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Alma mater of Hollywood royalty gets a fresh new facade

Volunteers help restore the former school, where Jean Harlow and Carole Lombard studied, to its original blue-and-white scheme.

March 09, 2007|Angie Green | Times Staff Writer

At the intersection of Hollywood Boulevard and Highland Avenue in Hollywood, tourists are drawn to the Kodak Theatre and Grauman's Chinese Theatre. But off the beaten track is one of the few historic buildings left in an area full of high-rises and strip malls.

The former Hollywood School for Girls, which opened in 1908 and educated famous Hollywood actresses, still stands near the intersection of Hollywood Boulevard and North La Brea Avenue.

But the former school, now owned by the Women's Club of Hollywood, was in serious need of a makeover. Though the inside had been renovated with a $10,000 grant from Los Angeles City Councilman Tom LaBonge, the outside was an eyesore with old, chipped paint and dingy cream coloring.

On Thursday, the two-story building received a little pampering. Home Depot employees and girls from an after-school program used 45 gallons of white and blue paint to return the front of the building to its original colors. About 50 volunteers chipped away old paint and rolled on new as others planted ranunculus and added mulch in the garden.

Actresses Jean Harlow and Carole Lombard were among those who attended the school. Its earliest students also included the daughters of director Cecil B. DeMille and MGM studio chief Louis B. Mayer. Originally a residence in the early 20th century, the two-story school operated for 31 years.

"We are going for the next 100 years," said Dottie Zold, the business manager of the Women's Club, who was overjoyed by the volunteers and donated supplies. "It's restoring us and giving us a fresh ... beginning."

It was "just like history passed before my eyes," said longtime club member Susan Quick, clearly moved by the volunteers' effort. "This house is so important to us ... it's a Los Angeles historic landmark."

Quick, 72, said the Women's Club is seeking National Historic Landmark status for the school to protect the property from being taken by eminent domain.

Nestled behind the pink Women's Club building, the former school once had several small classrooms. Teachers slept in nearby cottages. The school, which conducted classes from kindergarten through high school, was considered progressive because it offered physical education classes. "We've got pictures of Jean Harlow" playing volleyball, Zold said.

Over the years, members of the Women's Club -- a nonprofit group devoted to community service -- struggled to keep the old building intact after buying it in the 1940s. The club donated money, tried to raise funds and at one point used a plastic sheet to cover a hole in the roof to preserve it.

"I was fighting people. They were saying 'tear it down, tear it down,' " said Quick, who is also a club board member and past president. "I thought there is no way we are going to tear it down

The former school is still used to educate young women. Besides being rented for acting classes, support group meetings and other events, the first floor of the building is used for an after-school program for at-risk girls. The program, called Growth Foundation, provides tutoring, mentoring and standardized test preparation for about 25 high school girls who come from troubled homes. Their artwork hangs on the walls.

"I would like to see their faces and see what they think about it," said Arlene Urbina, who works at Home Depot and decided to volunteer when she heard the building was used to mentor youth. "Something like that, you are willing to help out."

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angie.green@latimes.com

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