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Next Gig for Palladium: Real Estate Development

The Hollywood venue is to be sold for an estimated $65 million, but a restoration may not be feasible.

June 30, 2006|Roger Vincent | Times Staff Writer

The fast-moving makeover of the Hollywood district may soon include a new development on the site of the Hollywood Palladium, the famous concert hall that has hosted such top musical acts as Glenn Miller and the Grateful Dead.

Whether the building itself can survive the transition is unclear.

Combined Properties Inc. is buying the 66-year-old Sunset Boulevard venue with the intention of developing its large parking lot -- possibly with residences, stores and a hotel, said Marianne Lowenthal, executive vice president of the Beverly Hills firm.

She declined to say how much the company is paying for the property, but local real estate observers value the deal at about $65 million.

The Palladium has been a shining piece of Hollywood history. It was built by former film producer Maurice M. Cohen on the site of the original Paramount Studio. His ambition was to create a music mecca where ordinary Angelenos could see top celebrities.

After opening night on Halloween 1940, The Times wrote: "The million-dollar ballroom-cafe, which can accommodate comfortably 7,500 persons, was literally packed to the rafters when band leader Tommy Dorsey blew the first blast from his trombone and his orchestra let loose with some jive and swing music."

Dorsey's singers included a skinny young man from New Jersey named Frank Sinatra.

Preservationists have been worried that Hollywood's real estate boom might lead to the razing of the Palladium to make way for shops, restaurants and condominiums, which are enjoying popularity among buyers attracted to the district's surging nightlife and urban vibe.

"We are going to try our hardest to save the Palladium and restore it," Lowenthal said.

Such a project, however, would be "very expensive," she acknowledged. "We are analyzing it right now and working to come up with plans everyone would be excited about."

Combined Properties has the Palladium in escrow and expects to take title by summer's end.

The company has specialized in building neighborhood shopping centers including Foothill Town Center in Foothill Ranch and is moving toward the type of mixed-use developments gaining popularity in urban areas. It has three such projects planned in West Hollywood.

If Combined Properties can keep the Palladium in place, it would have an easier time of getting a development surrounding it approved, said Leron Gubler, president of the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce.

"It's an important landmark and a lot of people would be very strongly opposed to losing it," he said. "In the interest of moving forward on a quick timetable, it would be a good idea" to save it.

Among those ready to fight for the Palladium is the Los Angeles Conservancy, Executive Director Linda Dishman said.

The building does not have official landmark status, she said, but it was designed by noted Los Angeles architect Gordon Kaufman, who also designed Santa Anita Park in Arcadia.

"Hollywood is known internationally as an entertainment capital, so it is important to keep venues that continue to serve that use," Dishman said. "The Palladium still has a very active place in entertainment today."

The current owner, Palladium Investors Ltd., didn't respond to requests for comment, but President Alan Shuman acknowledged to the Los Angeles Business Journal last week that a sale was being discussed.

Development on the Palladium block on Sunset between Argyle Avenue and El Centro Avenue has been expected, said real estate broker Steven Tronson of Ramsey-Schilling Co., because the district around nearby Vine Street has seen a recent burst of activity. More than $1.2 billion in development including condos, stores, apartments and a hotel are planned or underway.

In 1942, management at the Palladium bragged that a million people a year were going there to dance and escape the pressures of World War II. Big bands led by Glenn Miller, Artie Shaw, Les Brown, Harry James and Stan Kenton performed there, and their shows were broadcast to millions of radio listeners nightly.

The venue retained its appeal for top acts through the years and was also the site of graduation parties for generations of high school seniors. In 1961, the Palladium became home to Lawrence Welk's television show and has been the site of many award events, including the Emmys and Grammys.

As musical tastes changed, so did the performers. The Rolling Stones, James Brown, Led Zeppelin, the Who, Bon Jovi and the Red Hot Chili Peppers have all taken the stage at the Palladium.

The current burst of real estate development is "probably the most exciting time for Hollywood since that era when the Palladium was so great," Gubler said. "It would be in everybody's interest to do a project that could clean up the building."

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