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Fate of Old Buildings Has No Certainty : Glamorous Past Doesn't Prevent Neglect, Razing

May 12, 1985|RUTH RYON | Times Staff Writer

"Welcome to Beirut West."

Actor Werner Klemperer greeted a visitor with this when he was one of the last tenants in the partially demolished and decaying Sunset Towers in August, 1982. Today, the building is still one of the monumental eyesores in the Los Angeles basin.

They're actually monuments--of the historical kind, but they have fallen into disuse, disrepair and disgrace. Victims of vandals and/or developers who didn't finish what they started--whether it was demolition or rehabilitation, the buildings, vacant sometimes for years, are each a sad reminder of a glorious past, unfortunate present and uncertain future.

Such has been the lot of Sunset Towers, Sunset Plaza Apartments and Pacific Coast Club. The neo-baroque but dilapidated Garden Court Apartments at 7021 Hollywood Blvd., home in the 1920s and '30s to film colony stalwarts such as Louis B. Mayer and Mack Sennett, was razed last year after being closed since 1980. In the end, the rubble-strewn haven for drifters and runaways was known as "Hotel Hell."

And what of the others?

Building Boarded Up

After the lobby of the 47-year-old Sunset Plaza Apartments, just off the Sunset Strip at 1220 Sunset Plaza Drive, was bulldozed last July, that part of the two-story, 25-unit building was boarded up. Said Mark L. Brown, a deputy city attorney:

"The owners were ordered to cover up the exposed part of the building so the elements wouldn't destroy it, and they were told to prepare an environmental impact report before reporting back to the Building & Safety Commission. When we have the EIR, the city will determine if the building will be demolished or not."

Armando Flores of the Building & Safety Department added, "It could be another six to nine months before there is anything definite on this."

Designed by the late architect Paul Williams, the Spanish-Colonial style apartments housed many celebrities. Among them were Tommy Dorsey, Dorothy Lamour, Carole Lombard, Katharine Hepburn, Charles Farrell, Mitzi Gaynor, David Wolper, Joan Caulfield, Richard Arlen, Jimmy Dean and, more recently, Bernadette Peters and Robert Forster.

Besides Klemperer, who is probably best known for his role as Col. Wilhelm Klink on the old, weekly TV show "Hogan's Heroes," Sunset Towers was supposed to have been home in the past to Zsa Zsa Gabor, Jerry Buss, Lloyd Pantages of the Pantages theater family, Paulette Goddard, Howard Hughes and Errol Flynn.

Early High-Rise

John Wayne, who lived in the penthouse, purportedly brought a cow into the building at 3 a.m. so his guests, who had gathered for coffee, could have some fresh cream.

Designed by Leland A. Bryant in 1930, the 46-unit building at 8358 Sunset Blvd. was one of the best examples of large-scale apartment Art Deco Moderne architecture in Los Angeles. It was one of the first high-rise reinforced concrete buildings built in California.

It's been called "as much an emblem of Hollywood as the Hollywood sign," but due to a foreclosure and extensive litigation, it has been deteriorating for years. Like the Garden Court Apartments, it has attracted vagrants, according to Kay McGraw, president of the West Hollywood Chamber of Commerce. "Somehow, no matter what precautions are taken, people forage into these old abandoned buildings," she said, "and we've been concerned."

McGraw may not be concerned much longer because principal litigation involving the Sunset Towers has been settled. When contacted, Michael L. Klemens, a vice president of the Abacus Group, announced that his firm is negotiating with a developer to restore the building. As successful bidder at the foreclosure sale, a subsidiary of Abacus acquired title to Sunset Towers in December, 1982, but litigation involving title claims continued even after the sale.

Loves the Building

"I've been in the real estate business since 1958, and I never before saw anything so legally messed up, but it looks now as if there is a proverbial light at the end of the tunnel," Klemens said. "I am an Art Deco aficionado and love the building, so--hopefully--it will be restored into a first-class property--a hotel or commercial property, because turning it into a condo or apartment building doesn't make economic sense."

Standing there--deserted and rotting--doesn't make economic sense either, but this has also been the fate of the Pacific Coast Club at 850 E. Ocean Blvd., in Long Beach.

A fine, private men's club in its day, the massive--140,546-square-foot--structure, designed by the architectural firm of Curlett & Beelman and built in 1926, has been vacant, except for some vandals and occasional curiosity seekers, real estate agents and potential buyers, for 15 years.

Robert Paternoster, Long Beach planning director, explained that the building has been involved in bankruptcy proceedings. "It has been condemned," he added, "but we're working with the trustee to get it fixed up or demolished."

Disaster on Inside

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