July 18, 2005

Hollywood Hillview Apts

Hillview Apartments Opens at Last by John Clifford

Hillview Apartments, 1930On Thursday evening, July 14, 2005, a four year dream was realized with the grand opening of the newly restored Hillview Apartments on Hollywood Boulevard at Hudson Street. A gala opening party was held with dignitaries from the city and the Hollywood community in attendance. Johnny Grant, the honorary Mayor of Hollywood, MC’d the event which saw speakers praising the 54 unit apartment building and its champion, Jeffrey Rouze.

In 1916, the burgeoning Hollywood film community was facing a housing shortage for the large number of actors and technical workings at the new studios. Faced with signs that read, “No Dogs or Actors” on most of the apartment buildings throughout the small city, Paramount Pictures founders Jesse L. Lasky and Sam Goldwyn decided to build a quality apartment building catering in the nascent film community, providing actors with a place to live that was close to the nearby movie studios.

Opening in 1917, the Hillview Apartments became the place to live in Hollywood. It housed some of the era’s biggest film stars including Stan Laurel, Mae Busch, and Viola Dana. Everybody that was anybody in the silent movie days lived there. The 54-unit Mediterranean style apartment complex offered the latest amenities including a large parlor lobby, a writing room, a ladies waiting room, garbage incinerators, automatic elevators, and a rehearsal space in the basement and, of course, a Speakeasy.

However, with the decline of Hollywood from the ’60s onward, the Hillview became the victim of spreading blight ending in 1994 when the building was closed due to sinkage caused by MetroRail subway tunneling under Hollywood Boulevard. With the subway damage and damage from the Northridge earthquake, the building was declared unsafe. New Years day 2002, with the unsecured building becoming a home to transients and drug dealers, a fire broke out which caused extensive damage to the roof of the structure. The city, to ensure public safety, had a large portion of the fourth floor removed.

During this period several people considered buying the dilapidated building for use as everything from a hotel to low-income housing. Enter Jeffrey Rouze, architect who had won multiple awards for the remodeling of the El Capitan Theater a few blocks to the west on Hollywood Boulevard (and a director of Hollywood Heritage). Rouze recognized the opportunity to redevelop Hillview Apartments and purchased it in October 2002. His Wisconsin ties led him to Michael A. Conaghan and The Great Lakes Companies who became his financial partner in the project. Conaghan said the Hillview project was of particular interest as a chance to be involved with historic tax credit work for the first time. Established in 1992, Great Lakes had been best known for Great Wolf Lodge, a year-round indoor waterpark resort. “Jeff has played an important role in Hollywood's renaissance," Conaghan said. "He's been an incredible catalyst for change.”

Rouze noted that after Escrow closed, he asked for the keys to the building that he had just purchased but hadn’t been able to actually tour. To view the property, he was told that all he had to do was to get over the cyclone wire and that he could get in. Arriving at the site and putting moving blankets over the razor wire, Rouze was able to get to the front door, but found that it was padlocked. He then climbed back over the fence, went to a local hardware store and purchased his “key,” a pair of large bolt cutters. These bolt cutters symbolized for him the condition of the building when he first bought it and became his “prop” for the evening of the grand opening.

Hillview Apartments, 1930Using historic photographs provided by Hollywood Heritage and Marc Wanamaker’s Bison Archive, the building’s façade has been fully restored to its 1917 glory. The three Mediterranean style arches have been rebuilt with terra cotta and plaster, with missing ceramic tile insets replaced. Existing cornices and railings have been restored, missing windows in the retail storefronts on Hollywood Boulevard have been reconstructed and window awnings have been added to all of the windows.

The ground floor retail will include a restaurant “The Lift,” a workout space “Andrea’s Joint,” and, in the basement, a jazz club “86.” The retail is being developed by Steve Adelman, who is the owner of Avalon, Hollywood, formerly the Hollywood Palace.

The apartment units include studio, one-bedroom, and two-bedrooms with prices ranging from $1,750–$3,500 per month. One-half of the units have fold-down Murphy beds. The apartments have new appliances including dishwashers, washers and dryers (in each unit), garbage disposals, refrigerators, gas ranges and ovens. Each unit has new wood floors. The bathrooms have new fixtures and tile floors. Each unit has an individual heating and air conditioning unit for comfort. Among the common amenities are high-speed Internet access, rooftop deck and Jacuzzi, and a 24-hr. business center.

"A building that played such an instrumental part in film history needed to be preserved," says Rouze. "It had long since become a hazard and nuisance to the neighborhood and the time was overdue to restore this national treasure to its former beauty." Rouze is sure that "the Hillview Apartments will once again be the premiere place to live in Hollywood."

Other past articles on the project:

Article by John Clifford. Mr. Clifford has served as a board member and officer of Hollywood Heritage, Pomona Heritage, and the Pomona Fox Corporation. A long-time preservationist, he lives in Pomona with his wife Deborah and daughter Ariel.

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