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Thursday, Jun 8, 2023

HOLLYWOOD — Hidden Hollywood

Like archaeologists digging up forgotten treasures in the tombs of Egypt, developers are discovering unknown architectural gems in an unlikely spot Hollywood Boulevard.

A renaissance of sorts along L.A.’s most famous tourist street began last year with construction of the Hollywood & Highland project by TrizecHahn Corp., which was followed by dozens of property sales and rising property values. Long-decrepit stretches of the boulevard have been bought by speculators looking to cash in on the district’s rising fortunes.

In many cases, these buyers have discovered more than they bargained for. Buildings long boarded up or covered over with flimsy new construction are discovered to be loaded with unknown wonders, like detailed facades dating from the Art Deco period.

“It’s urban archeology. One of the interesting things is finding the things (that were seen in old photos), as well as the hidden treasures that didn’t show up,” said Peyton Hall, architect and principal at Historic Resources Group in Hollywood, which is advising a number of developers on Hollywood Boulevard projects.

One of them is the Pig & Whistle, an old pub adjacent to the Egyptian Theatre, which itself was renovated in 1998.

Partners Chris Breed and Alan Hajjar, who have already invested $2 million in the Sunset Room supper club on Cahuenga Boulevard, are spending $750,000 to restore the look of the 73-year-old Pig & Whistle structure, where the likes of Spencer Tracy, Howard Hughes and Shirley Temple once cavorted.

Although the building’s trademark canopy made of carved fleurs-de-lis, arching ridges, shields and dancing pigs holding whistles remained relatively intact and open to view, a wealth of unknown details turned up when the new buyers began examining the inside of the structure.

“We were caught by surprise when we found a hidden staircase under a loose floor panel,” Hajjar said. “It connects to the basement and is like a secret hideaway.”

Built in the Churrigueresque style a Spanish baroque design popular in the 1920s and known for its fanciful details the 3,500-square-foot building’s ornate interior was covered up with a variety of facades. A drop ceiling (hanging eight feet lower than the original) covered the hand-carved, painted plaster beams, made to look like dark wood. About 75 holes were punched through the surface of the original ceiling that now require repair. In addition, plywood covered the plaster moldings lining the wall, punctuated with 20-foot-high light niches and bowls.

Restoration plus modernization

Though the goal is to modernize the Pig & Whistle with outside seating, floor-to-ceiling glass windows, oak wood floors and crystal chandeliers, Hajjar said he and his partner are in negotiations with Gardena-based Moonlight Molds Inc. to restore the original details of the site. Moonlight helped restore the Roosevelt Hotel in 1987 and worked with UCLA three years ago to restore Royce Hall.

“We’ll take down part of the pieces and bring them back here and mold them and replace them,” said Tom Takahashi, an estimator at Moonlight.

Just down the road, David Gajda and Jose Malagon snatched up a vintage-1921, 26,000-square-foot building last month at Hollywood and Ivar Avenue, the onetime home to Schwabs haberdashery, Western Union and Hollywood Beauty College.

“It was 98 percent vacant and didn’t look particularly appealing, but these buildings are harder to come by in Hollywood and we wanted to be part of the area’s comeback,” said Malagon, who also owns design firm Fine Line Events.

But after peeling back the shabby wooden facades, Malagon discovered the building was a lot more appealing than he had thought. The new owners found three second-story arches made of terracotta. The boards were removed from the interior to showcase brick walls.

“We knew the outside wasn’t the original, and we were able to crawl through the gap between the inside drop ceiling and the wall to see what was truly hidden,” Malagon said.

Surrounding the arches are rich details of floral carvings and rows of miniature columns, which will be restored as the building is converted into a first-floor restaurant and second-floor office space, Malagon said.

Another high-profile project is the massive restoration of the Equitable Building at the northeast corner of Hollywood and Vine.

Developer Gilmore Associates, known for its restoration of historical buildings including its ongoing conversion of bank offices to loft-style residences in downtown L.A., bought the 12-story edifice last August. Gilmore is investing $15 million, including acquisition costs, to gut, paint and restore the Art Deco building.

Working with the feds

Because the structure is on the National Register of Historic Places, Gilmore Associates gets a federal tax deduction for its work on the project. That means the Secretary of the Interior’s office must approve all design plans.

The relationship often means there are tradeoffs, said Charles Loveman, a partner with Gilmore Associates.

“We had a situation where we wanted to remove the original black-and-white checkered vinyl tile in the corridors, and the historic people said we had to keep it. They said, ‘Just throw carpet over it,'” Loveman said. “It took this big discussion as we wondered whether the original developers wanted this tile to be here for 80 years, but the solution works. That was the biggest pain in the butt, but it turned out not to be a big deal.”

Much of the exterior artwork along the first floor was covered over with a stucco fa & #231;ade, according to Barry Milofsky, partner at M2A Milofsky & Micheli Architects in Hollywood.

During the renovation process, a variety of details have been uncovered, including the original Bank of Hollywood plaque and rich ornamentation such as corbels, twisting-rope trim, floral details and a number of hand-carved, gnome-like gargoyles. Although not all are intact (many have missing faces), Milofsky said, key remnants remain.

“Luckily, we have one of everything left, so we can cast new molds. On the faces, we have one right side or left side, so we can make reverse models,” he said. “But this is painstaking. It’s like a sweater if you pull one string, then another, the whole thing falls apart.”

Once completed, the first floor will house the Hollywood & Vine Diner, the Ultra Lounge Nightclub and the Hollywood Prop Department general store, occupying a total of 12,300 square feet. The rest of the building’s 102,700-square feet will be used for office space.

“The response from the tenants has been amazing,” Loveman said. “There’s a tremendous love for these buildings that have been neglected, and when they’re brought back to life, everyone wants a piece of them.”

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