Monday, October 27, 2008

No. 194 - Hollywood Walk of Fame

Phil Spitalny's Walk of Fame Star

Hollywood Walk of Fame
Hollywood Boulevard between Gower Street and La Brea Avenue, Vine Street between Yucca Street and Sunset Boulevard – map
Declared: 7/5/78

So two things I’ve learned from researching for this post. First, it turns out we just missed the fiftieth anniversary of the Walk of Fame’s first (demonstration) star’s dedication. Secondly, for years I’ve been telling guests from out-of-town during the obligatory walks down Hollywood Boulevard that the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce hands out stars in four categories: radio; movies; TV; and recording. But, guess what? There’s actually a fifth category, and it’s for the rare-as-hen’s-teeth live theater/live performance star. I did not know that. Here’s a good trivia question: just one person has been awarded a star in each of the five categories. Who is it? The answer’s after the sports pages.

The Walk of Fame's Walk of Fame Star
Notice throughout the Walk how some radio microphones point up, some down. That’s sure possible, but I wonder if there’s a rhyme or reason.

It was the Hollywood Improvement Association’s president, Harry M. Sugarman, who came up with the idea of the Walk of Fame back in 1953. More than a million dollars was raised for the project, in large part by assessing businesses $85 per foot fronting the proposed 15,000-foot Walk. 2,500 pink terrazzo stars would be laid out in 3' x 3' squares along Hollywood Boulevard, from Gower to Sycamore, and up and down Vine, from Yucca to Sunset.

Star Set #1

Six demonstration stars were dedicated on August 15, 1958, at Hollywood and Highland, at the site of the old Hollywood Hotel. Actor Preston Foster drew honors in a lottery to get the first star.

Star Set #2

The groundbreaking ceremony for the $1,151,000 project was held February 8, 1960, with Sugarman, Linda Darnell, Gigi Perreau, Francis X. Bushman, Charles Coburn, and others attending. Afterwards, the group went to the Knickerbocker Hotel for lunch. I don’t know what they ate.

The Walk’s official dedication was part of 1960’s Santa Claus Lane Parade on November 23.

Bud's and Lou's Walk of Fame Stars
Bud & Lou...

Bugs & Rugs Walk of Fame Stars
... cartoon characters...

Lassie's and the Monkees' Walk of Fame Stars
... and even animals.

1,558 stars were dedicated in the sixteen months following groundbreaking. Apparently stars were awarded to not only anyone who had ever entertained, but also to anyone who had ever been entertained.

Bob Hope's and Johnny Grant's Walk of Fame Stars
Hollywood’s Citizen of the Century and its Honorary Mayor.

Here’s something: Charlie Chaplin Jr, in October, 1960, lost a lawsuit against Hollywood’s Improvement Association and the Chamber of Commerce for not giving his dad a star on the Walk of Fame. (Charlie Sr eventually did receive a star, but not until the 1970s when Hollywood was less Commie crazy.)

Celluloid Heroes
Hollywood’s Celluloid Heroes, some that you recognize, some that you’ve hardly even heard of.

In 1994, as star-space was running out, the Walk was extended another block westward to La Brea Avenue. Also, at Hollywood and La Brea, you can find the Silver Four Ladies of Hollywood, a gateway gazebo featuring anything but the likenesses of Dorothy Dandridge, Dolores Del Rio, Mae West, and Anna May Wong, a veritable United Nations of Hollywood stars. It’s also where the Beatles’ and Elvis’s stars are located.

Silver Four Ladies of Hollywood Gazebo
Dorothy Dandridge, Silver Four Ladies of Hollywood Gazebo
The Beatles' and Elvis's Walk of Fame Stars
The gazebo, what’s supposed to Dorothy Dandridge, and the Beatles and Elvis.

Zasu Pitts's and Sabu's Walk of Fame Stars
Sabu, Zasu. Zasu, Sabu.

You want a star on the Walk of Fame? Each year the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce’s Walk of Fame Committee reviews nominations during an official nomination period. The criteria for a star are professional achievement, longevity of five years in the entertainment field, and contributions to the community. If you’re alive, you need to attend the ceremony, if you’re dead, you’re off the hook (though you need to be dead for at least five years to be considered). Oh, and it costs $25,000.

Star Set #3

After the Walk of Fame Committee gives you the okay, the Board of Directors of the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce and the Los Angeles City Board of Public Works need to give their approvals. Finally, L.A.’s City Council bestows it thumbs-up. Then you’re in.

Dick Van Dyke's and Stan Laurel's Walk of Fame Stars
Dick Van Dyke got his star next to that to his idol, Stan Laurel.

The Chamber of Commerce dedicates about two stars per month on the two-and-a-half-mile Walk. Nineteen folks, including Howie Mandel, the late George Harrison, and the mostly-late Munchkins, got their stars in 2008. Twenty-five celebrities are scheduled to receive the recognition next year, including Cameron Diaz, Robert Downey, Jr, the Village People, and Tinkerbell.

Star Set #4

This past summer, the MTA set up a Walk of Fame Restoration Committee after it was found the landmark needed $4.1 million in repairs. This followed the 2007 removal of 132 terrazzo squares (sixteen of which featured celebrities’ names) at Hollywood and Highland due to buckling and cracks. (The MTA claims the damage is the result of exposure to the sun. Others think the sidewalk sinking nine inches during subway construction in 1993 may have something to do with it.)

Halle Berry's Walk of Fame Star
Halle Berry
Clearly, I need to get to some of these dedication ceremonies.

Gig Young's Walk of Fame Star
One of Hollywood's shooting stars (Spade Cooley has a star, Robert Blake does not).

As part of the planned two-year renovation, the city’s Bureau of Engineering gave each of the 2,365 stars a grade from A to F. Ten stars got an F, fifty received Ds, and 718 earned a C. Those 778 stars, along with 2,155 blank terrazzo squares, will be replaced.

The Hollywood Reporter's Walk of Fame Star
One of a few exceptions to the five categories.

Oh. The only person with a star in each of the five categories? The Singing Cowboy, Oklahoma’s Yodeling Cowboy, Public Cowboy #1, America’s Favorite Singing Cowboy – Gene Autry.

Gene Autry Walk of Fame Quintet

Finally, a Big Orange Landmarks congratulations to the person who suggested placing the Dead End Kids as the last and final star at the western edge of the Walk.

The Dead End Kids' Walk of Fame Star


“Group Lists Names for Hollywood Fame Walk” The Los Angeles Times; Aug 28, 1957, p. A6

“First Star Set in Hollywood Walk of Fame” The Los Angeles Times, Aug 16, 1958, p. B1

“Hollywood Gets Start on Its ‘Walk of Fame’” The Los Angeles Times; Feb 9, 1960, p. B1

“Chaplin Son Loses Suit on ‘Fame Walk’” The Los Angeles Times; Oct 14, 1960, p. 28

“Stars to Gather for Hollywood’s Walk Dedication” The Los Angeles Times; Nov 1, 1960, p. 21

Pool, Bob “Cost of Repairs for Hollywood’s Buckling Walk of Fame Trips Up Officials” The Los Angeles Times; Jul 17, 2008

Pool, Bob “Faded Stars to Shine Again on Hollywood Walk of Fame” The Los Angeles Times; Jul 22, 2008

Up next: Oviatt Building

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Friday, October 24, 2008

No. 193 - Pantages Theatre

Pantages Theatre

Pantages Theatre
1929 – B. Marcus Priteca and A.H. Heinsbergen
6233 Hollywood Boulevard – map
Declared: 7/5/78

What a difference fifteen months make.

When theater circuit magnate Alexander Pantages broke ground on his twelve-story Pantages Hollywood Theatre at the corner of Hollywood and Argyle on March 20, 1929, the playhouse was going to be not only the second Pantages theater in operation in Los Angeles, but it would also become the sixty-seventh in his long chain of vaudeville and movie houses. Things were looking good for ol’ A.P.

Alexander Pantages
Alexander Pantages, 11/3/1928

Jump forward to June 4, 1930. Pantages was listening to a radio broadcast of the theater’s opening night festivities from his hospital cot in the county jail, having recently been convicted of raping a seventeen-year-old actress. He was also facing charges of contributing to the delinquency of minors over an affair in a San Diego hotel (the “Love Mart” case). Further, his wife, Lois, was keeping a low profile after being convicted of manslaughter in the drunk-driving death of Joe Rokumoto at Sunset and North Serrano in 1928. And, thanks to the stock market crash, not only had his new Hollywood theater shrunk from twelve stories to two, but it would be the last in his theater empire. In fact, by the future landmark’s opening night, Pantages had dissolved his theater chain, trading nearly all of his theaters for stock in RKO and Warner Bros. As for the Hollywood Pantages, it opened under the management of Alexander’s sons, Lloyd and Rodney, and Fox West Coast Theaters. And Fox would wind up buying the Hollywood Pantages soon enough.

Pantage Theatre
Pantages Theatre

This was the third Pantages theater in L.A. The first was at 534 South Broadway (while it wound up being the Arcade, you can still see ‘Pantages’ on the its fa├žade). He then built the large theater at Seventh and Hill Streets around 1920. That Pantages Theatre, better known as a Warner theater, is now the Jewelry Mart.

Pantages Construction
Pantages Theatre
The theater’s unfinished in the top shot.

To design this massive theater, retail, and office building (210 feet on Hollywood, 310 along Argyle) in Hollywood, Alexander Pantages turned to his go-to guys, Scotsman Benjamin Marcus Priteca and, for the interior, Dutchman Anthony Heinsbergen. This would be the twenty-second theater they built for Pantages, including the Seventh and Hill joint. The Bartlett Syndicate Building Corporation handled construction.

Pantages at Night
Pantages Theatre

Here’s an artist’s rendering of what the twelve-story Pantages Hollywood Theatre was going to look like. It’s from the Los Angeles Times, January 3, 1930.

Pantages Theatre, original 12-story plan

Although it was announced at groundbreaking the building would cost $1.25 million, an L.A. Times report from May 1930 listed the price at $750,000. Maybe that was the reduced cost for the reduced building. I see all over the web, though, the building ran between $1.25 million and $1.5 million.

On that opening night at spring’s end in 1930, the auditorium held 3,000. The stage, behind a $6,000 drop curtain, measured seventy feet deep and 140 feet wide. Upstairs, the projection room was “… of especial interest. It is equipped for any future developments in the motion picture industry, including television.”

Pantages Auditorium Balcony
Pantages Auditorium

Eddie Cantor emceed that first night. Lloyd Pantages gave a little speech of thanks. Fanchon and Marco presented a revue, Rose Garden Idea, and “Slim” Martin and his jazz band performed a few tunes. On the screen were a Mickey Mouse short, “The Cactus Kid”, and Marion Davies in The Florodora Girl.

Pantages Lobby
Pantages Lobby
The lobby.

Comparing the pictures below, it sure is hard not to miss that original marquee and the element on top of the vertical ‘Pantages’ sign. But what’s cool is, in the vintage picture, you get to see Frank Fink’s Apparel Shop to the left of the theater. What’s even cooler is when you realize the folks behind the Frolic Room next door there today chose to keep the same look of type in its outstanding neon sign.

Pantages Theatre
The Frolic Room
Pantage Theatre

When it comes to the fates of Alexander and Lois Pantages, money is a wonderful thing. Both were convicted for their crimes. However, in Lois’s case, instead of serving time, she got ten years probation after she showed the judge she was too ill to go to jail… and once her husband showed the dead man’s family’s attorney a check for $78,500. Lois Pantages, who “had been in excellent health and spirits”, died suddenly from a heart attack on her yacht off Catalina Island in 1941 at the age of 53.

Pantages Theatre
Pantages Theatre
Pantages Theatre
The foyer. I sort of remember that ceiling being covered up in the 1990s. Anyone recall? Oh, and see 'RKO Pantages' above the display case.

Pantages, not looking forward to fifty years in prison, hired a pair of crafty lawyers and won a retrial. In the new trial, they assailed the character of Alexander’s alleged victim, teenager Eunice Pringle. Pantages was acquitted in 1931. He died in bed on February 17, 1936, in his mansion at 590 North Vermont (it was razed in 1950).

Howard Hughes and RKO bought the Pantages theatre from Fox in 1949, with Hughes setting up an office for himself on the second floor (to scope out the dames at Hollywood and Vine, no doubt). Over the next eleven years, the RKO Pantages (you can still see RKO written clearly in the theater’s foyer) hosted the Academy Awards half a dozen times. The Pantages was also the home of the Emmys until 1977.

Pantage Theatre
Pantages Theatre

After having leased the theater for two years, Pacific Theatres bought the Pantages at the end of 1967. Pacific did some minor renovations, with the theater serving primarily as a movie house until 1977. That’s when the Nederlander family stepped in. They, along with Pacific Theatres, restored the Pantages and, on February 15, 1977, re-opened the theater as a legitimate house once again. The first show of this new era was the musical, Bubbling Brown Sugar. Later in 1977, the numbers of seats, which had bottomed out at 1,512, was restored to 2,691.

Pantages Theatre
Pantages Theatre

The theater’s current era began with the new millennium. To gear up for a giant production of Disney’s the Lion King, the Nederlanders poured $10 million into renovating the seventy-year-old landmark. It paid off, too – the musical ran for more than two years, beginning in October 2000. Another popular run, starting in May 2003, was The Producers, with Jason Alexander and Marin Short. Wicked opened at the Pantages in February last year. Eight musicals, including Grease and Fiddler on the Roof, are scheduled for the theater after Wicked wraps its run in January.

Pantages Theatre
Pantages Theatre
The Argyle side.

At the end of last year, the Nederlander family, along with the Claret Group out of New York, announced since times were good and the real estate market was so rosy and all, the Pantages was finally going to get those long-lost ten stories of office space, plunked right atop the existing two-story building. Estimated at a cost of $75 to $100 million, the project would take as long as four years to complete, we were told. Now, I have no idea what the current plans are, but I wouldn’t blame the parties involved if they changed their minds considering what’s gone down during the past couple of months (i.e. everything). If anything, I’ve learned a valuable lesson here – whenever plans are announced to build the Pantages to twelve stories, one would be wise to sell.

Pantages Theatre
Pantages Theatre

The Pantages is an Art Deco masterpiece. I’ve been in a bunch of times, but, since I wasn’t going to fork over the cash to take in Wicked, I didn’t get in for this post (I’m not sure it would matter, as the Pantages is anti-photography, too). You can see loads of links to interior pictures on this Los Angeles Theatres site.

The black and white shots here are from a variety of sources, including the L.A. Public Library, USC’s Digital Archive, and the California State Library.

Pantages Theatre


“Another Link for Showhouse Chain” The Los Angeles Times; Mar 21, 1929, p. A9

“Mrs. Pantages Arraigned” The Los Angeles Times; Jul 18, 1929, p. A1

“Mrs. Pantages Granted Probation of Ten Years” The Los Angeles Times; Nov 9, 1929, p. A1

“Fox To Run Pantages Playhouse” The Los Angeles Times; Mar 30, 1930, p. A7

“New Theater Opens in May” The Los Angeles Times; Apr 18, 1930, p. A10

“Showhouse Construction Takes Advantage of Low Costs” The Los Angeles Times; May 4, 1930, p. D1

“New Playhouse Wholly Modern” The Los Angeles Times; Jun 1, 1930, p. B9

Schallert, Edwin “Pantages Theater Opens” The Los Angeles; Jun 6, 1930, A9

“Mrs. Lois Pantages Dies on Yacht at Catalina Island” The Los Angeles Times, Jul 19, 1941, p. 1

Vincent, Roger “Decades Later, 12-story Plan for Pantages Revived” The Los Angeles Times; Dec 6, 2007

Up next: Hollywood Walk of Fame

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