McAvoy on Preservation: Conservation starts with a story — Hollywood craftsman had one in 1940

| August 2, 2018 | 0 Comments

PRESIDENT of Williams Art Conservation and a board member of Hollywood Heritage, Donna Williams is in the process of cleaning and conserving “Hollywood.”

Telling the stories of Los Angeles through preservation of its buildings is often hard work.  There are the formal processes:  Historic Preservation Overlay Zone (HPOZ) guidelines and the people to implement them, nomination of individual buildings (CBS Television City and the Musician’s Union, most recently) to the Cultural Heritage Commission. Many committed people throughout the city are involved: interested property owners, neighborhood activists, real estate developers, nonprofits like Hollywood Heritage and the Los Angeles Conservancy, city staff of the Office of Historic Resources and elected officials.

Despite formalized criteria, the significance of an individual property often seems, like beauty, to be in the eye of the beholder.  One story does not always resonate with everyone. That is the wonder of historic preservation in Los Angeles: there’s an amazing and diverse population of stories to capture.

Every person I’ve known who is attracted to the effort (cause?) starts from a different perspective. It’s often extremely individual and personal (“I want to save my family’s house;” “I want to be sure all of Paul Williams’ architecture is recognized;” “My father worked in this industry for years;” “We need to be able to understand how the city was built and who lived here.”)

So it starts with the idea of the place: what story do I want to tell?  What tools do I have to tell the story? What is the wider thematic history with which the property is associated?

In my opinion, the research and the crafting of the story has always been the fun part. Interviews, looking at historic photographs and maps, finding the article in the appropriate periodical, consulting with the scholar in the field, and walking through the building to see how it was crafted are all things I find compelling.  But I know that those pursuits are not for everyone.

While there are lots of people like me who do like the digging, others just like to view the finished product. That’s why we try so hard to create other experiences for the public to learn about and enjoy our city: walking tours, guide books, blogs, lecture series, social media, museum exhibits, movies, themed events devoted to particular places. The list is long and varied, but the goal is the same: find a way for people to enjoy spending time in historic places.

“Hollywood” in miniature

In 1940, Joe Pellkofer had a story he wanted to tell.  The owner of the Superior Cabinet Company and his 25 artists and craftsmen knew Hollywood thoroughly, and he thought that in addition to people who were able to see Hollywood for themselves as tourists and residents, others might wish to see a three-dimensional version of a landscape they had grown familiar with through the movies and travel brochures. He began to create “Hollywood” in miniature, a scale model of its streets and buildings on a platform 11 feet by 12 feet.  He surrounded the 45 main “blocks” (over 450 buildings) from Melrose to the hills and La Brea to Gower with a “cyclodrama mural” of the Hollywood Hills.

HOLLYWOOD in miniature includes 450 buildings and is on view at Hollywood Heritage by appointment.

The effort took four years.  Every elevation of the buildings was photographed for detail and scale. Municipal maps were used to obtain street directions and alignments. He spent almost $50,000 on photos alone.

Completed in late 1945, the model made its official debut in Hollywood on Jan. 4, 1946, to glowing reviews. “Just plain remarkable,” Hollywood gossip columnist Louella Parsons wrote. Her counterpart, Hedda Hopper, said the exhibit was “destined to create a sensation… breathtaking and truly amazing.” The exhibit traveled from 1946 to 1948. Pellkofer began to tour the country with his creation, exhibiting it at World Fairs and other venues. And then it disappeared into his barn in La Habra for decades.

In early 1986, it was briefly exhibited on the ground floor of the El Capitan Building on Hollywood Boulevard. The miniature had not been seen publicly since 1948. Then it went on display at the former Hollywood Entertainment Museum. It’s been in storage for more than two decades. Hollywood Heritage acquired “Hollywood” and another miniature, the “Paramount Studios Lot,” recently.

The “Hollywood” model includes diminutive versions of CBS Columbia Square, the NBC facility at Vine and Sunset, the Pantages Theatre Building, the Hollywood Brown Derby, and the Castle Argyle Apartments, among many others. It is hand-made, constructed of wood, paper, plastic and plaster with faux finishes depicting wood, brick, ceramic tiles and plaster.

Donna Williams, president of Williams Art Conservation Inc. and a board member of Hollywood Heritage, is in the process of cleaning and conserving these treasures. The display is housed in Hollywood Heritage’s “De Longpre Annex,” a storefront that was donated by Robertson Properties Group in a deal brokered by the Hollywood Property Owners Alliance, headed by Windsor Square resident Kerry Morrison.

To arrange an appointment to see this astounding achievement, contact Hollywood Heritage at 323-874-4005.

By Christy McAvoy

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Category: Real Estate

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