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Old Firm Keeps Young Remolding Past : Theaters and Hotels Among Its Major Restoration Projects

April 28, 1985|RUTH RYON | Times Staff Writer

Silent screen star Clara Bow's "It Cafe" in Hollywood is gone but not forgotten, thanks to an old sketch kept in a fireproof vault.

The vault is in the studio of A.T. Heinsbergen & Co., which also harbors hundreds of other sketches and photographs of beautiful, ornate interiors that have been destroyed through the years--interiors that might have been restored because the firm that originally created them is still around.

After 63 years, the firm, now bearing the name of the founder's son, is still "alive and well and in business," as Dawn Heinsbergen, vice president of the Los Angeles company, phrases it.

It is still in the castle-like building that its founder, Anthony B. Heinsbergen, had built on Beverly Boulevard in 1927 from the bricks of the old Los Angeles City Hall.

And it is still working on some of the fanciest buildings in town.

In New York, it's part of a team refurbishing Carnegie Hall.

In San Diego, it's helping to renovate the 1920s building used by the San Diego Symphony.

And in Los Angeles, it's painting the lobby ceiling of the half-century-old Pershing Square Building, and it's restoring the lobby it designed more than 50 years ago at One Bunker Hill. It's also restoring ceilings it painted nearly 58 years ago at the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel and wall and ceiling decorations it created 44 years ago at the Wiltern Theatre, which will reopen on Wednesday after being closed for five years.

"When Tony's dad (Anthony B. Heinsbergen) was around, the firm did the interiors of 757 theaters, but only about 200 of them are left," Dawn Heinsbergen said. She was married to Anthony T. Heinsbergen for 15 years and has been divorced from him for the past eight. He is the firm's president, chief executive officer and treasurer.

Anthony B. Heinsbergen died in 1982. He was born in Holland and came to Los Angeles in 1907. He started out as an apprentice in a local interior decoration firm but soon joined another firm working on a building in Seattle. While there, the owner of the firm died, leaving Heinsbergen, then 20, with the business and 22 major jobs from coast to coast. He also did work in Canada and Mexico.

"He had a crew of 185 artist painters and when they were not working on a specific job, they made tapestries," Dawn Heinsbergen said.

On the jobs, they painted spectacular ceilings and wall decorations. A.B. Heinsbergen was one of the finest muralists in the United States.

Examples of the firm's early work can be seen at the Pantages Theatre in Hollywood, the U .S. Department of Commerce Building in Washington, the Los Angeles and Beverly Hills city halls, Sir Francis Drake Hotel in San Francisco and Biltmore Hotel in downtown Los Angeles.

Dawn Heinsbergen smiled. "We're doing samples for the Biltmore."

Recently purchased, the Biltmore probably will be re-oriented to face Grand Avenue instead of Pershing Square, she explained, "and there will be a porte-cochere and extensive remodeling but with all of the old architecture and decor to be restored."

The Heinsbergen firm is now restoring much of the interior decoration it created years back. "To do work over is wonderful," Dawn Heinsbergen said. "It's a marvelous visual statement of what the firm has done, is doing and what it can do in the future."

Sure, it's still taking on new design work. With a staff of about 28 people, it has--by A. T. Heinsbergen's estimate--40 jobs in progress. Among these are projects for several banks, an S&L headquarters, a country club, a restaurant and a sorority at UCLA.

Unlike the old days, the firm now coordinates carpeting, drapery and furnishings as well as fashioning all kinds of artwork--not just wall and ceiling decoration--to complement the decor. In addition, the company is involved in space planning. But it's the firm's interest in the past, whether it was a job first done by it or another company, that gives Dawn Heinsbergen the most satisfaction and concern.

"I'm pleased to say that we are and have been involved in the restoration/rehabilitation of many local projects such as the Fine Arts Building, Subway Terminal Building, Jonathan Club and Royce Hall, to name a few," she said, "but there are many more restoration projects on the drawing boards, and I pray that they will not lose their magnificent interiors to facadism."

She uses facadism to describe speculators who acquire historic properties, preserve the facades as a tax benefit and then "erect sparkling new and incongruous structures behind them."

Frequently, much of the interior of an old building can be saved, she said. "Many ceilings etc. simply require proper cleaning and touching up and highlighting to look new once again."

If it's an interior feature that her firm created years ago, there is undoubtedly a sketch of the original in the vault. When art needs to be re-created, this can prove invaluable.

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