Claiming that Hollywood's historical significance has been ignored by redevelopment officials, leaders of a gay art center have started a campaign to establish the historical credentials of the building that houses the center plus its neighborhood.
They will attempt to document that the building housing the McCadden Place Art Collection, 1428 McCadden Place, was once the home and workplace of poker-faced actor Buster Keaton, famed comedian of the silent-movie era.
They also want to determine whether Mary Pickford lived at 1410 McCadden Place and whether other motion picture stars, such as Clark Gable, were members of the Studio Club, a defunct private club whose building still stands nearby on Las Palmas Avenue.
Morris Kight, founder of the art center, said that establishing the area's historical importance may be necessary to save it from demolition should redevelopment occur.
"This area should be rehabilitated as we have rehabilitated the gallery," Kight said. "But unless we can prove that the buildings are historically significant, they will be vulnerable to demolition."
He accused the Los Angeles Community Redevelopment Agency, which will guide the redevelopment of Hollywood, of deliberately ignoring historical significance because it wants to replace old buildings with new, large construction projects.
Kight said that a historical survey financed and conducted by the agency two years ago was superficial, rather than an in-depth study needed to establish the history of buildings.
But Diana B. Webb, Hollywood project manager for the Community Redevelopment Agency, said the agency does not have the money to do the kind of study that Kight wants.
"All we could do in the last survey," Webb said, "was try and establish the architectural and cultural importance of structures, not whether someone important lived at a particular residence. We got calls from many old actors and actresses saying they lived here and there. Had we investigated every one, there would have been no end to the survey."
Webb said that there are no demolition plans for the McCadden Place area. "In fact," she said, "I agree with Mr. Kight that the area should be rehabilitated, not demolished. We look to that area for reinvestment, more of an economic shot in the arm."
Christy J. McAvoy, a preservation consultant who conducted the survey financed by the redevelopment agency, said that historical importance of relatively obscure buildings is not easy to establish.
She said that no one would dispute that the Hollywood Roosevelt hotel or Mann's Chinese Theater have historical significance. "But there is much more difficulty in trying to set up historic merit for lesser-known buildings," she said.
Kight said many older Hollywood residents have told him that Keaton lived at the McCadden Place address in the 1920s and '30s.
"At first," Kight said, "I did not believe he lived here. But I have been told he did by so many lucid people that I have changed my mind."
David Spencer, director of the gallery, said that even if it turned out that Keaton did not live there, the myth may be more important than the fact.
"After all," Spencer said, "what is Hollywood if not myth. You take away the myth and there is not much left of Hollywood."
Kight, a longtime gay activist in Hollywood, established the art gallery two years ago. The McCadden Place Art Collection consists of posters, photographs, lithographs and so-called "found objects" relating primarily to gay themes or works by gay artists. The center's building also has been a meeting place for gay groups.