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Actors Pursue Housing 'Miracle' : Unions Propose N.Y. Central-Living Concept for Hollywood

June 23, 1985|RUTH RYON | Times Staff Writer

Impossible dreams come true every day in the world of entertainment. So why not dream of building affordable housing for performing artists and, coincidently, helping to revitalize Hollywood? So what if the actors wanting to do this don't have the financing or even the land?

They formed a coalition, a 16-member joint-housing committee representing the three actors' unions: Actors Equity Assn., the American Federation of Television & Radio Artists and the Screen Actors Guild.

They passed a resolution, stating that they:

". . . will attempt to achieve the funding and construction of an apartment complex that will have as its prime tenants, members of the performer unions as well as those related unions that are involved in the theater, motion pictures, television and entertainment industries, to the end that they will be able to live together in a central area in a dignified and affordable manner."

And they just held a meeting with other union members, city officials and interested parties at producer/director Steven Spielberg's North Hollywood office building, known as the Egg Co., to hear housing proposals drafted for them by students in the UCLA School of Architecture and Urban Planning.

That night also marked the first time that local board members of the three unions had gotten together since 1933, according to Howard Caine, chairman of the joint committee, who observed, "That in itself is a miracle. So miracles can happen."

For proof of that, he also pointed to a project in New York called Manhattan Plaza but known in entertainment circles as "the miracle on 42nd Street," a word play on the 1947 movie "Miracle on 34th Street," starring Edmund Gwenn, Maureen O'Hara, John Payne and Natalie Wood.

Manhattan Plaza, a 1,688-unit apartment complex, was built in a seedy part of town for upper- and middle-income residents who refused to move there. The project was then turned into a subsidized housing complex, primarily for members of the performing arts and support personnel, who moved into the twin, 45-story towers in 1977. Since then, other projects have been built nearby, further stimulating area revitalization.

"Zale wanted to see that happen here," Caine said, referring to Zale Kessler, a member of Actor's Equity who participated in the Manhattan Plaza housing committee before moving to Los Angeles.

About a year ago, Kessler started asking members of his local union if something similar could be done in Los Angeles "because housing is a problem and continues to be a problem with the fluctuations of actors' salaries from year to year," he explained.

Caine approached UCLA to study the feasibility. "I told them that we are trying to do the impossible, but there are a lot of people dreaming of a miracle," he remembered.

It would be a miracle, he said, because government financing for such projects has been reduced, the cost of land in Los Angeles is high "and we can't have 45 stories on one site."

Necessary and Possible

Nonetheless, the goal of providing affordable housing for performers in Hollywood is necessary and possible, said Peter Kamnitzer, UCLA professor and partner in the Los Angeles architectural firm of Kamnitzer & Cotton.

A survey conducted by his UCLA students indicated that the median income of 250 actors in the area in 1984 was $16,000, and of that, only about half was earned from professional activities in the entertainment field.

After six months of arduous research, including many consultations and computer printouts, the 10-member graduate-student team he formed with the help of fellow professor Gene Grigsby also developed housing proposals for six separate sites. (Students included Seda Yaghoubian, Dave Ryan, Teresa Hung, Pamela Portillo, Lisa Hunt, Weber Hsu, Angela Moreno, Dwight Johnson, Patricia Combes and Mohamed Abdillahi.)

"The goal of 1,200 housing units will not be answered in one area. That's clear," Kamnitzer said. "So there should be several projects."

And those projects should be located, the students concluded, in "the greater Hollywood area."

Entertainment Capital

This was based on the findings that two-thirds of the 250 actors surveyed live in the area, and Hollywood is, as the students described it, "internationally perceived as the entertainment capital of the world to millions of tourists and aspiring actors," even though most major movie studios are in Culver City, Century City and Burbank.

New Focus

The team also decided that the projects should be mixed use to provide what the students called "a new focus for tourists and aspiring actors alike."

As Kamnitzer told the union members, "The problem with Hollywood is that there is no there there. Tourists come to see Hollywood, and they don't like what they see. It's in sufficiently bad shape to give you plenty of opportunity."

Yet, referring to projects such as the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel restoration now under way, he said, "I believe Hollywood is on the verge of a renaissance."

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