Our Fettucine Alfredo was introduced to our chef by Mary Pickford,” he notes.

Musso and Frank Grill’s Stuffed Celery. (Courtesy photo)

There are plenty of classic drinks on the menu too, but the best known beverage at Musso and Frank is the martini. “We still stir and not shake. Shaken martinis became a sensation in the James Bond film Dr. No. But Bond orders a vodka martini,” Caravella explains.

“Here,  our martinis are always stirred, and they’re excellent. One of our bartenders here, Rueben, has been here since 1967 he is a fixture here.”

Martini at Musso and Frank Grill. (Courtesy photo)

In fact, Musso and Frank Grill has several staff members on the floor over 40 years, and in the kitchen over 30 years, a tribute to the superior work environment.

Caravella describes the restaurant as a “warmly elegant place, that’s the ambiance. You’re not sitting in a restaurant, you’re embraced by it – the dark wood, the smooth lighting, the absolutely classic look of the restaurant. You’re enveloped by it. You don’t sit in it, you become a part of it, and you meld into it.”

Isn’t it time you melded in, too?

The bar at Musso and Frank Grill in Hollywood. (Courtesy photo)

Musso and Frank Grill
6667 Hollywood Boulevard.
323-467-7788

See also: Top 10 Hollywood Survivors from Only in Hollywood


Genie Davis is a multi-published novelist and journalist, and produced screen and television writer. Passionate about everything-Los Angeles, you can see her work in the arts on her own www.diversionsLA.com.

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March 29, 2017

image Community

Pets, Publishing, and the Palmer Building: A Piece of Hollywood History

Liberals, reformers, and radicals once filled the hallways of the Palmer Building (6360-6362 Hollywood Boulevard), which became steeped in Tinseltown history when a pioneering pet club helmed by a movie legend had its headquarters here. But more on that later.

Historic photo of the Palmer Building from The Story of Hollywood by Gregory Paul Williams.

To fully understand the building’s legacy, it’s important to understand the might of the Palmer dynasty. As one of Hollywood’s earliest settlers and great empire builders, not much went on without Dr. E.O. Palmer’s involvement. Indeed he formed the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce. Dr. Palmer, who published History of Hollywood in 1938, “is the ground zero of Hollywood historians,” explains Hollywood Heritage co-founder Christy McAvoy. “All other historians revert back to him. He spent many years in the ’20s and ’30s compiling the most comprehensive history of Hollywood and its pioneers,” says McAvoy.

Back in 1911, Dr. Palmer arranged to have a young relative, Harlan G. Palmer, purchase the weekly Hollywood Citizen. Four years later, Harlan was elected a Justice of the Peace, a position he held until 1921 when his paper became a daily. Starting his first newspaper with a $150 down payment, Palmer published and edited the Hollywood Citizen-News for forty five years and went on to become president of the Southern California Editorial Association.

While the Hollywood and Vine intersection became known for its concentration of radio and movie-related businesses in the 1920s, what’s less articulated is Hollywood Boulevard’s pivotal role in the Los Angeles newspaper industry. But it all began here in 1921, when Dr. Palmer financed the Palmer Building at Hollywood and Cosmo Street. Harlan Palmer’s Hollywood Citizen moved in and began publishing daily with a printing press in the basement,” says Gregory Paul Williams in his award-winning The Story of Hollywood.

What’s rather confusing is that there are three buildings of printing related Palmer provenance: two on the Boulevard, one being across the street on Cosmo, and another on Wilcox. Our building, designed by journeying architect Edward T. Flaherty, is typical of Renaissance Revival structures of the post WWI, early 20s era. “This type of pared down Classical Revival building was very popular for office blocks in small downtowns before we moved into more ornate Art Deco and flashier Spanish Colonial Revival styles. You’ll see this type of structure in many downtowns across the States. You’re still in a more conservative architectural period when this was built,” explains McAvoy.

The Palmer Building today. (Photo by Richard Bence)

In 1929, the bottom fell out of the global economy but at first, Hollywood’s publishers thrived. The Hollywood News built a glitzier newspaper plant on Wilcox Avenue in 1930. But by 1932, the Depression hit the West Coast hard. Working conditions and wages in Los Angeles’ newspaper industry were some of the worst in the country. Palmer merged his paper with George Hoover’s Hollywood News to form the Hollywood Citizen-News which became the fourth-largest daily paper in Los Angeles. But a storm was brewing and Palmer could not have predicted what came next.

Palmer got caught in the crossfire of a bitter film community brouhaha that snowballed into an outpouring of support for the Los Angeles Newspaper Guilds’s ten-week Hollywood Citizen-News strike in 1938, spearheaded by the Communist Party. The paper, which primarily catered to Hollywood’s educated and liberal elite, and had at one time functioned as an oasis of reason and taste in Los Angeles, became an incubator for political activism. This in turn led to the formation of the Los Angles Newspaper Guild (LANG) in 1936. Roger Johnson, a young employee of Hollywood Citizen-News, became the Guild’s first president.

Known as a “liberal” for his support of the New Deal, Judge Harlan G. Palmer would become increasingly conservative, hardened by the strike. But it’s worth noting that he started out as a vigorous campaigner against crime, gambling and alleged police pay-offs. As editor, he devoted many of his editorials to attacks on the corrupt city administration of Mayor Frank Shaw.

While Palmer’s refusal to accept a union in his newspaper helped transform a unique but essentially minor strike into a cause célèbre, the Palmer Building continued to produce protégés that liked to court controversy. “The alley behind Western Union’s Hollywood office in the Palmer Building, where messengers waited for assignments, became a hotbed of information (and a party zone),” explains Williams.

Another venerable journalistic institution that occupied the Palmer Building was the AP, which opened its L.A. bureau here in the 40s. Robert Joseph Thomas seemed destined to become an entertainment writer from his earliest days at high school when he wrote entertainment columns for the campus newspaper. But when he joined the AP in 1943, it was with aspirations of becoming a war correspondent.

Fresh from military service, he returned to the AP’s L.A. bureau in the Palmer Building and was soon named its entertainment reporter. Thomas’ career began in 1944, when Hollywood was still a small, centralized community, tightly controlled by a handful of studios, and continued well into the 21st century. During his nearly seven decades writing for the AP, Thomas reviewed hundreds of films and television shows, compiled hundreds of celebrity obituaries and wrote numerous retrospective pieces on Hollywood and how it had changed.

The building also has a link to the Boulevard’s heady retail heyday. The Hollywood Citizen-News had run the masthead “Shopping’s good in Hollywood” since 1925. Merchants pushed Hollywood as a world style center on a par with New York and Paris. “Hollywood-based retailer Betty Blanc Company ran five women’s stores in Hollywood: Nancy’s, Mimi’s, Henré’s, Marlene’s, and Betty Blanc’s. Each store handled entirely different clothing lines, with the main office in the Palmer Building at Cosmo were Nancy’s was located,” says Williams. “Hollywood stores made the most of their star connections. A Hollywood Citizen-News society columnist reported that Norma Shearer did her early-morning shopping in Hollywood.”

The Palmer Building has a long history of attracting organizations with a fine pedigree. Tailwaggers entered into the annals of Hollywood history when Bette Davis was elected as president of Southern California’s branch in 1929, which opened its headquarters here. Davis used her celebrity to share her passion for animals and help raise awareness of animal welfare issues. LIFE magazine covered one of her fundraising events at the Beverly Hills Hotel in 1929 where she raised large sums of money from other famous animal lovers like Henry Fonda, Howard Hughes and Walt Disney.

Letter from Bette Davis on Tail Wagger Foundation of America letterhead, headquartered in the Palmer Building in Hollywood, circa 1938.

This Sunday, Tailwaggers CEO Todd Warner is building on that legacy with the Tailwaggers Foundation’s annual Waggy Awards at the Taglyan Complex in Hollywood. Billed as “the animal rescue world’s most glam-packed event”, it brings together the great and the good of the animal welfare community. Crusaders, activists and pioneers dedicated to the protection of animals will collect awards for their service alongside actress and well-known animal activist Tippi Hedren and music superstar Moby.

The confluence of Hollywood pizzazz, community pioneers and animal welfare harks back to those days when Davis was fighting on behalf of humanity’s most devoted companion from her desk at the Palmer Building. This place matters because it serves as a repository of investigative journalism; in an age of dwindling newspaper circulations, it connects us to a pre-digital publishing past. It also acts as a missing link to an organization that championed justice for the underdog. The spirit of animal activism is embedded in its bricks, as is the institutional memory of a cause that is still achingly relevant today.

For tickets to this Sunday’s event: thetailwaggersfoundation.org/events.

The Palmer Building today is home to iO West (formerly known as the “Improv Olympic West”), the Los Angeles arm of the world-famous iO in Chicago improv comedy theatre. (Photo by Richard Bence)


Los Angeles is both muse and home for British-born culture journalist Richard Bence. His mission is to chronicle and unearth the hidden stories of Hollywood with a special focus on its heritage. He has a passion for preservation, loves all things midcentury and enjoys getting close to nature on a canyon hike or lapping up the architectural riches of the city he calls home. He contributes to Monocle, Monocle 24 and United’s Rhapsody magazine. richard-bence.com

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March 17, 2017

image Dining

Delicious Mediterranean Fare at Farida

Everyone in Hollywood should be excited about Farida, which might be the most exciting restaurant to arrive in Hollywood in awhile. Mediterranean food is certainly the cuisine of the moment, so at first glance it might appear that the owner, George Abou-Daoud, is simply meeting audience demand. He is, but that would also be dismissing just how special Farida is.

The Mediterranean flavors at Farida are ones that George is very well acquainted with, having grown up with them. So it’s a coming home of sorts. But everyone in Hollywood is all the better for it, as Farida complements his nearby, long-standing restaurants Delancey and The Bowery.

Interior of Farida in Hollywood. (Photo by Esther Tseng)

The dishes are well done, incorporating ingredients and flavors of the Middle East while utilizing Californian sensibilities. Fresh produce and sharable plate sizes work well within Farida’s well curated, perfectly sized menu. There are more vegetable dishes than meat options, putting the variety of flavors of the ingredients front and center. The majority of the food menu is $13 and under, making the restaurant a place where everyone can enjoy themselves.

Menu offerings at Farida on Sunset Blvd. in Hollywood. (Photo by Esther Tseng)

Vibrant colors line the interior of the restaurant, with colorful bar stools, patterned tile, warm hued walls and comfortable lounge and table seating. The flavors of the food are well suited to the restaurant ambiance, thanks to dishes like their fluffy lavender baghrir crepes; golden, buttery pastry pies with nabulsi cheese and sweet-earthy baby beets & freekeh with French feta and mint.

Baby Beets with french feta, freekeh, cardamom, pine nuts, lemon, local olive oil, and Persian mint at Farida in Hollywood. (Photo by Esther Tseng)

As for proteins, the real shining star is the mountain prepped lamb awarma with hummus bi tahini, which is cured in olive oil for 30 days and seasoned with nut, fig and sumac, topped with lamb cracklin’s and furnished with soft egg, pickled turnip, feta, radish and beet chips. It’s only $24 yet the most expensive plate on the menu.

Mountain Prep Lamb Awarma with hummus, ​olive oil cured eggplant makdous, nut & fig medley, sumac, lamb cracklins’, soft egg, pickled turnip, feta, beet chips, herbs, and za’atar pita at Farida in Hollywood. (Photo by Esther Tseng)

The drinks menu offers a variety of cocktails, beers, and red and white wines by the glass or bottle, mostly from California, France, Spain and Italy. The multiple seating options throughout the restaurant are also a welcome feature, allowing you and your friends the luxury of choosing between bar, table and lounge seating.

Farida offers great, affordable food that tastes great in just the kind of setting you prefer — without all the fuss. Whether for lunch, dinner or drinks, Farida is just the neighborhood Mediterranean restaurant you want, highlighting the best of Californian ingredients. So stop on by for a little bit or for a long, long time.

Interior of Farida in Hollywood. (Photo by Esther Tseng)

Farida
6266 Sunset Blvd.
www.faridarestaurant.com


Esther Tseng is a freelance food and drink writer. She has contributed to Eater, Thrillist, LA Tourism, Visit West Hollywood, Serious Drinks, and more. She practices Pilates, spins and snowboards to counter all the calories she consumes and loves to travel, whether for work or leisure.

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March 6, 2017