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It's the Time Capsule That Network Forgot

June 19, 2004|Bob Pool | Times Staff Writer

Most of the time, capsules simply can't be found.

Some of the time, capsules can be -- but their contents have disintegrated.

This time capsule is different, however.

Workers carefully demolishing the ABC Entertainment Center and Shubert Theatre in Century City have discovered a hidden box filled with mementos that are completely intact -- and totally mysterious.

The 2-by-2 1/2-foot aluminum container resembles a television camera and bears an ABC logo and the words, "Corner Stone in the Stars, Sept. 22, 1971."

Inside are about 15 items, including a bright yellow sweater, a bottle of Martinelli's apple juice, a warped Andy Williams "Moon River" album, a Screen Actors Guild document signed by Charlton Heston and a program signed by Gregory Peck.

Missing are the usual time capsule staples: the requisite copy of the newspaper from the day it was sealed shut, popular gadgets of the era, the bravely written predictions of the future.

ABC officials have looked in their archives and can find no record of the time capsule being placed at the Entertainment Center, let alone a list of its contents.

"It looks like randomly deposited stuff," says David Sears, the only person so far to peek into the bolted-shut box. "It looks like people were at a party when somebody said, 'By the way, we're going to fill a time capsule.' "

Sears is managing director of Trammel Crow Co., developer of a $275-million office and retail project planned for where the former Shubert Theatre and ABC network headquarters now stand on Avenue of the Stars.

Because of a parking garage beneath the site, workers are slowly dismantling the complex instead of using a wrecking ball. The time capsule was one of the first things they found when they began removing the top of the ABC building last month.

"It was at roof level, not ground level. It was attached to the structural frame of the building" at its southwest corner, Sears said. Because it was under the roof, the box and its contents were kept dry.

That prevented the kind of water seepage that often destroys the contents of buried time capsules, such as one unearthed Feb. 13 at the corner of Hollywood Boulevard and Vine Street.

Hollywood leaders discovered that moisture had caused paper documents such as an original script for "Gone With the Wind" to disintegrate. Also turned to mush was a movie print of the film and a "Jack Benny Radio Show" tape that was also buried at the famous corner on Feb. 15, 1968.

A more common threat to time capsules is faulty memory. People forget where they are and they get paved over, like the "M*A*S*H" time capsule, said to have been buried in January 1983 by the television show's cast at a 20th Century Fox parking lot where a hotel now stands. The "M*A*S*H" series aired on CBS starting in September 1972.

Sears figures that the TV camera-shaped box discovered at the ABC Entertainment Center may contain items from personalities whose shows were part of ABC's fall television lineup in 1971.

That year the network televised such series as "The F.B.I.," "Nanny & the Professor," "The Mod Squad," "Marcus Welby, M.D.," "Bewitched," "The Courtship of Eddie's Father," "The Brady Bunch," "The Partridge Family," "The Odd Couple" and "Love, American Style."

The ABC Entertainment Center opened as the network's West Coast headquarters in 1972. It was the epicenter for the TV network during the heyday of "Happy Days" and other programming that propelled ABC into first place in prime-time ratings in the 1970s and '80s.

A six-story companion building housed the Shubert Theatre. It was a plush, 2,000-seat playhouse that was the setting for Broadway-style musicals such as "Cats," "Dreamgirls" and "Ragtime."

But the complex fell on hard times in the 1990s when its large office spaces became hard to lease and the retail-restaurant plaza between its twin buildings struggled to generate visitors.

ABC moved out in late 2000. Local ABC officials say veterans at the current headquarters in Burbank who worked in Century City 32 years ago were unaware of the time capsule or its contents.

Kevin Brockman, a senior vice president at the network, said publicity offices were on the top floor in the vicinity of where the box was found. So the capsule could have been an odd, in-house publicity stunt.

The capsule will be put on display at the 44-story Century Plaza Towers office complex near the demolition site. A contest may be held among the towers' office workers in an effort to identify the artifacts inside, said Cynthia Giordano, a senior marketing director for Trammel Crow.

"Who knows what people were thinking in 1971 when Century City was just rising?" said Sears, whose firm is building the new 12-story office and retail building that will house the Creative Artists Agency when it's finished.

"There are probably people on the East Coast who will laugh at us connecting this with 'history.' But you have to start somewhere if you want to have a touchstone."

And he's got the "Corner Stone in the Stars" to prove it.

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