From its days as an elegant bank building to its abandoned and forgotten existence in the 1980s and 1990s, the former Security Trust and Savings Bank at Hollywood Boulevard and Cahuenga Boulevard has served as both a local institution and location setting for films and books. Not as beautiful as the empty bank building at Hollywood and Highland Avenue, the banking veteran still survives as an example of an attractive building for an utilitarian function.
Originally founded at Main Street in downtown Los Angeles as the Security Savings Bank by Joseph F. Sartori in 1888, the institution soon changed its name to Security Trust and Savings Bank. As the city and surrounding areas exploded with new residents, the bank quickly built new branches, extending tentacles all over Southern California.
The outlying area of Hollywood mushroomed in size from a tiny farming village in 1900 to a more fashionable suburban town in 1920, with new film studios seeming to open virtually every day. Security’s small branch at Hollywood and Cahuenga overflowed with customers, and the bank decided to build a fashionable, larger building across the street at 6385 Hollywood Blvd. that would allow it to grow over the years.
Established Los Angeles architects Donald and John Parkinson, who designed many of the bank’s branches, were hired in 1920 to design an attractive four-story building. After the basement was dug, the board of directors decided to expand the building to six stories, requiring a halt in construction until new plans could be drawn up, according to the Dec. 3, 1920 Hollywood Citizen. The paper went on to state, “The foundations, vault, and basement of this building are the most extensive that have been put in Hollywood. The contractor estimates that 1,500 square yards of concrete will be used in the work up to the first floor. In the vaults alone there will be 112 tons of steel, most of this being plate, four thicknesses of 1 1/4 inch each. The vaults will be capable of housing 8,000 boxes.” Safety deposit boxes would be located in the basement, tellers on the first floor, and the second floor for offices, later to become the bond department. Other floors would be leased to businesses. At six stories, the bank would be the tallest building in Hollywood.
Gregory Williams, in his book “The Story of Hollywood,” states that the grand opening of the bank occurred on June 3, 1922, with an open house and tours of the facilities to thousands of people, along with entertainment such as a performance from Orpheum artists, an orchestra playing in the lobby, and zithers and harp-guitar entertaining in the basement. The June 7, 1922, Los Angeles Times noted that the bank had published and was freely distributing an illustrated 52-page booklet called “In the Valley of the Cahuengas: The Story of Hollywood,” which included a photo of a little barn where the Jesse Lasky Film Company had produced “The Squaw Man” in 1913-1914. The bank continued to give away the booklet for years, a gift that Hollywood residents could send to friends and relatives across the country.
Almost as soon as it opened, the building and its surrounding area became a favorite filming location for comedians Buster Keaton, Harold Lloyd, and Charlie Chaplin. Film Historian John Bengtson notes that the area featured frequent filmmaking because of its close proximity to each comedian’s studio. He also points out that the building plays the publishing house in Harold Lloyd’s 1924 film “Girl Shy” and can be seen behind Charlie Chaplin when he is released from the mental hospital in the 1936 film “Modern Times.” Other films of the three great comedians shot all around the surrounding blocks.
Raymond Chandler’s world-famous cynical detective Philip Marlowe also took up residence in the building many people believe, from the description of his office in the novel “The High Window.” “I had an office in the Cahuenga Building, sixth floor, two small rooms at the back. One I left open for a patient client to sit in, if I had a patient client.” The street corner out front is now known as Raymond Chandler Square in recognition of the author.
Film noirs loved the location as well. The 1947 Fox film “The Brasher Doubloon” employs the building in an establishing shot demonstrating that it is the office of detective Marlowe, played by actor George Montgomery. In 1954, the bank acted as a bank for the film “Loophole.” Bank examiners can be seen entering on the Cahuenga Boulevard side at the beginning of the film, and later teller Barry Sullivan looks straight ahead from his position serving customers out the front window at Green Dentistry across the street, at what is now a Popeye’s Chicken.
The lower floors of the building remained a bank for decades. In the 1950s, citizens could pick up their license renewals and tags there, as well as other bank locations. A bandit robbed the establishment of almost $1,200 in February 1963. Another attempted robbery occurred in 1971 but failed, because a cashier was able to press the alarm button and the guard captured the suspect at the window before he could get away.
Other businesses operated out of the building as well. Bond’s Department Store occupied upper floors in the 1950s, using the address 6383 Hollywood Blvd.
Two arson fires occurred in the 1970s. In 1974, a fire causing $450,000 damage started suspiciously. The next year, a six- alarm blaze required 16 firetrucks before it was extinguished, gutting a storeroom and hallways to over $200,000 in damages.
By the 1983, the Hollywood Cleanup and Restoration Council’s poll called it the worst cared for building in Hollywood. It sat abandoned for years. Blog CurbedLA reported in 2010 that the building was supposedly going to be converted into a 180-room boutique hotel with a rooftop pool, and a nightclub in the old bank vault. What was old can be brought back to life in dramatic and elegant ways, as many of the downtown loft buildings testify.