Have You Ever Wondered…Who Is This Man?
August 7, 2015
I recently started a new photography course at Julia Dean’s Los Angeles Center for Photography on Wilcox Avenue near Sunset. Every Monday night, I park near Hollywood Blvd and walk to class, enjoying the amazing Art Deco buildings that line that street—the Hollywood Post Office, the Citizen News Building, etc. One evening I noticed something odd. The two plinth-mounted lanterns in front of the Post Office building were different. The one on the left was topped with a stylized brass acorn while the one on the right sported a small bust of a man in a rounded hat. Who was this man, I wondered, as I walked past night after night. A founding father of Hollywood? A former president? The architect himself in a moment of self-appreciation? I had to find out!
So, I set out to research the building itself. The Hollywood Post Office at 1615 Wilcox Avenue, which is listed on National Register of Historic Places, was built in 1935 as a Treasury Relief Art Project (TRAP) for the WPA (Work Projects Administration). The building was designed by self-trained draftsman turned “moderne” architect, Claude Beelman who is best known for the Cedars of Lebanon Hospital, the MGM executive offices in Culver City and the gorgeous Eastern Columbia building downtown.
Together with Los Angeles architectural firm Allison & Allison, he designed the Hollywood Post Office in the Classical PWA Moderne style with distinctive Art Deco touches such as stylized floral motifs, colorful terrazzo floor and fanciful grillwork on the windows. The original P.O. boxes, still in operation, feature a Greek border and star-shaped key holes.
WPA projects usually had an art component to them, and so too does the Hollywood Post Office. Inside, on the far right is a wooden door marked “private” topped with a carved wood bas-relief piece depicting a man embracing two horses. Named “The Horseman,” the piece was carved by WPA artists Gordon Newell and Sherry Peticolas in 1937.
Most interestingly, in its heyday, the Hollywood Post Office became a dead letter repository for love letters to Hollywood celebrities. Thousands of envelopes addressed to stars like Clark Gable or Judy Garland, marked simply “c/o Hollywood, CA” found their way, along with letters to Santa, to the Wilcox station over the years.
But back to our mystery. I climbed up on to the platforms supporting each of the giant lanterns out front. Examining the one on the left, I noticed it was topped with just a simple brass acorn. Then I crossed the steps and climbed up to inspect the right lantern more closely. The little man had been stuck on quite sloppily, with thick yellow rivulets of glue dripping down the back. It appeared he had been placed over a matching acorn. I moved around the front. Something about the man’s face looked very familiar, but I just couldn’t place it.
I went inside and was soon introduced to custodian, Robert Rollice. A very kind man, he took me on a tour of the interior, explaining how much of the building is never used. He told me about a catwalk system that runs throughout the back area where the postmaster general would walk, examining the staff’s work. Then we went out front and I showed him the little statue. He’d never noticed it before. “Hey, that looks like that Clockwork Orange guy, doesn’t it?” he observed immediately.
I looked closer and lo and behold he was correct. The little man was a plastic statuette of Malcolm McDowell in full Droogie attire, painted brass-colored, and glued clumsily to the lantern’s top. How long has he been there, we both wondered, looking out over Hollywood and its daily comings and goings? And who put him there?
I’m not sure we’ll ever find out but let’s hope he stays up there long enough for people to come by and say hello. Only in Hollywood….
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.