JOHN KALISKY ON SCIENTOLOGY REHABBING HOLLYWOOD BOULEVARDWhere to start? I could point out that five years ago the corner of Hollywood and Highland was hardly vacant; the giant project that dominates this corner was about to open to the public. But instead I think I should describe my own preservation experience at the Celebrity Center in the early 1990's. At the time I was the Principal Architect of the Community Redevelopment Agency of the City of Los Angeles (CRA/LA) which oversaw and still oversees today the Hollywood Redevelopment Project. This project area includes many of the properties that the Scientologists own in Hollywood.
I was invited to the Celebrity Center to try and negotiate a solution to an historic preservation problem; mainly that the Scientologists had repeatedly ignored demands by the City of Los Angeles to stop work and cease non-permitted illegal demolitions within their historic buildings; most particularly the 1923 Guaranty Building that is featured in the illustrations in this post and on the Scientology web page.
The Scientologists knew what they wanted to do in the Guaranty Building and it did not include getting permits much less following the Secretary of the Interiors Standards for Historic Preservation. They most certainly at the time were not interested in maintaining the remaining historic fabric in the bank lobby, maintaining the intact office corridors from the 1920's, keeping the historic windows nor resolving numerous other preservation and building code violations that I vividly remember. Historic preservationist who had fought hard in the 1980's to designate landmarks in Hollywood were up in arms, the Scientologists were the enemy, and I was the unfortunate point person who was designated to go break bread and figure out a truce and a solution.
Perhaps the Scientologists were interested in preservation but only on their terms. They stated this loud and clear in both private and public situations. I recall being denounced by a Scientology representative at an annual public meeting of the Redevelopment Agency in Hollywood who claimed that I was personally depriving Scientology of their property rights. Actually that was not true, I just refused to sign their permits for months until they agreed to minimally meet preservation standards.
But let's get back to the lunch. No doubt Scientology's culinary standards have improved in the fifteen years since this repast took place but I recall that lunch to be unfortunate. After the requisite tour of the facility and breathless references to Scientology stars (in those days they were most excited by John Travolta). I was ushered into an ornate private dining room. I was seated at one head of a long table formally set with cloth table. At the other head was one of the Los Angeles' most powerful business lobbyists, Maureen Kindell, who had been hired to represent the interests of the Church. She seemed as embarrassed to be there as I was, and kept winking at me as the Scientology functionaries seated in between us worked to convince me that they were ready to reform. Towards the end of the meal the Scientologists, Kindell, and I agreed that from now on the Church would be most cooperative. Kindell winked one last time and asked if they could they please now get their permit. Mostly, I still recall the leathery chicken, soft overcooked asparagus, heavy cream sauce that tasted like flour, and glad relief when I was finally released from this environment - my only obligation to sign off their permit when and if they followed the preservation rules - which to their credit they subsequently did. I am not sure I would call this the lunch that spurred Hollywood's preservation renaissance. I remind myself of these details because throughout the meal the Scientologists spent a lot of time describing the world class standards of their cookery as I tried to choke down their food. Their simultaneous assurances that their preservation experts had the future of the Guaranty Building well in hand did not inspire confidence. I for one will remain ever vigilant.
While I am writing all this from memory, suffice it to say that the Scientologists may have spent millions of hours restoring their landmarks but I can well demonstrate that lowly government officials were forced to spend hundreds if not thousands of hours monitoring this group's then intransigent attitude towards preservation. This last point is critical given the tenor of the post.
There are many preservation heroes in Hollywood and while Scientology should be commended for their eventual cooperation on several buildings this hardly qualifies them as heroes of preservation and Hollywood revitalization history. Unfortunately they can only be heroes to the misinformed who don't bother to do their homework and have clearly not spent much time learning about preservation and redevelopment issues in Los Angeles. I was a minor player in the dramas that "saved" Hollywood: it's worthwhile here to mention a few far more important individuals and groups. For decades both the Los Angeles Conservancy (who by the way fought continuously and very publicly for a decade to save the Ambassador Hotel - hardly an example of a resource evaporating with little remorse) and Hollywood Heritage have struggled to both document and save Hollywood's and Los Angeles' architectural resources. They provided critical support when I was working on the Guaranty Building. Local activists and government leaders have also been committed participants at each phase of Hollywood's redevelopment. Christy Johnson McAvoy has worked tirelessly on preservation issues in this corner of Los Angeles and willingly walked the halls of the Guaranty Building when the Scientologists were engaged in wanton destruction. Other heroes include Fran Offenhauser, Bill Roschen, Barton Myers, Michael Woo, Jackie Goldberg, Hillary Gittelman, and Robert Nudelman. Nudelman, a Hollywood gadfly, was a pain in many a government officials backside (and probably still is) but being on the street everyday he figured out who was not doing the right thing with regard to preservation (including the Scientologists) as well as numerous other issues usually sooner than anybody else. One could go on and on.
Suffice it to say that when the history of Hollywood redevelopment is written the Scientologists will be noted as major Hollywood property owners who initially had to be brow beaten by public and private interests into becoming preservationists. The real heroes of Hollywood revitalization and preservation are hardly unknown or blasť. They certainly have never been dispassionate about saving this community's legacy and fostering better development. Unfortunately they and their efforts, both the good, the bad and the ugly, were not the subject of this post - a post, however well intentioned, nevertheless written from the point of view of a fictional (perhaps Thetan?) design universe that I do not live in.