Hollywood Blvd Architecture: The Real Walk of Fame
Hollywood Boulevard’s forgotten past is what tourists should really be looking at.
Every day Hollywood Blvd is quite literally trampled, mostly by tourists, seeking to find some sort of connection to the historic home of their beloved movie collection. Although Hollywood Blvd may be disappointing in that sense, I don’t think it’s really given a fair shot at leaving a remarkable impression. Year-round, hordes of folks scuff over the Walk-of-Fame, their heads glued to the (apparently) iconic sidewalk, snapping photos of the nearly-identical stars; the allure escapes me, and no doubt disappoints some visitors. To add tackyness to tourist trap, all you have besides the sidewalk are tattoo parlors, touristy bars, and souvenir shops.
But above the stars, and above the transom of stores full of chotchkies, still stands a much more fascinating and significant tale of Hollywood’s history: the skyline that made Hollywood a center for banking, advertising, radio, and film. The handsome Beaux Arts and Art Deco “skyscrapers” of the early 20th century – the frozen music of what Hollywood Blvd once was – should excite those looking for a piece of film lore. Unfortunately, the architectural echoes of Hollywood seem to go largely unnoticed. A trip down Hollywood Blvd from Vine Street to La Brea Avenue should be spent looking up into the annals of history that have remained relatively untouched, rather than down at the repetitive graveyard of Hollywood obscurity.
Taft Building [SE Corner of Hollywood & Vine]
The 12-story tower was built in 1923, when the Taft brothers bought the Hollywood memorial Church at Hollywood and Vine for $125,000. They razed the church and built the first twelve-story, zoning-regulated height limit building in Hollywood. From basement to roof construction, the building appeared in the record time of sixty five days. The building was built for A.Z. Taft Jr. by architects Walker & Eisen, in the Renaissance Revival style, with classical ornamentation decorating the lower and upper stories. The building was designed to give its owners the prominence on the boulevard that they felt they had earned within the community; the architects selected a conservative neo-Renaissance motif, as suitable for an office building of such stature. The 1924 opening had motion picture stars in attendance, but at the outset, the steady tenants of the building were primarily doctors, dentists (struggling actor Clark Gable allegedly had his dentures made here), and lawyers. However, over the years it would go on to house the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, which overlooked Hollywood and Vine from the top floor for over a decade, as well as the offices of Charlie Chaplin and Will Rogers. Ostensibly, the Taft Building is where many of Charlie Chaplin’s films were conceived and written. By 1930, there were seven talent agencies in the Taft Building, one of which would later become the basis for the ICM agency. And in that same year, the Taft Building would become the home of none other than New York’s Variety magazine and would also house The Hollywood Reporter for a period. Another notable tenant of the building was The Catholic Motion Picture League of America, affiliated with the Legion of Decency, to help keep Hollywood within the margins of good taste (their offices later relocated to Chatsworth… Just kidding). The largest union for movie crews in 1935 was the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees (IATSE) who housed their West Coast headquarters in the Taft Building. Top ad agencies, who funded the radio programming, resided in the Taft and Equitable buildings. Betty White launched her career by finagling her way into a meeting at ad agency Needham, Louis and Brorby, whose offices were on the fifth floor of the Taft Building. After realizing she didn’t hold a union card, the producer allowed her to say one word in the commercial, which was the beginning of an illustrious career in Hollywood.
The Broadway Building (B.H. Dyas building) [SW Corner of Hollywood & Vine]
Opposite the Taft Building, the Broadway Building is a similarly Renaissance-revival style Beaux Arts block of bricks, complete with ornamented corinthian columns and a rooftop cornice. Built in 1927 by architect Frederick Ride Dorn, the Broadway Building was initially opened as the B.H. Dyas Specialty Emporium, before eventually changing hands (and namesake) to the Broadway Department Store in 1931. The opening of a large scale retail outlet in Hollywood signified a trend that would continue over the next several decades: the sprawling residential and commercial expansion away from Downtown LA’s historic core. It also certainly cemented the notion that Hollywood was a rapidly growing city-center for not only entertainment industry offices, but a liveable environment where folks could shop and live as well. The building has been featured in numerous movies over the years, including Charlie Chaplin’s “Modern Times” in 1936. The building has undergone several renovations over the years, mostly to the interior, with the exterior only experiencing changes at the ground level. In the last decade, the upper floors have been converted to upscale lofts and the ground floor has become home to Katsuya, an upscale sushi restaurant.
Hollywood Equitable Building [NE Corner of Hollywood & Vine]
Formerly named The Bank of Hollywood Building, The Equitable Building of Hollywood was the third high-rise office building built at the intersection of Hollywood and Vine. The monumental Art Deco structure would be a statement symbolizing the new money flowing towards Hollywood. Planning for the Equitable Building began in 1927 on the NE corner of Hollywood and Vine, which was for many years the site of a house, then a used auto lot, and ultimately a one-story bank before being cleared for construction in 1929. Planned and financed by the drug store magnate Sam Kress, and designed by architect Aleck Curlett, the Equitable Building would house a bank on the ground floor, a brokerage office that would connect Hollywood to Wall Street, as well as office space for various industries. As was popular at the time, the building was designed and decorated in the Art Deco style (then called simply “Moderne”); it’s towering vertical orientation was complemented by detailed bas-reliefs, gothic gargoyle-like faces, geometric lines, recessed window bays, and a copper roof. Soon after it’s opening in 1930, the building was attracting high profile advertising agency folks like Myron Selznick, Williams Esty and Company, and Young and Rubicam Company. As radio boomed in Hollywood, the Equitable Building became the stomping ground for the likes of Henry Fonda, Penny Singleton, and Arthur Lake. In 1949, Belasco’s restaurant opened at 1710 N. Vine Street on the ground floor, and shortly after in 1951 the larger bank section of the ground level was taken over by Bernard Luggage Company. Over the last few decades the Equitable Building has changed hands and tenants several times, only most recently experiencing a renovation with a ground-level sports bar and upscale lofts above.
Hollywood First National Building [NE Corner of Hollywood/Highland]
One of my favorites on this Ultimate Architectural Hollywood Blvd Walking Tour (that’s right, we just named this bad boy). Imagine how this would have loomed over the boulevard when it debuted in 1928; it was the second tallest building in Los Angeles (after City Hall) at the time of it’s construction. Built in the Gothic / Art Deco style by architects Meyer and Holler, the building crescendos at 13 stories with a tower complete with flying buttresses that are reminiscent of a Gothic cathedral. It’s gargoyle-like eagles, step-back leveling, geometric vertical orientation, and classically-inspired inscriptions and sculptures make it a textbook, stunning example of late 1920’s architecture in Los Angeles. The building’s original marquee tenant, First National Bank, was hit hard by the great depression and wiped out shortly after the building was constructed. It seems that over the following decades it was host to various offices, agencies, and banks, although detailed information is hard to come by. Eventually it was taken over by Security Pacific Bank which folded in 2008. The building currently sits largely vacant and forlorn, allegedly (and unfortunately) difficult to sell or lease due to structural and electrical problems.
Security Trust & Savings (Security Pacific Bank) [NE Corner of Hollywood & Cahuenga]
Also known as Security Pacific Bank, this Italian Romanesque / Beaux Arts block of a building was the pioneer of Hollywood’s “skyscrapers.” Built in 1921 by the famous father son duo John and Donald Parkinson (notable for the Title Guarantee Building, LA Memorial Coliseum, LA City Hall, LA Union Station), the Security Trust & Savings building was the tallest building in Hollywood at the time of it’s grand opening in 1922. As was fitting for the unveiling of such a landmark, the opening was attended by thousands of Los Angeles bigwigs and was complete with a live orchestra, performance artists, and tours of the bank and its vaults. Apparently booklets were handed out titled In the “Valley of the Cahuengas – Would That Those Old Indians Could See It Now” (I decided that was a little wordy for the title of this article). Allegedly this bank branch was where Howard Hughes stored his prized jewels, Cecil B DeMille sought film financing, and Charlie Chaplin and the Three Stooges did their regular banking. These days, the intersection of Hollywood and Cahuenga, where the former bank stands, has been dubbed “Raymond Chandler square,” in homage to the iconic LA crime novelist whose legendary private detective protagonist Philip Marlowe was purported to have held his fictional office in the Security Trust & Savings building. Over the later decades of the 20th century, as Hollywood largely slid into disrepair, the building suffered some dark years, hosting more transients than actual tenants. The building remains boarded up on the first floor, but is home to a collection of random office tenants on the floors above. Rumors have floated around that there were plans to convert the property into a hotel, but its ownership is enigmatic and its future remains unknown.
If you’re interested in historic preservation or just a nerd like me, check out and support:
“The Story of Hollywood: An Illustrated History” By Gregory Paul Williams