Preservation Playbook – Could ‘Hollywood Heritage’ Become an Oxymoron?

DEEGAN ON LA-What do we remember…and why? That’s an intriguing question. How important are concepts like legacy and heritage? Why is #TBT (“throwback Thursdays”) embedded in our current culture? How about the term “Back in the Day?” These memes can connect us with times and places. 

And they reinforce the great interest in what is reflected about our past that we are leaving behind as we speed forward in this over-amped world. Overlay this recall process with the word “Hollywood” and you get a hurricane of memories and a flood of emotions that may be washed away, even as we desperately try to hold onto them. 

Right now, the memory of our Hollywood past is being downsized; we are losing, or have already lost, physical symbols that trigger those memories as we witness the demolition of buildings with historic architecture. One notable trigger right now is the Hollywood Reporter building at 6713 Sunset Boulevard in Hollywood, {see photo above) a source of recollections for many. 

There’s the building itself, the owner/operator/legend Billy Wilkerson and his publication, the Hollywood Reporter -- a combination of man and his iconic masterpieces. 

First, the building and its contextual importance to Hollywood history and heritage. It has been described by the Los Angeles Conservancy as “Regency Moderne” architecture, generally referring to the use of color accents and contrast, lots of lacquer, and a style that projects opulence. Regency Moderne, thanks to celebrity decorator William “Billy” Haines, is sometimes called Hollywood Regency. 

This is how the Regency Moderne style of Wilkerson’s building is described in the application for Historic-Cultural Monument status that was submitted by the Los Angeles Conservancy. Any one or two of these features would be welcome in today’s new sterile construction: 

  • white-veined black marble cladding 
  • a concave entrance with a curved band of signage 
  • brass-colored cornice 
  • a bronze-colored band set above three display windows 
  • three large bronze medallions 
  • a rounded corner with fluted concrete above 
  • a tall marble bulkhead 
  • an accordion-style door display window cover 

The interior of the subject property is designed in a Regency style with elements that include an ornate fireplace, chandeliers, wood paneling, and wood parquet floors. 

The Hollywood Reporter building at 6713 Sunset Blvd was recently voted by the Los Angeles Cultural Heritage Commission for consideration as a Historic-Cultural Monument, an important event in the eventual preservation of the structure, and in the short run, if the City Council approves, this will stop any demolition of the building for up to one year. In politics, twenty-four hours is a long time, so a year provides ample opportunity to take a long hard look at alternatives to destroying this monument to Hollywood’s heritage. 

Criteria for Historic-Cultural Monument status is set by the City’s Cultural Heritage Commission and includes the subject property reflecting “a broad cultural or social history of the community.” The Hollywood Reporter building has this, as the 155-page City Planning Recommendation Report supporting HCM status states. 

Another data point is that the building be “identified with historic personages.” 

Enter William R. Wilkerson, known to all as “Billy,” a colorful character in Hollywood’s Golden Era, already saturated with colorful characters. He was renowned as a raconteur, serial husband with six marriages, hotelier, and restaurateur of stylish celebrity eateries like Ciro’s and the Cafe Trocadero. Another hat he wore was as owner of the Sunset House Haberdashery & Barbershop, which was the original use of the building now under consideration for monument status. 

His colorful legend includes allegedly hiding out in Paris after gangster Bugsy Siegel purchased Wilkerson's stake in the Flamingo Hotel in Las Vegas in what has been called a nasty transaction. He was also, as her family has verified, responsible for discovering actress Lana Turner at the soda fountain in the Top Hat Cafe while she was ditching typing class at the nearby Hollywood High School. 

This is enough to marry mythology to reality: Wilkerson was a man making important Hollywood history as the owner of the Hollywood Reporter he founded in 1930 that still chronicles and announces Hollywood narratives today. He was doing this while working in a historic building and reporting on the happenings of Hollywood. It can’t get too much more historically germane than that. 

Anybody who thinks we should be satisfied with today's “legendary” Hollywood figures -- or the characterless structures that are replacing historic structures in Hollywood -- has not spent enough time reflecting on true Hollywood Heritage, an evaporating legacy with a reflecting pool that is running dry.


(Tim Deegan is a long-time resident and community leader in the Miracle Mile, who has served as board chair at the Mid City West Community Council and on the board of the Miracle Mile Civic Coalition. Tim can be reached at Edited for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.