6208 Franklin Ave., via Google Street View.
Hollywood’s population exploded during the early 1920s as motion picture production soared, thanks to studios moving their production facilities westward from New Jersey. Land values soared, and businesses and developers rushed to keep up with the growing need for residential and commercial space. Many of Hollywood’s most elegant office towers and theaters were erected during this period, as were some of its most striking bungalow courts and lavish apartment buildings.
Many of these upscale structures emphasized their luxury appeal with names like the Castle Argyle, Trianon, the Fontenoy, the Chateau Elysee, and La Belle Tour, with sparkling French Normandy or Classical-style architecture to match their catchy names. Their sophisticated look and style drew celebrities as well as high society or ambitious clientele.
Located at 6200 Franklin Avenue, La Belle Tour was the last of these grand apartments erected, opening not long before the stock market crash in 1929. Surviving financial upheavals and changing times, La Belle Tour has survived thanks to its prominent look and location.
The March 10, 1929, Los Angeles Times reported that Henry Hersh and Edward Kohn would erect an eight-story, Class A apartment building featuring 52 units with three, four, or five rooms each costing $300,000. Architects Cramer and Wise would design a French Renaissance Chateauesque-style building financed by Finance Brokerage Company, with J.C. Bannister listed as contractor.
Though the March 24 Times reported that Bannister had requested a permit to erect an eight-story, 145 room apartment building at the location, the actual permit for the building at what is listed at 6208 Franklin Ave. is dated April 20, 1929, with the May 5 Times now stating that $250,000 would be spent in building the structure.
Per the April 20 city permit, the eight-story, reinforced concrete, Class A building would employ 210 tons of reinforced steel and 19,200 sac (sic) cement for constructing the building, employing concrete for exterior foundation, walls, and floors, n.o. plaster board on steel studs for interior walls, and concrete, compo, and asbestos shingles for the roofing material. Two L-shaped wings, one 53 feet by 120 feet, and one 53 feet by 77 feet would extend from a central tower, which at its highest point would reach 110 feet, six inches. Sprinklers were required for the building. The city of Los Angeles issued the final certificate of occupancy February 19, 1930, approving a subterranean garage as well. The building opened just months after the stock market crash of 1929 and the deep dive of American economic interests. Ads appeared almost immediately in the Los Angeles Times noting rates and availability, and would run almost regularly through 1936.
The December 15, 1929, Los Angeles Times announced that the Stillwell Hotel Company had acquired a twenty-year lease costing $700,000 for the building, which they intended to operate as a deluxe apartment house. The owner and his wife purchased fine furnishings from Barker Brothers to complete the units, which were rented furnished to tenants, famous or non-famous alike. Whatever their social rank, La Belle Tour would offer sleek, gorgeous surroundings and atmosphere, appropriate to a gracious style of living.
The first classified ad on January 31, 1930, states, “Now opening, Class A building, ‘Each apartment is a beautiful home,’ doubles or four room suites with best accommodations, all extras included, complete service maintained.”
Not much is known of celebrity residents, but there were a few. Young writer Cornell Woolrich and his young bride Gloria Blackton, daughter of film pioneer J. Stuart Blackton, lived in the building by December 1930, with a December 9 Los Angeles Times story reporting the twenty-four-year old writer and twenty-year-old bride had married December 5 after a courtship of less than a year. They were still waiting for her parents’ blessing. The item noted they had met a mere month after Woolrich moved to Hollywood for his new job as staff writer at Paramount, after penning short stories and novels.
Opera star Tito Schipa maintained an apartment in the building as well as two residences, one in Beverly Hills and one on Los Feliz Boulevard, in the early 1930s, and actress Noel Francis lived in the building in 1932 when arrested for speeding. Perhaps actor Colin Clive resided in the building as well, as a studio photograph shows him posing on the roof with the Hollywoodland Sign visible to his north. Actress Virginia Mayo lived in the building when she announced her engagement to actor Michael O’Shea, per the July 7, 1947, Los Angeles Times.
La Belle Tour is sold, July 25, 1937, in The Times.
Some staff members listed themselves in the Los Angeles City Directory in the 1930s. Mrs. Bee Dragani served as manager in 1934, before going on to serve as a manager at other Los Angeles-area apartment buildings and as an officer in an apartment managers’ organization. In 1936, Cecil Bline served as houseman, and in 1938, Cooze DeCamp served as assistant manager.
On July 25, 1937, the Times reported that Albert Louis and Marie Louise Wilcox, South American investors, purchased the eight-story property for $300,000, including complete furnishings, from Michael Tauber, which enjoyed a central roof garden available to all tenants and private roof gardens for penthouse apartments. By November 26, 1939, however, a story in the Los Angeles Times stated that Justus P. Seeburg of Chicago paid $250,000 to G.E. Kinsey for the building, meaning that perhaps Kinsey had purchased the building in a private sale from the Wilcoxes earlier. Some time during 1942, La Belle Tour’s name was changed to Hollywood Tower, as the building is listed under both names in the 1942 city directory.
The huge building was expensive to maintain, and perhaps was prohibitive to owners. On June 7, 1953, the Los Angeles Times announced that Joshua Pintel had sold the 52-unit Hollywood Tower and other buildings to Sam Gutlin for $642,000. Gutlin ran regular ads for the building throughout the 1950s.
By 1981, the Hollywood Tower had become mostly an apartment house for seniors, which suited owner Deseret Properties and Dennis Ballard just fine. Ballard told the May 17, 1981, Los Angeles Times that seniors paid their bills regularly and on time and caused no problems. He began renting primarily to seniors earlier in the year, “offering them reduced rents, no move-in fees or security deposits and all utilities paid;” he was also thinking of starting complimentary Saturday continental breakfasts and once-a-week limousine service to go shopping or see a movie. The company had spent $50,000 to refurbish the building.
The Hollywood Tower, June 7, 1953, in The Times.
At that time, bachelor units contained hot plates and singles featured kitchens. The building featured one- or two-bedroom units as well, with rents ranging from $185 to $400.
By the 1980s, the building, like many other once luxurious apartment buildings in the area, was becoming run down and threatened. In early 1988, it was named to the National Register of Historic Places.
The Hollywood Tower’s imposing look supposedly inspired Imagineers at the Walt Disney Company in designing the look for the Tower of Terror attraction at Disney’s California Adventure in Anaheim.
In 2007, the Hollywood Tower was sold for $34.5 million to Alliance Residential, which eventually built additional units across Vista del Mar Street.
While perhaps not as glamorous as its 1930s heyday, the imposing Hollywood Tower still projects power and authority today.