Hollywood First National Bank Building, Courtesy of Mary Mallory.
Soaring to the skies, displaying confidence in Hollywood’s unlimited future, the First National Building, constructed and opened in 1928, brought Art Deco-Gothic beauty to Hollywood Boulevard and Highland Avenue. Operating as bank and office building for decades, the First National Building celebrated Hollywood’s business success and its glorious potential, a economics temple.
The Hollywood and Highland intersection served as the western end of Hollywood Boulevard’s business district, anchored by the regal Hotel Hollywood. Businesses sprang up around it, two blocks north of Hollywood High School. The First National Bank of Hollywood built a branch here, leasing space on its upper floor to the Frank Meline Co. Meline operated its Hollywood office here at 6777 Hollywood Blvd. from 1920, offering properties in the immediate area for sale. Buster Keaton even filmed a scene from his 1921 short “The Goat” looking south from a garage at 1741 N. Highland Ave. toward the intersection, per John Bengtson on his blog, “Chaplin-Keaton-Lloyd Film Locations.”
A photo of Allen Vincent with the First National Bank in the background, courtesy of Mary Mallory.
In 1927, the First National Bank merged with Pacific South West Trust and Savings Bank, forming the Los Angeles First National Trust and Savings Bank. To recognize their potent economic base, the new company hired prestigious architects/contractors Meyer and Holler to design spacious new headquarters to cost $250,000. Meyer and Holler, designers of the Chaplin Studios, Grauman’s Egyptian Theatre, Grauman’s Chinese Theatre, the Thomas Ince Studios, Montmartre Café, and Hollywood Athletic Club, envisioned a spire shooting to the heavens. The building would rise to height-limit, second only to that of downtown Los Angeles’ City Hall.
The July 24, 1927, Los Angeles Times reported, “Grandeur and scale will be realized through a towerlike formation on the Hollywood Boulevard corner. This effect has been gained by combining the elevator penthouse and those other correlated elements usually relegated to the back corners of the upper roofs, where they will not be seen, and building these elements into one tower embellished at the top by a roof of polychrome tiles.”
By setting the tower back on the building, it freed space for tenants of varying sizes. The wide entry lobby at the intersection served as lobby for both the bank and office building, which would feature a terra cotta and brick facade and flood lights at night to illuminate the tower. They noted, “A series of symbolic or allegorical figures arranged in large niches will represent the various arts and industries of Hollywood.”
Contractors began destroying the old bank to make way for the new in late September 1927, with excavation completed by the end of October. Construction began with the pouring of concrete, before a steel frame rose on the site. On July 1, 1928, The Times noted doors had opened in the Hollywood First National Building’s office tower to occupants, with the first floor branch of the Los Angeles First National Trust and Savings Bank not formally opening until Nov. 17, 1928. The bank occupied the basement level as well, maintaining their safe deposit department here.
A vintage postcard of the time notes on its back: “Hollywood-First National Building — “This limit-height, Class A, office and bank building, at the corner of Hollywood Boulevard and Highland Avenue, because of its beauty and tower construction, is one of Hollywood’s outstanding landmarks. The offices have ultra-modern fixtures and equipment, particularly suited for the professions. The Hollywood Branch Los Angeles-First National Trust & Savings Bank, occupies the entire ground and basement floors. This Bank has resources of more than $300,000.”
Ads in 1929 noted that “its appropriately picturesque design features” led to quick office space rentals, with more than 80% of the building occupied by the summer of 1929. Property values also soared; economists noted that the northeast corner of Hollywood and Highland possessed a $6081 tax valuation in 1919-1920, exploding to $147,860 by 1928-1929.
Many financial firms rented space in the building, including attorneys, investment firms and real estate companies. Willard Clinical Laboratories leased an office in 1930. Doctors also occupied the building, from ophthalmologists to general practitioners to dentists. In fact, G. Floyd Jackman, a former Mack Sennett cameraman, rented space here after graduating from the University of Southern California’s School of Dentistry in 1928. He purchased ads in International Photographer and American Cinematographer through 1934, reaching out to his filming brothers by noting his camera background.
Entertainment industry-related businesses flocked here as well. Talent agent Leo Morrison moved his office from the Roosevelt Hotel to the First National Building in 1932. Showmen’s Trade Review’s Hollywood Bureau operated here from 1942-1949. A casting company by the name of Hollywood Showcase later opened offices here, as did Big Time Records.
By the early 1930s, First National Trust and Savings Bank teetered on bankruptcy. They were acquired and became Security-First National Bank, which later became Security-Pacific and now, Bank of America.
For the last several years, however, the gorgeous bank and office building has set empty and forlorn at Hollywood and Highland, left unkempt and dirty and a place where homeless and protestors camp out in front of. May someone recognize the jewel of this building, and restore and reopen it to its previous splendor, celebrating the another revival of business Hollywood.