Posts Tagged ‘Hollywood Bowl’

Eugene Plummer, the Last of the Dons

Saturday, August 5th, 2017

Eugene Rafael Plummer (Los Angeles Public Library)

By Allan R. Ellenberger

He was straight of stature, succinct of speech, and as well-versed in nature as he was in the old days when Hollywood was not yet a dream and Los Angeles was a dusty pueblo.  Eugene Rafael Plummer, the man for whom Plummer Park in West Hollywood was named, was born in San Francisco on January 8, 1852. His father, John Cornelius Plummer  was a Canadian sea captain and his mother, Maria, was half Spanish and half Irish, a mixture which gave the younger Plummer the fire and romance of old Spain and the devil-may-care temperament of the Irish.

When Eugene was 16, Captain Plummer moved his family to Los Angeles where he homesteaded 160 acres of land where the Ambassador Hotel stood. He later acquired property which is now bounded by Wilshire and Beverly Boulevards, and La Brea Avenue and Vine Street.

In 1828, the land that now encompasses Plummer Park was a part of the 4,439 acre Rancho La Brea, granted by Governor Echandia to Antonio Rocha. After several selling’s, the property was sold to Major Hancock in 1865 for $2.50 an acre. In 1874, Plummer acquired the official title to the Plummer Rancho comprising 160-acres between Sunset and Santa Monica Boulevards and La Brea and Gardner Avenues.

That same year, on the three acres of land that eventually became Plummer Park, Captain Plummer’s sons, Juan (John) and Eugene built their home, a typical ranch house.

Plummer House, the home of Eugene Plummer that stood in Plummer Park for over 100 years. (Los Angeles Public Library)

In the early days Plummer’s home was the only habitation from Hollywood to the Plaza district and rattlesnakes, cactus and bandits were his only companions. Later, his home was the headquarters for the Vaquero Club, a group of adventurous horse riders.

In 1881, Plummer married Maria Amparo La Moraux and the couple had a daughter that they named Frances. As a court reporter for 25 years, she would befriend the pueblo’s Mexicans and act as their interpreter in court cases.

As early as 1922, the acreage was unofficially called Plummer Park. Six years later, options were offered by a committee of prominent bankers and businessmen to make it official. Plummer hoped to make around $25,000 from the deal but nothing ever came of it. In 1925, his wife Maria died and was interred at Hollywood Cemetery next to his father John.

By this time, Eugene Plummer was Hollywood’s oldest resident, and his homestead became its oldest residence. Each year, he would host the old-timers picnic which was open to as many of Hollywood’s original residents that were still living.

Gradually, Plummer’s debts continued to mount until he was forced into foreclosure. Ironically, Plummer once owned 142 acres where the Hollywood Bowl now is and sold it to a company named Burnoff & Teal for $2,400. In the 1930s, that same area was worth millions.  In 1935, Plummer Park was registered as a landmark. Finally, the county stepped in and acquired the Plummer land in 1937 for $15,000. Plummer was sad at the passing of his heritage, but never bitter.

Development of the park began the following year with the construction of a recreation building called the Great Hall/Long Hall at a cost of $65,000. The Spanish style structure, made of stucco and a red tile roof, included a dining room seating 300 persons. The building also had a library and reading room. The patio, adjacent to the kitchen, would seat 600 and was shaded by three ancient olive trees.

One condition of the purchase was that Senor Plummer be permitted to occupy the premises as long as he lived. The county designated him as the historical guide for the park. Plummer Park was filled with a fine collection of rare trees and plants. One pepper tree had a branch growing out horizontally over seventy-five feet in length. The limb was trained by Plummer by keeping a horseshoe on the end of it for many years.

The old frame home built by Plummer and his brother in 1874, was now used as the headquarters of the Audubon Society, and the office of the park superintendent. A modern home adjacent to the parks property became Plummer’s new home where he lived for the remainder of his life.

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In his later years Senor Plummer would sit beneath the shady pepper trees of Plummer Park, rolling cigarettes from loose tobacco, or break store-bought cigarettes into three lengths and smoke them a few puffs at a time in an old amber holder. Between puffs, he would conjure up memories of the “good old days” for anyone who asked.

Pepper trees were his favorites. “They kept the flies away,” he maintained. There was the time he chased a deer all the way up to what is now the corner of Hollywood and Highland and lassoed it. Nearby, in a little arroyo, he killed a giant brown bear after it had been gored in three places by a wild bull.

Once, in Laurel Canyon, he shot an antelope on the hillside but couldn’t find the bullet hole. “You scare him to death, senor,” said the old Indian who was with him. But it was later found that the bullet went right up the spine and lodged in the antelope’s brain. “Once in a million times,” said the Don concisely.

When Helen Hunt Jackson was writing “Ramona,” she used to visit Senor Plummer at his home for advice the early days of California. “If anybody is Alessandro, I am,” he said once during an interview, “for I showed Mrs. Jackson how young Spaniards and Indians made love.”

Senor Plummer welcomes actress Ruth Roland and banker G. G. Greenwood to Plummer Park.

Plummer delighted in wearing a tan leather jacket given to him by his friend Buffalo Bill. Another of his friends in the early days was the bandit Tiburcio Vasquez, who was shot by authorities in 1875. Plummer’s presence at the park gave it an air that no other presence could.

The plan was to keep the park in its original state for a unique gathering place for groups and societies. Barbecues and songfests under the old peppers and the eucalyptus trees were planned as the whirl of Hollywood traffic sped by. Visitors were sheltered by the towering blue gums, the gnarled old olives and the gigantic cypress that Plummer planted with his own hand in the late 1800s. Besides the old ranch house, the servant’s houses, the old barns, the barbecue pit, the old windmill, and the rodeo grounds, it became a chapter of the past brought into the present for the public.

Year after year Senor Plummer continued to enthrall and entertain the visitors to his park. To the last his mind and memory remained keen and filled with humorous memories. Then, one day, the Don suffered a heart attack in his home at Plummer Park. He wanted to remain at his hacienda with his collections of saddles, boots and guns, but friends convinced him to go to the hospital where he sank into a coma from which he never recovered. Senor Eugene Plummer died on May 19, 1943. He was 91 years old.

Eugene Plummer’s death certificate. (Click on image to enlarge)

Rosary for Eugene Plummer was recited in the chapel of Pierce Bros. Hollywood Mortuary. Mass was celebrated the following day at St. Ambrose’s Church at Fountain and Fairfax Avenues. More than 300 persons, most of them descendants of some of California’s oldest families, attended the rites. Plummer was interred next to his father and wife at Hollywood Cemetery.

The Plummer Family marker at Hollywood Forever Cemetery. The names of  Plummers’ father and Eugene’s wife Maria are engraved. For whatever reason, Senor Plummer was never marked.

The Eugene Plummer family plot at Hollywood Forever Cemetery.

As for the Plummer House, it was known as the “Oldest House in Hollywood” and was designated as State Historical Landmark No. 160 in 1935. The Audubon Society continued to use Plummer’s old homestead to house their library and exhibits until 1980. Sadly, vandals set fire to it twice, and ruined the Audubon’s library and exhibits. The house was almost destroyed and stood abandoned and filled with trash for over two years. It was almost razed. Happily, the Leonis Adobe Association heard about the house’s fate and arranged with the county to move the front part to the Leonis Adobe grounds. The house has since been repaired and restored, and is now a Visitor’s Center and Gift Shop.

The old house that Plummer and his brother built was moved to Leonis Adobe grounds in Calabasas.

Plummer Park was once again in the news for the drastic changes that the city of West Hollywood planned. If you asked visitors to Plummer Park, or members of West Hollywood’s city council, who Eugene Plummer was, they probably wouldn’t know. Virtually nothing remains of the park that Don Plummer knew and loved, and sadly, there is only one plaque that mentions him. Hopefully, that will be corrected.


When in Los Angeles, visit Plummer Park at 7377 Santa Monica Blvd. in West Hollywood.

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The Story of the Lasky-DeMille Barn

Sunday, December 22nd, 2013

HOLLYWOOD HISTORY

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This month celebrates one-hundred years since director Cecil B. DeMille arrived in Los Angeles and rented a barn in the sleepy village of Hollywood to make The Squaw Man.

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By Allan R. Ellenberger

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Paramount Pictures traces its beginnings back to the founding of Adolph Zukor’s Famous Players Film Company on June 1, 1912. In 1916, Zukor merged his company with the Jesse L. Lasky Feature Play Company, and with the Paramount Distributing Corp., a subsidiary. The new studio became Famous Players-Lasky Corporation and their films would be distributed under the Paramount name. In 1927 the organization was reorganized under the name Paramount Famous Lasky Corporation. In 1935, the Famous-Lasky name was dropped and the studio officially became Paramount Pictures.

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During Paramount’s acquisition of the Lasky Feature Play Company, the studio inherited an unpretentious, at least by Hollywood standards, wooden barn. The origins of that barn have had several incarnations. This is one version.

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In 1913, Jesse Lasky, a thirty-three year-old vaudeville producer, knew very little about films and how they were made. What he did know was that the fairly new entertainment medium was cutting into his stage show business. One day as Lasky and his partner, Cecil B. DeMille were going over the plans for the 1913-1914 Vaudeville season, DeMille dropped a bomb on his friend and partner.  DeMille was having problems living on his royalties and his debts were piling up, so he told Lasky he wanted to quit Broadway and go on an adventure. There was a revolution going on in Mexico and he thought about going there. Lasky did not want to lose his best friend so he blurted out an idea that another friend, Sam Goldfish (he later took the name Samuel Goldwyn) had been trying to interest him in—the movies.  Suddenly Lasky made a suggestion. “If you want adventure,” Lasky told him, “I’ve got an even better idea—let’s make some movies.”

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DeMille grabbed his hand and said, “Let’s.”

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“A portion of the motion-picture industry was built on that one word,” Lasky later said.

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From left: Jesse Lasky, Samuel Goldfish (Goldwyn) and Cecil B. DeMille

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But Lasky had one condition. He had seen a four-reel feature starring Sarah Bernhardt called Queen Elizabeth (1912) which Adolph Zukor of the Famous Players Film Company had imported from France for exhibition. If they were going to do this, he wanted to “do it in a big way and make a long picture like Queen Elizabeth.”

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After lunch they adjourned to the Lamb’s Club on West Forty-Fourth Street to discuss the details. At the club they ran into actor, Dustin Farnum and, while explaining their idea, asked him if he would star in a long feature they were going to produce. Looking around the room, Farnum saw Edwin Milton Royle the author of The Squaw Man. “You get Royle to sell you The Squaw Man and I might agree to join you,” Farnum told them.

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After some discussion, Royle was open to negotiating so Lasky called Goldfish and told him “they were in business.”

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The Jesse L. Lasky Feature Play Company was formed with Lasky as president, Goldfish the general manager, and DeMille would be the director-general. They each held a quarter of the stock and Farnum agreed to take the other quarter instead of receiving a salary. They paid $15,000 for the rights to The Squaw Man.

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At first they planned to film it Fort Lee, New Jersey, just across the river from New York, but Lasky didn’t think that would satisfy DeMille’s penchant for adventure, so he suggested they go to Flagstaff, Arizona where he knew there were real Indians. “It did not seem necessary for us to go to the then new Hollywood, so we looked at the map and selected Flagstaff, Arizona, as a pretty good name for our producing town,” Lasky said.  

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DeMille was agreeable but Farnum balked at the proposal. As long as he could live at home and work across the river he was willing to be paid off in stock, but if he had to travel across the country, he wanted his salary in cash. With the entire proposition on the verge of collapse, Lasky convinced his wife’s uncle and brother to invest and purchase Farnum’s stock. Reportedly, if Farnum had held onto the stock for eight years, he could have sold it for almost $2,000,000.

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The new producers hired a cameraman with his own camera and they engaged Oscar Apfel to help direct the production. Lasky and Goldfish remained in New York and attended to the sales and financial details as DeMille and Farnum took the train west.

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When DeMille finally arrived at Flagstaff, it was raining, so they boarded the train again and continued west to Hollywood. Once there, he sent a telegram to Lasky: “Flagstaff no good for our purpose,” DeMille wired, “Have proceeded to California. Want authority to rent barn in place called Hollywood for $75 a month. Regards to Sam. Cecil.”

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Goldfish was furious. Lasky defended DeMille’s decision even though he was not sure it was the right one. After arguing for hours they finally agreed to let the company stay in Hollywood. “Authorize you to rent barn but on month-to-month basis,” Lasky wired back, “Don’t make any long commitment. Regards. Jesse and Sam.”

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The barn that became their studio was located in a grove of orange and lemon trees on the southeast corner of Selma and Vine. Built in 1895, it was once a part of the estate of Colonel Robert Northam, whose mansion was located across the street where the Broadway building now stands. In 1904, Northam sold the estate to Jacob Stern, a realtor who, in March of that year, sold the barn to Harry Revier, a producer-director. In December 1913, Revier rented it to DeMille.

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Remodeling the barn into a studio to fit their needs began immediately. The horse stalls were removed and the space gained was transformed into a storage area for equipment the company hoped to buy. The carriage stand was turned into offices, a projection room and a primitive laboratory. The washing block was surrounded by walls and called a vault and the hay and feed section was made into an office, shared by DeMille and Lasky. A 30-foot square platform was built to adjoin the barn on the south side. This platform, the company’s first stage, was covered with a sail rigged to a mast, which could be adjusted to regulate sunlight.

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Shortly, DeMille wired Lasky that production was starting the next day. On December 29, 1913, DeMille ordered “camera” for the first scene of The Squaw Man. The excitement that the production was finally beginning convinced Lasky to come out to Hollywood.

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When Lasky arrived at the old Santa Fe Station, he told a taxi driver that he wanted to go to Hollywood. “He gave me a puzzled look,” Lasky recalled, “but said, ‘Get in boss—we’ll find it.’” After conferring with other drivers at the Alexandria Hotel, they found their way over dirt roads, past endless orchards and the occasional farmhouse until they came to the Hollywood Hotel. Lasky introduced himself to the clerk and made inquiries about the film company.

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“This is my first trip here and I’m not sure where our studio is located,” he told the clerk. “Would you please direct me?”

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“I’m sorry,” said the clerk, “I never heard of it.”

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“Perhaps I should have told you that the director-general of the company is Cecil B. DeMille,” Lasky stated.

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“Never heard of him,” the clerk said. Disappointed, Lasky was leaving when the clerk called him back.

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“Tell you who might help you,” he said. “Drive down this main road till you come to Vine Street. You can’t miss it—it’s a dirt road with a row of pepper trees right down the middle. Follow the pepper trees for about two blocks till you see an old barn. There’s some movie folks working there that might know where your company is.”

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When Lasky heard “barn” he knew he had the right place. He found the barn at Selma and Vine with a sign that identified it as the Jesse L. Lasky Feature Play Company. When he opened the door he heard someone say: “There’s the chief.” Outside there was a two-ton Ford truck with the company’s name inscribed on its side. When DeMille saw him, he grabbed his hand and gathered the company around and gave a speech of welcome. Afterward he had a photographer take a photo of Lasky and the company against the truck.

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Cecil B. DeMille (right) directs a scene from “The Squaw Man”

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DeMille finished The Squaw Man in three weeks, and Oscar Apfel took over the one stage for his production of Brewster’s Millions (1914), another successful stage play. Edward Abeles, who had starred in the stage production, was brought to Hollywood for the film, which was followed by The Master Mind (1914) and The Only Son (1914).

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When The Squaw Man was released, Lasky received a telegram of congratulation from Adolph Zukor, then president of Famous Players. Lasky thought it was generous of him to do so and knew the value of the telegraphic dispatch so he asked Zukor’s permission to use his congratulatory message in their advertising.

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Further improvements were made on the barn and the studio lot. In May 1914, electrical illumination was used for the first time to augment sunlight, when tow spotlights arrived from the East and were used in the production of Steward Edward White’s story, The Call of the North (1914). Meanwhile, the studio was expanding. The platform attached to the barn was outgrown, and a larger, open-air stage was constructed. This received the title of Stage Number One, and when the end of this stage was glassed over, Stage Number One became the pride of the studio and the wonder of Hollywood. Sheds extending from the Selma Avenue side of the barn formed the cutting rooms, carpenter and paint shops, and the first dressing rooms were constructed.

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The first feature film to be made on this stage was DeMille’s Rose of the Rancho (1914). This picture marked a definite step forward in the life of the studio, for this was the first film which was shot, in part, on location away from the stages. At this period the first major influx of stars started. H.B. Warner, Max Figman, Theodore Roberts and Mabel Van Buren joined the Lasky forces. Dustin Farnum returned to the studio to star in the first film version of Owen Wister’s novel, The Virginian (1914), under DeMille’s direction. In the east, Marguerite Clark made her screen debut in The Goose Girl (1915).

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Stage Number One was inadequate to handle the expanding production of the studio and a barley field to the south was annexed and Stage Number Two, an exact replica of Number one, was constructed. Soon a third stage was built, and then a fourth.

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On June 28, 1916, the Jesse L. Lasky Feature Play Company was merged with Adolph Zukor’s Famous Players organization, whose most important asset was Mary Pickford.  Zukor and Lasky combined forces and capital and purchased Paramount Pictures on July 19, 1916 and announced the formation of the $25 million Famous Players-Lasky Corporation, which included Paramount as its distributing channel. Zukor was elected president and Lasky was placed in charge of production.

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The Lasky Studios looking southeast from the corner of Selma and Vine.

The barn is on the far left of the photo.

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Within three years they acquired the entire block between Selma and Sunset on which the former barn was located. The barn was transformed into a small property room and the business offices were moved into a new administration building which extended practically the length of the entire block facing Vine Street. A new glass stage was erected 60 by 200 feet, and another glass stage of the same length. New carpenter and property construction shops were built 300 by 100 feet in size. The studio had extended its walls a full block.

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An aerial view of the Lasky lot (center)

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Further expansion continued and a vacant block on Argyle Street to the east was bought and was referred to as the “back yard,” containing fourteen garages and the street sets for outdoor filming. A new double deck paint frame was erected, eight times the size of the former paint frame, which at the time of its construction, was the largest on the Pacific Coast. Over 150 new dressing rooms were built for the stars, members of the organization and the extras. The studio also controlled the Morosco-Pallas Studios at Occidental and Council, and there, a new stage was built and the plant adjusted so that it could handle at least six companies.

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Beginning with a total staff of fifteen, just three years after The Squaw Man was completed the Lasky Company now had nearly a thousand on its weekly payroll. It had a complete printing plant on the grounds, which was used not only for printing sub-titles, but for preparing all stationary and the like. From having two automobiles, one of which was the personal property of Cecil B. DeMille, the Lasky Company now had fourteen cars, as well as three trucks. At the rear of the garages a complete machine shop was erected and all repairs were made by an expert mechanic and his crew. A concrete building was put up especially for the housing of transformers for the electricity for lights on the stages and the adjacent outdoor lot.

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A thousand-acre ranch near Burbank (now Forest Lawn-Hollywood Hills) was acquired as a site for out-door action. It was on this ranch that the studio’s growing collection of horses, cow ponies and cattle were held.

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On the studio’s twelfth anniversary, about 200 stars and well-known film executives attended and gathered in the old barn, now referred to as the “little grey home in the West,” for the celebration on December 14, 1925. Those attending included Ethel Wales, who was a casting director, secretary and, when needed, a leading lady; Mabel Van Buren, James Neill, Theodore Roberts, Dustin Farnum and others. Lasky was presented with a bronze tablet which was placed on the spot where the old barn stood.

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A month later, Famous Players-Lasky purchased the United Studios a few blocks south on Melrose Avenue and Marathon Street, reportedly for $5 million. Lasky would move their operations from the old Sunset and Vine lot to the new studio on May 1, 1926. “Although our studio in Hollywood has long been considered the best equipped plant in the country,” Lasky said, “it is not big enough to take care of the productions which we have scheduled for this coming year. The United Studios has nine stages and its 26 acres will enable us to expand our activities to take care of the production program we have in mind.”

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At the time there were no plans on what to do with the old lot, but Lasky was sentimental about the old barn and the studios beginnings, so he had it picked up and trundled over to the new location. In addition, the window frame that he used to gaze out from was removed and placed in his new private office.

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Top: An aerial view of the new Paramount lot. Note at the top is

Hollywood Cemetery and the new Cathedral Mausoleum on the far right.

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On the new Paramount lot, the old barn served as the studio library and later as the gymnasium. It became part of the studio’s western set, and a porch and railroad tracks were added outside. It was later used as part of the Bonanza television series set.  On December 26, 1956, the barn was dedicated as California Historical Landmark No. 554.

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The dedication to declare the barn a California landmark. From left:

Samuel Goldwyn, Cecil B. DeMille, Jesse Lasky, Leo Carillo.

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The barn remained on the lot until October, 1979 when Paramount gave the barn to the Hollywood Historic Trust, a cultural heritage arm of the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce. Until a decision could be made on what to do with the structure, it sat in the parking lot of Dennis Lidtke’s Palace, just north of Hollywood Boulevard on Vine Street. For the next three years it sat there becoming an eyesore to the community. Even though money was raised to restore the historic barn, there still was no permanent site to be found.

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When Jack Haley, Jr. wanted to film a television special at the Palace, he asked that the barn be moved. The Historic Trust offered to have the barn go to Universal, but preservationists knew it would become just another part of the studios tour. Eventually, Haley and Lidtke backed down on their request and the barn was allowed to stay until a site was found.

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The barn on the move.

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Meanwhile, Marion Gibbons, co-founder of Hollywood Heritage, and a board member of the Hollywood Chamber, proposed that her organization find the barn a permanent home. In May 1982, the Hollywood Historic Trust signed over the barn to Hollywood Heritage. They found a site on a grassy piece of land across from the Hollywood Bowl on Highland Avenue and signed the lease with the county on September 29 of that year. Gibbons and her volunteers finished painting the barn and getting it ready for removal from the Vine Street parking lot to the Bowl location. When completed, the barn was dedicated in December 1985 as The Hollywood Studio Museum.

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After a fire in September 1996, the museum remained closed until July 1999 when it was renamed the Hollywood Heritage Museum in the Lasky-DeMille Barn. When in Hollywood, be sure to visit the old barn where much of the early history of film took place. The museum is open from Wednesday to Sunday from noon until 4PM. For more information, visit their website at www.hollywoodheritage.org .

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The Hollywood sign’s history

Sunday, February 14th, 2010

HOLLYWOOD HISTORY

The story of the Hollywood sign

 

 

By Allan R. Ellenberger
February 14, 2010

 

The Hollywood Sign has recently been in the news because of developers attempts to build condominiums on nearby Cahuenga Peak. A move is on to raise money to buy the land and turn it over to the city of Los Angeles to become a part of Griffith Park and thus save the pristine view from the flats of Hollywood. To aid its case, the sign has been covered to read, “Save the Peak.”

 

The Hollywood Sign has had a remarkable and turbulent history and has endured its share of problems, including a suicide leap from the H, squabbles over who should maintain it, markings from mountain-climbing spray painters, hassles among community groups about its worth, and several threats over the years to tear it down.

 

The sign has been a major part of the local scenery for more than 86 years, longer than most city landmarks such as Grauman’s Chinese, City Hall, the Shrine Auditorium and UCLA. It even predates Mulholland Drive and is decades older than any freeway.

 

As most know, the Hollywood sign is the remnant of an advertisement for a 640-acre real-estate development. When it was erected in 1923 the sign said HOLLYWOODLAND, the name of the housing development on the slope just below it. The sign, however, was an afterthought.

 

As with many Hollywood origins, the sign’s beginnings also have more than one version. The one I chose for this article goes as follows:

 

 

In the spring of 1923, John Roche, a 26 year-old advertising and promotional man, was working on a brochure for the Hollywoodland subdivision. He had drawn in proposed home sites, streets and equestrian trails. Behind them, on the side of Mt. Lee, he had penciled in HOLLYWOODLAND.

 

When Roche arrived at the office of one of the project’s developers, Harry Chandler, then publisher of the Los Angeles Times, with the drawing, Roche says Chandler liked the idea and wanted to know if Roche could actually put up a sign that could be seen all over Los Angeles.

 

To get a good perspective, Roche went to Wilshire Boulevard, then a little, partially asphalted road, to see if he could see the mountain from there. Roche took photographs and then made drawings of the Hollywood hill. Roche determined that each letter would have to be 50 feet high to be visible from that distance. When he reported to Chandler that such a sign would be seen that far, the project began.

 

“I made a sketch almost that big,” Roche explained in 1977. “I took it to Mr. Chandler’s office about 11 one night – he sat in his office until midnight every night and would talk to anybody – and he said, ‘Go ahead and do it.’ We didn’t have engineers or anything. We just put it up.”

 

 

As Roche had determined, each individual letter was made 50 feet high and 30 feet wide. They were put together on metal panels, each three-by-nine-feet, and painted white. The next step was attaching the panels to a framework that consisted of wires, scaffolding and telephone poles, which were brought up the steep hillside by mules.

 

Fifty to 100 laborers dug the holes with pick axes and shovels. An access road was completed so the enormous sheet metal letters could be brought in. The sign was built in about 60 days at a cost of $21,000, Roche said. “I think we built it faster than you could today (1984).” Roche recalled the sign being lighted, but insisted there were not lights on the original HOLLYWOODLAND. “That came sometime later,” he said.

 

Regardless, at some point the sign was illuminated at night by a series of 4,000 20-watt bulbs that were evenly spaced around the outside edge of each letter. This required the services of a caretaker, Albert Kothe, who lived in a cabin behind the first “L” and maintained the sign and its lighting system. To replace burned out bulbs, Kothe would climb onto the framework behind each letter, new light bulbs tucked in his shirt.

 

Since it was planned to promote real-estate, it was not designed to survive the sale of the last lot. Public sentiment, however, led to keeping the sign long after its commercial function was over.

 

During the sign’s heyday, many stars bought homes in Hollywoodland. The highest lot above the sign was sold to comedy producer Mack Sennett, but he never built there. Sennett did use the sign, though, to pose bathing beauties between the O’s for publicity stills.

 

There have been rumors of several suicides from the sign, especially during the Depression years, but the only acknowledged one occurred in 1932, when a young actress named Peg Entwistle, who came to Hollywood from the Broadway stage the previous year, jumped to her death from the H.

 

In 1939, the lights were extinguished when the maintenance fund was discontinued by the realtors. It’s rumored that all 4,000 bulbs were stolen.

 

In 1945 the development company that owned it donated the sign and the land surrounding it to the city’s Recreation and Parks Commission as an adjunct parcel to Griffith Park. The sign by this point had been neglected and vandalized for several years.

 

The “H” falls down after a storm (LAPL) 

 

In January 1949 the H blew down in a windstorm, and nearby residents complained that the sign was a hazard and an eyesore. On January 6, the Recreation and Parks Commission announced that the sign would be torn down. They denied a request of the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce to alter and repair the sign to read Hollywood.

 

Several days later, Councilman Lloyd G. Davies (who represented Hollywood) introduced a resolution before the City Council that the Chamber of Commerce would repair the sign, at an estimated cost of $5,000, furnish bond to guarantee its maintenance and provide the city with proper liability coverage, if the parks commission would consent. Davies said his district was sensitive about becoming known as “ollywood.”

 

The parks commission later reversed its decision and allowed the first nine letters to be repaired and cut down the last four, to read HOLLYWOOD, therefore transforming it from a commercial display into a community one.

 

By the early 1960s, weather again had taken a strong toll on the sign’s condition. At a cost of $4,500, it was restored by the Kiwanis. At irregular intervals, several civic groups and the metal facing repainted, but little structural maintenance was done.

 

In 1973, the city once again threatened to tear down the sign. The Hollywood Chamber of Commerce and local radio station, KABC began a campaign to “Save the Sign,” hoping to solicit $15,000 from the public to finance structural repairs, replacement of fallen facing panels and a fresh coat of paint. That same year, the Los Angeles Cultural Heritage Board designated it a monument, thus giving it dignity but no money.

 

One woman sent the repair fund a large check with a note: “My little girl in 1925 learned to spell from the sign.” Another recalled a proposal of marriage made to her in 1944 up near the sign; she “foolishly” rejected it but wondered how many accepted proposals were made there. A third woman calculated that if “All the couples who parked up there sent in $1, there would be more than enough.” Fortunately the campaign was successful and the sign received a facelift and a reprieve — but it wouldn’t last for long.

 

On January 1, 1976, several young men, to mark the change in the marijuana law in California, masked the OOs with EEs made from white sheets. It read HOLLYWEED for a day.

 

Just a year later, in January 1977, the D became wobbly because of recent rainstorms and there was concern about how long it would stay in place. Up close, the sign creaked and rattled, even in a light wind. Its timbers were rotting. Sheet metal, rusted and corroded, fell from its face and loose securing cables dangled from some of the 50-foot high letters.

 

It was estimated that a replacement sign would go as high as $120,000. To generate interest in preserving the sign, a press conference was held at the base of the sign with invitations sent out accompanied by a snake bite kit.

 

The chamber hoped to use money raised in 1975 by KIIS radio station to do some cosmetic work on the landmark. “But the sign is in such bad shape it will do us no good to raise small amounts of money,” said Michael Sims, executive director of the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce. “We’re either going to lose it or take care of it. That’s going to be up to Hollywood. What we really need now is a guardian angel.”

 

A few months later, in April 1977, the sign was altered to read HOLYWOOD for Easter Sunrise service, viewable from the Hollywood Bowl.

 

The Hollywood sign in 1978 (LAPL)

 

The following winter, the final blow came as wind and heavy rainstorms once again took a toll on the sign. The top of the first O fell off, the Y buckled inward toward the hillside, and the last O collapsed completely.

 

A campaign was established once again to “Save the Sign.” Eventually, after several efforts to raise money was not sufficient, nine donors came forward, each choosing a letter, and contributed $27,777 each. The donors included: (H) newspaper publisher, Terrance Donnelly; (O) Italian movie producer, Giovanni Mazza; (L) Les Kelly (Kelly Blue Book); (L) Gene Autry; (Y) Hugh Heffner; (W) Andy Williams; (O) Warner Bros. Records; (O) Alice Cooper, in memory of Groucho Marx; (D) Dennis Lidtke.

 

The new letters were made of steel, and was unveiled on Hollywood’s 75th anniversary, November 14, 1978.

 

Caltech students pose for photo after altering the Hollywood sign (LAPL)

 

Over the following years unauthorized alterations have been made to the sign. In July 1987, it was changed to OLLYWOOD, (Ollie North) during the Iran-Contra hearings. During the Gulf War it read OIL WAR and in 1993, 20 members of UCLA’s Theta-Chi fraternity changed it to GO UCLA. They were charged with trespassing and this prompted the installation of a security system featuring video surveillance and motion detection. However, it didn’t prevent another institution of learning to alter it to CALTECH ten years later.

 

That brings us to the recent alteration of SAVE THE PEAK, to help raise money to purchase the 138-acre parcel to the west of the sign on Cahuenga Peak, preventing possible development that would permanently spoil the view. The land would become part of Griffith Park.

 

For more information on how to help, go to: http://www.savehollywoodland.org/

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Hollywood Bowl’s 87th Season…

Monday, June 23rd, 2008

  B.B. King, Liza Minnelli at Hollywood Bowl

(Ken Hively, Los Angeles Times)

The three performers, newly inducted into the venue’s Hall of Fame, give the season an all-star start.

 

By Don Heckman
Special to The Times
June 23, 2008

 

HOLLYWOOD – As the summer heat and a sense of nostalgia permeated the air, the Hollywood Bowl kicked off its 87th season Friday night with a stirring, fireworks-enlivened tribute to three new inductees into the Hollywood Bowl Hall of Fame. All — flutist James Galway, singer-guitarist B.B. King and singer-dancer-actress Liza Minnelli — were present and ready to perform.  READ MORE

 

Read Story at USA TODAY

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