Threatened with demolition, the longtime Sunset Boulevard home of The Hollywood Reporter is up for landmark status, and a city committee will consider the merits of its Historic-Cultural Monument application Tuesday.
In the meantime, here’s a look at the complex as it appeared in the 1930s, when architect Douglas Honnold gave the front-facing building its recognizable facade, with curving lines and sweeping gold trim. The images were used in advertisements for Sunset House, a barber shop and high-end menswear business that briefly operated in the property before folding in 1937.
Started by Hollywood Reporter founder Billy Wilkerson, the business was designed to appeal to the movie stars and snappily dressed crime lords that roamed the Hollywood area at the time, according to Wilkerson’s son William R. Wilkerson III.
Wilkerson, who is the author of an upcoming biography of his father due out next year, tells Curbed that the elder Wilkerson, a “chronic gambler,” was prone to impulsive decisions. As such, when an assistant purchased inferior quality clothes from New York (rather than London), Wilkerson closed the haberdashery rather than try to pass off the lesser merchandise to his well-heeled clients.
Later, Hollywood Reporter staff moved into the space occupied by Sunset House, in time for the paper’s rise as one of the most influential news sources in Los Angeles—and required reading for movie industry professionals.
Wilkerson tells Curbed that Ronald Reagan, incensed by a bad review, once charged into the office looking to fight its author. The actor and future president slipped on the parquet floor before he got the chance, says Wilkerson.
Another time, after the paper published a story critical of nationally read columnist Sheilah Graham, the author’s paramour, F. Scott Fitzgerald, showed up at the Hollywood Reporter complex hoping to challenge its founder to a duel.
“My father wasn’t there,” says Wilkerson. “He waited, according to my father’s secretary, for close to an hour and stormed off to his local barstool at Musso’s.”
The property is also inextricably linked with one of the darker moments in Hollywood history: the McCarthy-era blacklist, which Wilkerson helped to launch, publishing the names of left-leaning film industry professionals in his weekly “Tradeviews” column. William Wilkerson III wrote a formal apology for his father’s actions published by The Hollywood Reporter in 2012.
Despite the paper’s dark past, the younger Wilkerson still hopes the structures that housed it for more than 50 years will be preserved. “It’s one of the few remaining examples of the late Art Deco period in Hollywood,” he says.
In a statement to the Art Deco Society of Los Angeles, which nominated the property for landmark status after it became clear that developers of a massive project centered around Hollywood’s historic Crossroads of the World complex planned to demolish the now vacant collection of buildings, Wilkerson said that razing the property “would be tantamount to destroying a Rembrandt.”
The Art Deco Society calls the design of the complex an example of the “exceptionally uncommon Hollywood Regency Moderne” style. An offshoot of Art Deco, this glamorous style of architecture and interior design was influenced by the work of Hollywood set designers in recreating the extravagant opulence of bygone eras. These photos give a sense of that lavish attention to detail.
In addition to its architectural integrity, wrecking crews may also want to be careful about disturbing the building’s spiritual inhabitants. Wilkerson says that, in the 1970s, a shop foreman told him his father was still in the building (Billy Wilkerson died in 1962). Reports of ghostly sightings picked up in the late 1980s, when The Hollywood Reporter moved out of the complex and it was remodeled for new tenants.
If labeled a city landmark, the property could still be razed, but city officials would be able to delay demolition for up to one year in order to explore opportunities for preservation.
In August, the Los Angeles Cultural Heritage Commission recommended the property for landmark status. On October 31, the city council’s Planning and Land Use Management Committee will decide whether to accept that recommendation and pass the matter on to the full council for a final decision.