image Community

It’s Time for our Elected Officials to Publicly Acknowledge the Unintended Consequences of Prop 47

I will confess. I bought into the narrative around Prop 47, the Safe Neighborhoods and Schools Act. But how many would assert today that our neighborhoods are, in fact, safer than in November 2014 when the measure passed with nearly 60 percent of the vote? Perhaps it is time to reconsider parts of this law.

To recap, the intent of the measure was to reclassify several drug and property felonies as misdemeanors. According to the ballot pamphlet, the promise was that the funds saved to state prisons and local jails would be captured and reinvested into “school truancy and dropout prevention, victim services, mental health and drug abuse treatment, and other programs designed to keep offender out of prison and jail.”

As described in a blog I wrote in April about the declining sense of safety we are experiencing here in Hollywood, I am looking backwards to see what has changed. There are a number of contributing factors, in my opinion, but let’s start with Prop 47. Show me why this doesn’t deserve scrutiny.

  1. Our neighborhoods are less safe now as compared to before Prop 47 was passed.
  2. The monies for mental health and drug abuse treatment have failed to materialize.
  3. Law enforcement seems to be taking a “hands off” approach toward the enforcement of misdemeanors.

Let’s look at each of these.

Less safe: Consider what local law enforcement officials are saying. The California Police Chief’s Association reported last summer that property and violent crime increases were unique to California, and not experienced in the rest of the country. In Seal Beach just a few weeks ago, the police department reported that local crime is 15% greater than three years ago.  Similar reports are coming out of smaller towns like Auburn, Lodi, Escondido, Huntington Beach, Benicia. Does anyone think this trend will magically reverse itself?

The president of the Association of Deputy District Attorneys, Marc Debbaudt, explains how crimes committed after Prop 47 are being treated differently, sometimes allowing people with a criminal record to go unpunished. He provides an example: “someone who has been convicted and served time for a serious crime – such as armed robbery, kidnapping, assault with a deadly weapon – can no longer be sent back to prison if convicted of a new theft or drug offense, because these have been reclassified as misdemeanors.”

According to an LA Times article this March, Californians for Safety and Justice report that the state’s average daily prison population has decreased by 8,000 people. The CA Department of Corrections reports that 4,700 people have been re-sentenced and released from prison and 3,300 few people will be incarcerated each year. The public policy aim of reducing mass incarceration is a worthy goal, but the support systems that were promised have yet to materialize.

Where are the savings? The measure called for savings of hundreds of millions of dollars annually that would be reinvested. In the 2016 budget, the governor estimated first year’s savings at $28.3M, dramatically less than was promised in the voter ballot language. (The state Legislative Analyst office calculated closer to $150M in savings.) Rules established by the state appear to place the responsibility with the Controller to disburse monies generated from the savings each year according to this formula: 25% for public schools for truancy and related programs; 10% to victim compensation, and 65% to Board of State and Community Corrections to administer grants supporting mental heath and substance abuse treatment and diversion. Those monies are just starting to roll out, two years later.

Given this two year gap in “reinvesting savings,” the outcome has been less intervention for people enslaved by substance abuse who are less likely to go into treatment. As Debbaudt states, “The justice system lost all leverage to mandate rehabilitative drug programs.” A jail sentence may be a few days or a few hours and drug addicts are back on the street.

Mother Jones reported in December that the experiment to release drug offenders from prison has encountered a challenge: “Once they’re out, there aren’t enough social service programs to help these offenders overcome addictions and restart their lives.” They reference an 2016 investigation conducted by USA TODAY Network-California journalists, who found that “thousands of addicts and mentally ill people have traded a life behind bars for a churning cycle of homelessness, substance abuse and petty crime.”

Misdemeanors go unpunished. In Hollywood, it appears that the misdemeanor associated with overstepping one’s two hour parking meter will be punished far more swiftly than the misdemeanor associated with smoking meth in front of a busy restaurant where people are trying to enjoy patio dining. There is evidence of drug use every few blocks as one walks the busy streets of Hollywood – yet no apparent effort to enforce this in any way.

The USA Today team found that police made 220,000 fewer drug arrests in the first year after Prop 47 passed, a 9.5% decrease over the previous year.   The options for cops are either to jail people – but there is likely little room to house misdemeanor subjects – or issue a citation, which has no immediate consequences.  The report says, “caught between ineffective jail bookings and toothless citations, cops are increasingly doing neither.”

Further, the downward cycle continues when one considers that the threshold for petty theft to be considered a felony was increased from $500 to $950.  So if addicts who are living on the streets need to steal to support their habit, there are less consequences in that arena as well.

Stephen Johnson, a chief with the LA County Sheriff’s Department describes the current situation: “They’re not being punished, they’re not getting treatment. The net result is victimization for our local communities who see a rise in crime.”

So, what to do? It is time for our elected officials to publicly acknowledge the unintended consequences of a citizen-drafted ballot measure that was not vetted by the state legislative process. Take the necessary steps to pinpoint the loopholes and fix the weaknesses in this law, in the interest of public safety and victim’s rights. Kudos to the two council members (Bernard Parks and Mitch O’Farrell) who voted to oppose Prop 47 back in 2014, but now we ask the full council, the mayor, city attorney, board of supervisors, county sheriff and district attorney to put their heads together to find a way forward for Los Angeles.

Keep the parts that are good (e.g., removing the requirement to report a former felony conviction to facilitate the employability of ex-offenders) and address what is not working. If possession and use is now a misdemeanor, let’s remember that drug dealing is still a felony and the supply of drugs is a death sentence to those on the street. Advocate for the hundreds of millions of dollars that was promised so that services and treatment can be delivered to those on the streets.

We must not acquiesce to the current state as the new normal. Our electeds must find the path back to the Safe Neighborhoods that were promised.

No resources to help this young man homeless and using drugs in Hollywood since 2011. Top photo is from 2015 and the bottom from a few weeks ago. His situation is deteriorating.


Kerry Morrison is executive director of the Hollywood Property Owners Alliance.  She serves on the United Way/LA Area Chamber Home For Good Task Force and blogs at @KerryHMorrison

, , , , ,

May 25, 2017

image Entertainment

Touring Hollywood

While a tour of Hollywood is a mainstay of visitor itineraries, local residents have much to learn and enjoy from these tours, too. With a variety of tour companies in the Hollywood Boulevard area, here are a few choices that deepen understanding of Tinseltown’s heritage, or offer just plain fun looks at iconic Hollywood locales.

Old Hollywood Walking Tour

Every last Friday of the month (and additional dates as scheduled), the Hollywood Entertainment District presents this 90-minute historic walking tour at 10:00 a.m. The tour encompasses Hollywood history from 1865 through 1960, and is conducted by the knowledgeable April Brooks Clemmer, a member of the Hollywood Heritage Preservation Committee. Attendees can learn what it was like when the tiny Hollywood suburb transformed itself into the world’s film capital in less than 50 years. Visit the oldest residential home on Hollywood Boulevard, as well as the city’s most famous movie theaters, the longest operating restaurant in Hollywood, and a variety of architecturally significant buildings, as well as its Golden Age shopping district. Featuring the use of historic photos, this fascinating tour offers an insiders’ look at the story of Hollywood’s past, present, and future.

6562 Hollywood Blvd.
Hollywood, CA 90028
(323) 463-6767

Starline Tours

Located in the Hollywood and Highland center, Starline Hollywood operates a variety of tours such as a Hop On/Hop Off tour of Hollywood among other locations, arriving at attractions across the city and accompanied by audio tours. For visitors inclined to take their time at some locations and skip others, the Hop On makes it easy to remain independent, while double decker busses offer city views from the upper level. Other Hollywood adventures include a one-hour trolley tour, a Movie Stars Homes tour, and Movie Locations route. The short but sweet trolley tour includes a look at the Hollywood Sign, the TCL Chinese Theater, Capitol Records, the Egyptian Theatre and the Hollywood Walk of Fame. Want something a little spooky? Check out the Haunted Hollywood tour, featuring a visit to the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel, famous for celebrity hauntings.

6801 Hollywood Blvd, Los Angeles, CA 90028
(800) 959-3131

TMZ Celebrity Tours

Focusing on Hollywood gossip as well as glamour, TMZ Celebrity Tours are coached in a custom-designed bus with state of the art audio and video systems designed to keep tour-takers in the thick of things – footage can be sent directly to TMZ itself, if an interesting celebrity sighting should occur. Stops include celebrity hot spots in and around Hollywood, and are focused on giving attendees a glimpse at celebs and their hangouts. TMZ offers what is essentially a celebrity-hunting tour with a light-hearted look at famous locales in Hollywood, West Hollywood, and Beverly Hills added in.

6801 Hollywood Blvd, # 105 Hollywood, CA 90028
(844) 869-8687

Primetime Hollywood Tours

With Star Homes and Celebrity Sites in and around Hollywood one of Primetime Hollywood’s most popular tours, visitors can get a look at the Hollywood Walk of Fame and famous actors’ homes. From the hotel featured in Pretty Woman to the Chinese and Dolby theaters and rock n’ roll landmarks on the Sunset Strip, this inclusive tour takes place in sleek luxury vans or on open-air busses. Other Primetime offerings include the LA Club Crawl and a Nightlife tour that allows attendees to get an inside perspective on celebrity hangout spots.

6363 Hollywood Blvd, Los Angeles, CA 90028
(800) 262-7433

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

, , , , , , , , , , , ,

May 24, 2017

image Community

Old Hollywood Walking Tour Launches May 26

Having moved our office to Hollywood Blvd., halfway between the happening intersections at Highland Avenue and Vine Street, the staff of the Hollywood Property Owners Alliance began to fully understand the historic nature of this section of Hollywood. Indeed, our research brought us to the conclusion that this area is where Hollywood, the neighborhood, truly got its start. From the first movie theatre, to the first hotel and doctor’s office, this little stretch played host to many of Hollywood’s firsts, and many of those original buildings are still standing to this day.

Inspired by the legacy of this area, the staff decided to hire historian April Brooks Clemmer to fully research Hollywood’s origins and to bring together the property owners to craft a vision forward that would protect and breathe new life into the hallowed grounds of what we are now calling “Old Hollywood.”

Having initially walked the area with property owners who told their own stories about the buildings they represent, Clemmer pieced together a narrative describing what was it like to witness Hollywood’s transformation from a tiny suburb of Los Angeles to the glamorous film capital of the world. After testing the tour for several months, we are now launching this tour as an experience open to all! On this tour, you will learn the history of Hollywood from around 1885-1960, and have a chance to peek inside some of the hidden gems on the boulevard. Join us to learn the story of how Hollywood transformed from a sleepy little town of orange groves into the center of the world’s entertainment industry…in less than 50 years! Take a walk back in time to visit the homes, shops, theaters, offices and restaurants that define Hollywood’s historic identity.

You’ll visit the oldest residential home on Hollywood Boulevard, go inside a theater that hosted star-studded premieres during Hollywood’s golden age, and sip a drink where Charlie Chaplin and Douglas Fairbanks unwound after a long day of filming, and where writers like F Scott Fitzgerald and Ernest Hemingway wrote classic American novels.

Our destinations include:

  • Hollywood’s first and most famous movie theaters
  • The oldest remaining residence on the Boulevard
  • The longest continuously-operating restaurant in Hollywood
  • Architecturally iconic buildings
  • Hollywood’s premiere shopping district during its Golden Age

Along the way you’ll see how the story of Hollywood is still unfolding as the modern-day artists and creatives continue to reinvent their neighborhood while honoring its storied past. Tickets cost $20 each. The tour is regularly scheduled for the last Friday of each month at 10:00 a.m. Additional dates and times are offered as needed, and private, group, and Spanish language tours are available by arrangement (click here to e-mail your requests). 







We would like to thank Hollywood Heritage for their assistance and cooperation in the planning of this historic walking tour, and Marc Wanamaker/Bison Archives for the use of their historic photos in the program and on the tour.


April Brooks Clemmer developed a passionate love of Hollywood from reading biographies of her favorite movie stars. After graduating from the University of Georgia with a degree in Fashion Marketing, she moved to Hollywood to indulge her fascination with Tinsel Town. She is a member of the Hollywood Heritage Preservation Committee, and has served as a research consultant on the web series “Hollywood Trades.” In addition to leading the Old Hollywood Walking Tour, she designs custom private tours of historic Hollywood. When she’s not studying classic Hollywood, she loves to shop for vintage clothing and experiment with classic hair and makeup styles. Visit her website at

, , , ,

May 22, 2017

image Education

AMDA College and Conservatory of the Performing Arts – Music to Hollywood’s Ears

What does a music, dance, acting and performance art theater have to do with the preservation and rehabilitation of the Hollywood community? Quite a lot, actually. AMDA College and Conservatory of the Performing Arts began in Manhattan as the American Musical and Dramatic Academy, but has a home in Hollywood, where the school has been instrumental in the updating and re-purposing of old hotel, office, and apartment buildings.

The AMDA tower building at Yucca and Vine. (Courtesy photo)

The school’s LA campus is located at the lovely art deco Yucca Vine Tower and the Vine Building, both of which are modernized and vital structures thanks to the school.  Add to that the re-purposing of several older apartments and hotels – the most recent on Wilcox Ave. – as student housing, and AMDA gets an A for improving the community as well as for education.

AMDA’s Vine building, with the Tower building in the background. (Photo by Gary Leonard)

A fully accredited school, AMDA offers Professional Conservatory and Bachelor of Fine Arts degrees in acting, dance theater, music theater, and the performing arts to over 1400 students. And, every summer, the school runs a High School Summer Conservatory for performing arts training. With performance theaters, rehearsal space, film and TV editing and production facilities, and a performing arts library, this hands-on college has everything students need to learn about and succeed in the arts – plus a lively living scene close to the Capitol Records Building.

Tony Zimbardi, director of stage and media production, wears many hats overseeing and coordinating the facilities and programs at AMDA.

Student performers at AMDA. (Courtesy photo)

“I am in charge of all of the live production, I do a lot with the film department, and help oversee and coordinate our facilities. I’ve been here coming up on twenty years, and started in the New York City school before we opened this campus.”

According to Zimbardi, who moved to LA permanently in 2008, what makes AMDA unique is that the school’s training is geared toward the performer, including the courses for bachelors’ degrees.

AMDA students prepare for their careers in the heart of Hollywood. (Courtesy photo)

“Even our critical studies classes, you are not just fulfilling a requirement, you are taking entrepreneurship, industry courses, something that’s going to help a performer after they graduate. Secondly, all of our training is performance based, that’s unique,” Zimbardi notes. “A lot of schools kind of limit when a student can get in a production, some limit auditioning into cross-discipline productions, so an acting student couldn’t go out for dance show, for example. But all of our productions are open from the moment students get here. From their first semester on, they can audition for anything they want. Nothing is program specific at all.”

Along with the ability to participate in all programs as soon as they step foot on campus, students are also drawn to the ability to create short films in their upper semesters. “All of our acting students write and perform their own scenes. We have a whole arm that we call the Artist Lab.

Students filming at AMDA. (Courtesy photo)

“It allows students to develop their own material, and helps them write plays, monologues, musicals, whatever they wish,” he explains. “They can write their own film scenes and shoot them, or create a short film as a class project. Students are creating their own material, writing it, and then shooting the material. We want them to be able to create work as an artist after they graduate as well.”

Zimbardi is also pleased that along with impacting students, AMDA has indeed made an impact on Hollywood itself. “We have definitely made a difference, with more young people, students, just more life coming into the immediate area, and by taking historic buildings and adapting them to modern use. Our most recent dormitory space addition was the old Gilbert Hotel. We kept the historic [exterior] of the building but gutted it to the bone inside, redid the rooms, turned the retail units into services for students, including a gym and a computer lab.”

AMDA student housing in the restored Gilbert Hotel in Hollywood. (Courtesy photo)

Zimbardi and AMDA have also assisted with events in the Hollywood Entertainment District. “It’s second nature to us to support community events. With a recent Old Hollywood Locals Night, we helped set up a sound stage, provided musical acts – it was a great event to be a part of. We love getting out and sending performers to different events such as those for the Police Activities League or Sunset & Dine,” he attests.

Tony Zimbardi of AMDA volunteers at the recent Old Hollywood Locals Night events. (Photo by Devin Strecker)

It’s a positive symbiotic relationship: offering its students proximity to the heart of the entertainment industry, and considering Hollywood itself a part of the classroom experience, AMDA is devoted to supporting the city as well as their students.

AMDA College and Conservatory of the Performing Arts
6305 Yucca St.
(800) 367-7908

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

, , , , , , , , ,

May 4, 2017

image Entertainment

Hollywood History: The TCL Chinese Theatre

The glitz and glamor of Hollywood is nowhere as present as at the historic TCL Chinese Theatre, which opened in 1927.

According to Alwyn Hight Kushner, president and C.O.O. of the theater, “This is our 90th anniversary year. The theatre opened showing Cecil B. DeMille’s King of Kings. Sid Grauman’s concept was to build this mecca to the movies, and he did. We have hosted more premieres than any other theatre in the world.”

The Chinese Theatre in Hollywood, circa 1957. (Courtesy photo)

While the theatre also serves as the local movie-going experience for its Hollywood neighborhood, over 5 million visitors a year visit the famous forecourt with its celebrity handprints and footprints. “We also host VIP guided tours that take you through the inside of the theatre, and explore the history, special events, and premieres happening over the years,” Kushner relates.

“I think that Hollywood is it’s own brand, and people from around the world are intrigued by our location and the theatre. The TCL Chinese Theatre is the epicenter of the movies. People come here to experience the magic of movies and of Hollywood. The theatre represents that.”

The years have brought a variety of changes to the movie palace. Grauman never owned the theatre, instead holding a 1/3rd interest with partners that included Douglas Fairbanks, Sr., Mary Pickford, and Howard Schenck. He sold his share to Fox West Coast Theatres and remained the managing director until 1950. Declared an historic-cultural landmark in 1968, the theatre was later owned by Mann Theaters. In 2001, with the opening of the Hollywood & Highland shopping center, the six-screen multiplex was added on the mall’s upper level. “In 2012, our naming rights partner TCL came on board, and they helped to make possible all the great renovations and restoration here,” Kushner explains.

In 2013, the Chinese underwent conversion to become the largest IMAX screen in the world, and then installed the first IMAX laser system in the country.

TCL Chinese Theatre in 2017. (Courtesy photo)

Constructing the IMAX screen involved a lot of effort. “The proscenium and the ceiling are historic, so in order to get stadium seating without destroying them, we had to dig into the ground. The first half of the stadium is an above-ground structure, but when you get to the cross aisle half-way down to the bottom in front of the screen, we went and took out the pre-existing basement and orchestra pit and actually went down into the dirt to get the additional volume in the room without sacrificing historic features. It was a pretty big excavation.”

But adding their impressive IMAX screen is just one part of the film-going picture at the Chinese.

“Because we do so many premieres and you have the actual filmmakers and producers and actors who made the film coming to watch it here, the audio and visual presentation has to be superior. We take great pride in making sure people are seeing the movie exactly in the way that the filmmakers intended,” Kushner relates. “This carries through to the smaller Chinese 6 Theatres upstairs. We host smaller premieres up there, and hundreds of screenings for private industry, press junkets, test screenings, indie films, and film festivals. And so throughout the theatres the same quality applies.” The TCL Chinese hosts film festivals including AFI, TCM, and Dances with Films every year. Kushner says each festival brings something different to the theatre, and finds it hard to pick a favorite.

Along with pristine film presentation, the theatres have a full liquor license and offer food from sandwiches and chicken fingers to fries. “Prohibition has ended,” Kushner laughs. “You can now enjoy a cocktail with your movie.”

But what Kushner loves best about the theatre is not any single element. “It’s such an outstanding place to see a movie. It’s this historic movie palace with unique defining features. You couldn’t find a place like this anywhere in the world. The history that comes with this is so special, and the audio and visual experience is first class.”

Alwyn Hight Kushner, president and C.O.O. of TCL Chinese Theatre. (Courtesy photo)

The combination of historic beauty and first class, cutting-edge technology draws crowds every day of the week.

“There are so many options for watching movie today – from cell phone to a big screen TV at home. We need to go that extra mile and be sure that we’re offering our patrons a way to come out and see a movie that is worth experiencing. I think that is important, and it’s something I really value here at the theatre,” Kushner says.

The theatre is celebrating it’s 90th anniversary with a special screening of “Cleopatra” on Monday, May 1, 2017.

TCL Chinese Theatre
6925 Hollywood Blvd.
(323) 461-3331

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

, , , , , , ,

April 28, 2017

image Architecture & Planning

Hollywood Wayfinding Signage Program

Hunt Design has been engaged by LADOT to design and assist in implementing wayfinding signage elements for digital display parking-related signs as well as unique ‘branded’ signage for identification of public parking structures. The scope includes a parking structure-related pedestrian wayfinding sign program around four parking facilities managed by the City of Los Angeles.

The Hollywood BIDs have enacted a parallel but complementary scope of work that will result in a comprehensive Hollywood wayfinding program that will incorporate pedestrian wayfinding elements to direct visitors to our many attractions and destinations throughout the Hollywood Entertainment District and Sunset & Vine District.

, , , , , , , , ,

April 26, 2017

image Community

The Sidewalks of Hollywood

Last weekend, one of my board members sent me a link to a list: “The Biggest Tourist Traps on Earth.” He was apologetic, but as I read it, I sighed. The Walk of Fame is listed there with the Blarney Stone, Graceland, the Taj Mahal and 23 other locations. Hollywood’s description suggests a neighborhood that has been forgotten by the city of Los Angeles and our tourism officials. It’s hard to not acknowledge the truth in their claims.

If you go to Los Angeles on vacation, don’t go to the Walk of Fame unless you like walking past . . .  abandoned buildings while . . .  fending off buskers, the homeless and people trying to sell you their mix-tape.

During the summer season tourists walk a gauntlet that is an assault on their senses. Often, I am embarrassed when I see how foreign tourists are manipulated into jumping on a tour van that takes them on a fake tour while milking them for their cash. The article’s description of Hollywood continues:

It also reeks of urine and on warm days it hangs thick in the air and stings the nostrils like opening a sealed case of apples left rotting for a year in a dank cellar.

Encampments on the sidewalk and the alcoves on Hollywood Blvd. is an all-too-common sight. (Staff photos)

It’s hard to argue with this perception. Our sidewalks – the paths that shape the Hollywood experience – are at risk. If the BID was not washing the Walk of Fame twice a week, it would be far worse. There are no public restrooms in arguably the city’s most cherished tourist destination. For years, we asked city officials to install public toilets and a public restroom was promised for the Vine Street parking structure which opened five years ago. Didn’t happen. The default has been to allow people to relieve themselves on the streets, and the situation has been exacerbated by the homeless crisis we are experiencing.

Further, there is a cohort of  people that some might label “homeless” who have made a lifestyle choice, for now to live on the streets. Word is out: come to Hollywood to do drugs, panhandle, and sleep in private alcoves where trespassing laws are no longer enforced. Better yet, set up a tent and bring your friends. With Prop 47 now the law of the land, you can shoot heroin and smoke crystal meth with minimal threat of arrest.

Since 2014, public drug usage has become increasingly common on Hollywood Blvd. (Photo by Gary Leonard)

We can hardly keep up with the cleaning and our private public safety team is constrained in their enforcement efforts. The city has failed to regulate sidewalk behaviors – aggressive street characters, CD-peddlers, tour bus hawkers, food trucks camped all day at one parking meter and unregulated sidewalk vendors. There is a perfect storm of public policy, legal settlements and lack of city leadership that has resulted in a foreboding sense of lawlessness on the streets of Hollywood. Despite COMPSTAT statistics that suggest crime is down, we must institute a better measure to capture the perception of safety to hold officials accountable.

Walking our sidewalks will reveal that the problem is growing. Pulling back from enforcing basic quality of life laws results in a slippery slope toward neighborhood atrophy. I believe the majority of our property owners are doing their part by investing significantly in their properties and projects. They have also assessed themselves over $42M since the BID was formed to work collectively in creating a safe and clean Hollywood. But we can’t do it alone.

We are at a critical point in our redevelopment story. It’s now time for real leadership and action from the city to protect its most precious economic engine. We need to take our sidewalks back!

*Note: all photos taken within the past two month.

Kerry Morrison is executive director of the Hollywood Property Owners Alliance.  She serves on the United Way/LA Area Chamber Home For Good Task Force and blogs at @KerryHMorrison

, , , , , , , ,

April 24, 2017

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.

, , , , , , , , ,

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 To register, click here.

, , , ,

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.

, , , , , , , , ,

April 10, 2017