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A Little Magic Returns: Miniatures Re-Create Hollywood of the 1940s

March 23, 1986|LYNN SIMROSS | Times Staff Writer

Lights, camera, action. Look out, folks. Hollywood of the '40s is back--this time in miniature.

All those long-gone glamour spots like the Trocadero, the Mocambo, Ciro's and the Garden of Allah, where gaggles of movie stars often hung out, come alive once again at a new place on Hollywood Boulevard called On Location.

On Location, a deco soda fountain complete with lots of neon and a sound system including Andrews Sisters recordings, features a unique exhibit of Hollywood in miniature, fashioned more than 40 years ago by cabinetmaker Joe Pellkofer.

Until On Location opened last month, Pellkofer's miniatures had not been seen publicly since 1948. They had been stored in his barn in La Habra Heights.

"I've been looking for a permanent home for them all this time," said Pellkofer, 80, when he came to Hollywood with his wife, Josie, recently for a viewing. "They had been traveling around the country from 1946 to 1948. The last place was Atlantic City. I just pulled them out of there and brought them home. I wanted a place for them where they didn't travel."

Over the years, Pellkofer said he had turned down several requests for his miniatures because he didn't like the way people proposed to use them. He also felt they should be displayed somewhere in Hollywood.

"I met a lot of stars because of it," Pellkofer said of his display. "But I didn't build the damned thing to see a movie star. I built it just because I felt like it. And because Hollywood is Hollywood. It's magic. You could pick any other city and who would care? But Hollywood in the '40s was still a live city. It was really alive. That's why we built Hollywood. Hollywood was known all over the world. It still is."

Last year, Pellkofer's grandson, John Accornero, wrote to Marian Gibbons, founder of Hollywood Heritage, a preservationist group, about his grandfather's creations.

Gibbons quickly made an appointment to see them.

"When I got there, I was kind of speechless," Gibbons recalled last week. "They said 'miniatures.' I didn't expect them to be 12 feet."

Indeed, these are no ordinary miniatures. The one called "Hollywood" shows 45 main blocks of Hollywood, including 450 buildings, all built to scale, and is 11 feet wide and 12 feet in depth.

Lights, and Even Waves

An electrical cycle takes the city from dawn to dusk, when lights glow in buildings, with street lamps and automobiles of the era.

A replica of the Malibu film colony as it was in the 1940s is even bigger, 12 feet wide and 12 feet deep, complete with waves that actually roll.

From the time Pellkofer began the miniature projects in 1940, it took 25 artists and craftsmen four years to complete all of them. Originally, there were six--Hollywood, the Malibu film colony, a composite of the film studios of the day, Graumann's Chinese Theater, the Hollywood Bowl and the Brown Derby.

$250,000 Total Cost

But the one of the Brown Derby on Wilshire Boulevard was smashed during a cross-country tour and was never redone. In total, they cost about $250,000 to build. About $50,000 of that, Pellkofer said, was spent to painstakingly photograph all the locations before they were constructed in miniature in a building in Pasadena, next door to Pellkofer's cabinetmaking shop.

Detailed Recreations

"We even had a man sitting down at the ocean (in Malibu) with a stopwatch timing the waves, so that in the miniature they would be just right, not too fast, or too slow," Pellkofer explained. "There are about a dozen hand-carved rolls of wood with steel rods through them that turn to show the waves rolling. That was tricky."

In addition to seaside homes of the stars, Pellkofer re-created in miniature the $1 million Rindge Castle with 54 rooms, built by the family that founded Malibu. It alone cost $6,500 to duplicate.

"They were just so spectacular I was determined to save them," Gibbons said of the miniatures. "But we didn't have the money at Hollywood Heritage to buy them. I started talking to people about them and we decided to form a group."

Gibbons enlisted the help of four partners, who decided to put the miniatures back on display in Hollywood and at the same time open a 1940s-style lunch counter and soda fountain and a retail store.

They picked the ground floor of the old El Capitan Building, next to Paramount Theater on Hollywood Boulevard near Highland Avenue. The art-deco El Capitan, built in 1925, has recently been refurbished into office suites by Hollywood revitalizationists Nick Olaerts and Tom Harnsberger.

Gibbons estimates her group's total expenditure, including purchasing the miniatures and building the set for them along with the lunch counter and retail space, was about $750,000. The five miniatures were purchased for about $250,000.

Only four miniatures--three originals of Hollywood, the Malibu film colony and the Chinese Theater and one replica of Paramount Pictures lot--are on display, Gibbons said, "because we didn't have room to show all of them."

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