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Hollywood Blvd. House Moves Aside--a Bit--for Progress : Faded Victorian Proves a Survivor

September 15, 1985|LYNDON STAMBLER | Times Staff Writer

For a few hours on Wednesday, the Janes House, the last Victorian house on Hollywood Boulevard, looked like a ramshackle castle in the air.

The weathered structure, which shows its years in peeling shingles and broken railings, had been embedded at 6541 Hollywood Blvd. since the turn of the century when the street was a gravel road.

But on Wednesday it was separated from its foundation, jacked up four feet above the ground and secured to a trailer. Workmen prepared to use a diesel truck to move the surprisingly sturdy house toward the back of the lot, where its new owners say it will be restored and incorporated in a new retail complex called the Janes House Square.

Hollywood strollers came by to gawk, some expressing dismay that old buildings in Los Angeles are being lost. "It's the only thing we've got left on the boulevard," said a bystander who has lived in the area since 1953. "It's OK to move it, just don't drop it."

Restoration would end a five-year struggle by preservationists and city officials to save the house, one of the last links to Hollywood's past. It came close to disappearing. Hollywood Heritage Inc., a group dedicated to preserving landmark buildings, tried to buy it, but the price was too high. The developers who bought it last September initially planned to demolish it.

"This is the only remaining Victorian residence on a street that was once full of Victorian residences," said Hollywood Heritage board member Christy McAvoy. "I'm very encouraged that they have incorporated the house into their plans, as opposed to removing it from the site."

The developers, Sayam Bamshad and Parviz Ebrahimian, bought the property for $600,000. They said they hope to make the house the keystone of the 14,000-square-foot complex. They plan two rows of retail buildings in Victorian style, separated by a courtyard leading to the restored house at the rear of the property.

The developers were cautious: "When we finish the project, we can say if we are happy or not," Bamshad said.

Architect Houshang Moghimi said the building is structurally sound. Plumbing and wiring will be repaired and a foundation will be constructed, he said. In 15 days, the house will be lowered to the foundation. He will use pictures of the house taken in 1903 to guide him in restoring it, he said.

But the preservationists are reserving judgment. "We would have liked to see the house preserved on the original site without the commercial development," McAvoy said. "That didn't prove to be possible. . . . The plans for the development seem to be sensitive to the architecture of the house. But we'll have to wait and see how they're completed."

Councilman Michael Woo, who worked on the project for four years as an aide to state Sen. David A. Roberti (D-Los Angeles), said no formal agreement has been reached to preserve the building.

"Until I actually see something on paper, I won't feel relieved about it," Woo said, adding that he would like the house to serve the public. The developers said they have not decided what to do with the restored house.

'Needs to Be Preserved'

Woo said the house has survived because the Janes family had no reason to move out and replace it with a commercial structure. "It's literally an anachronism on the street, and that's why it's precious and needs to be preserved," he said.

Christopher Cain, an official with the Hollywood Economic Revitalization Effort, said the complex will usher in "a new era" in an area that has long been dominated by run-down stores and rooming houses. "It won't look out of place," Cain said. "If anything, it will raise the standard."

Guy Miller, who lived in the house from 1975 until workmen began moving it, is more interested in preserving the past.

"I've been a watchdog for the house," said Miller, who took care of Carrie Janes Collier, the last surviving Janes sister, until her death nearly three year ago. Before Collier's death, Miller promised that he would find a way to preserve the house.

History of House

Miller, relating the colorful history of the house, said H. J. Whitley built it in 1902 and the Janes family moved there from Illinois in 1905.

In 1911, Collier, her mother and two sisters started a private kindergarten there called the Misses Janes School. The children of Hollywood luminaries Cecil B. DeMille, Jesse Lasky and Charlie Chaplin attended.

Community meetings in the house laid groundwork for formation of Hollywood Congregational Church and the Hollywood Bowl.

In 1926 Collier's brother opened a gas station in front of the house. Collier was married in 1934 and lived in the house with her husband. After his death in 1964, Collier rented space in front of the house to street vendors.

Miller met Collier in 1973. She was 84 and he was in his mid-40s when he rented a little store near the house. In 1975 he moved in to take care of Collier and remained with her until 1982 when she went to a rest home. She died in 1983, leaving part of her estate to Miller.

Handful of Memories

As workmen prepared to move the house, Miller climbed inside to get mementos and came out with a picture of Collier in her wedding dress and a ledger listing students who attended Misses Janes School. Then he returned them to the house.

"Carrie and I became inseparable," Miller said. "From 1976, I was here almost all the time. I did everything for her. She went to the rest home in 1982. For 269 days straight, I went to see Carrie in Studio City."

As Miller talked about the past, workmen continued to secure the house on the trailer. They put planks and supports under it and fired up the diesel that would hoist it into its new resting place.

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