Have You Ever Wondered… Why Sunset + Vine Has A Streamline Moderne Facade?
December 15, 2014
Almost two years ago on November 30, 2012, the coolest Walgreen’s known to man opened on the corner of Sunset and Vine in the ultra modern, mixed use Sunset + Vine complex. The building is also home to a variety of great lunch spots, a Bed Bath & Beyond, and 300 loft-style apartments. But, if you walk north on Vine and look up, you’ll notice this super modern center has what looks suspiciously like a Streamline Moderne façade, complete with WPA-era ornamentation. Why would that be?
In the 1930s and ‘40s, the area between Hollywood Boulevard and Sunset Boulevard along Vine Street was known as Radio City due to all of the radio studios and radio-themed bars and restaurants that were located there. By 1938, NBC’s studio occupied the northeast corner, where the Chase Bank now stands, and on the opposite corner was the famous record store, Wallichs Music City. Next to that on Vine was a sleek Streamline Moderne building that eventually housed the West Coast headquarters of the American Broadcasting Company (ABC).
Built in 1937, 1539 N. Vine St. was originally a bowling alley called the Hollywood Recreation Center and boasted 22 lanes. Tom Breneman, who was Mayor of Encino and a popular radio personality, bought it and the Hollywood Roof Ballroom next door in 1938, converting them into a radio studio and Tom Breneman’s Restaurant. Fans lined up at 5am every day to watch him broadcast his live, mostly improvised show, Breakfast in Hollywood in studio. Upon Tom’s death in 1948, Sammy Davis Jr. and a team of investors purchased the building. They leased it to ABC who turned it into the ABC Radio Center. Frank Sinatra reportedly disc jockeyed there and Louella Parsons hosted her celebrity interview show from the center.
Merv Griffin bought the building from Sammy Davis Jr. in the 1970s, and transformed it into the TAV (Trans American Video) Celebrity Theater. Griffin broadcast his highly-rated talk show, The Merv Griffin Show from the studio until it ended in 1986. Other shows such as Headline Chasers, a syndicated game show that was hosted by Wink Martindale and ran from 1985-1986, were also filmed at the TAV.
In 1993 the building suffered a significant fire that left it uninhabitable. It soon became a magnet for teenage runaways and the homeless. Another fire in 1997 damaged the building even further, rendering it a dangerous shell. In 2004, developers incorporated what was left of the historic façade into the $125 million, 3-acre, five-story mixed-use Sunset + Vine complex.
The façade now serves as the entrance lobby for the apartments, melding Hollywood’s glamorous history as the entertainment capital of the world with its exciting new future as a trendy, urban neighborhood. If you look carefully, you can see the original rosette above Sunset + Vine’s front door. And above the Bed, Bath & Beyond sign and high up on the curved corner leading into the courtyard, you can see the Art Deco WPA-style details that once made this building so special.
Kim Sudhalter has worked with the Hollywood Entertainment District since its early years, helping to attract investment and revitalize the area. Originally from Europe and New York, she is an architecture and history buff who has a deep and abiding love for Hollywood and its past.