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All Hail Hollywood Heritage

Last week a group of friends and supporters gathered on the roof of the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel to celebrate the 35th anniversary of Hollywood Heritage, the non-profit organization that’s been “fighting the good fight” to preserve the history that surrounds us in this ever-changing community. Current president Bryan Cooper enumerated the many victories HH can claim over its long history, including the listing of 13 blocks of Hollywood Boulevard (including more than 100 buildings) on the National Register of Historic Places. The eloquent actor Michael York, a longtime supporter, reminded us that we all live in the equivalent of a World Heritage Site: the problem is that too many people take it for granted.

Hollywood Heritage Museum

Courtesy of Hollywood Heritage

That can’t be said for the steadfast supporters who gathered last Thursday, including Marsha Hunt, Julie Adams, James Karen, George Takei, William Wellman, Jr., and Fred Willard, as well as historical-minded Hollywood professionals like Marc Wanamaker, Craig Barron, cinematographer John Bailey and his wife, editor Carol Littleton, Suzanne Lloyd, Los Angeles magazine columnist and man about town Chris Nichols, producer Larry Mirisch, and city councilmen Mitch O’Farrell and Tom LaBonge, to name just a few.

Over the years, Hollywood Heritage has saved innumerable buildings and historic neighborhoods. Cofounders Frances Offenhauser and Christy Johnson McAvoy are still active with the organization; that kind of loyalty is inspiring, to say the least. It’s also exciting to have the active participation of Jesse Lasky’s daughter Betty and Cecil B. DeMille’s granddaughter Cecilia DeMille Presley. Like the Los Angeles Conservancy, the group is not opposed to progress or change: all they ask is that developers be sensitive to history and tradition. Original  plans for the Arclight Theater in Hollywood would have encased the distinctive Cinerama Dome in a ring of shops and restaurants and hidden it from public view. After a series of meetings, the backers agreed to keep the Dome intact on Sunset Boulevard and build aroundit. That’s what I’d call a win-win.

The same can be said for the current construction project at Columbia Square, the 1930s CBS radio facility just a few blocks away. Because of lobbying and negotiations, the new mixed-use high-rise will retain some of the original modern façade instead of demolishing it.

Cecil B. DeMille office recreated

Cecil B. DeMille’s office, which he used while making “The Squaw Man,” is lovingly recreated at the Barn. (Photo Courtesy of Hollywood Heritage)

Hollywood Heritage’s proudest achievement is the rescue and restoration of the DeMille-Lasky Barn, where The Squaw Man was filmed in 1913. Situated in a parking lot opposite the Hollywood Bowl on Highland Avenue, this volunteer-run museum is perhaps the best kept secret in Los Angeles. It houses a world-class collection of Hollywood memorabilia—including a replica of Cecil B. DeMille’s original office—and welcomes visitors to special events and screenings all year long. (Right now the Museum is closed as a new back deck is being constructed to house a replica of a silent-film stage.)

This summer, Hollywood Heritage and The Silent Society will once again host silent-film screenings under the stars at the Paramount Ranch in Agoura Hills: Cecil B. DeMille’s Why Change Your Wife (1920) screens on July 19 and Ernst Lubitsch’s Lady Windermere’s Fan (1925) plays on August 16th, with piano accompaniment by Michael Mortilla. Longtime supporters like Randy Haberkamp, who co-founded the Silent Society (and now works for the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences) continue to lend support and encouragement to these and other activities.

Lasky-DeMille scale model by Eugene Hilchey

This scale model by Eugene Hilchey reveals the exciting new addition now being added to the Lasky-DeMille Barn: a living model of a silent-film stage, with a muslin “roof” to diffuse the sunlight. (Photo courtesy of Hollywood Heritage)

But the struggle continues. Too often, thoughtless or greedy developers want to tear things down, and some politicians are swayed by the big bucks involved. Smart, caring citizens like the folks at Hollywood Heritage favor intelligent compromise; that’s why they deserve everyone’s support. You can learn more by clicking here: www.hollywoodheritage.org.

Leonard Maltin is one of the world’s most respected film critics and historians. He is best known for his widely-used reference work Leonard Maltin’s Movie Guide and its companion volume Leonard Maltin’s Classic Movie Guide, now in its third edition, as well as his thirty-year run on television’s Entertainment Tonight. He teaches at the USC School of Cinematic Arts and appears regularly on Reelz Channel and Turner Classic Movies. His books include The 151 Best Movies You’ve Never Seen, Of Mice and Magic: A History of American Animated Cartoons, The Great Movie Comedians, The Disney Films, The Art of the Cinematographer, Movie Comedy Teams, The Great American Broadcast, and Leonard Maltin’s Movie Encyclopedia. He served two terms as President of the Los Angeles Film Critics Association, is a voting member of the National Film Registry, and was appointed by the Librarian of Congress to sit on the Board of Directors of the National Film Preservation Foundation. He hosted and co-produced the popular Walt Disney Treasures DVD series and has appeared on innumerable television programs and documentaries. He has been the recipient of awards from the American Society of Cinematographers, the Telluride Film Festival, Anthology Film Archives, and San Diego’s Comic-Con International. Perhaps the pinnacle of his career was his appearance in a now-classic episode of South Park. (Or was it Carmela consulting his Movie Guide on an episode of The Sopranos?) He holds court at leonardmaltin.com. Follow him on Twitter and Facebook; you can also listen to him on his weekly podcast: Maltin on Movies. — [Artwork by Drew Friedman]

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