The Hollywood Chamber of commerce in an undated pamphlet.
I n 1925, the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce recognized the need for a stylish permanent home in which to promote the business and life of their fair city. Said headquarters should be fashionable and up-to-date without too much sizzle, an elegant representative of a classy and growing city.
Begun in 1921, the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce lacked a settled home base. The organization first rented space at 6553 Hollywood Blvd. in 1921 after its formation, right in the heart of Hollywood. The Chamber later moved to 6530 Hollywood Blvd. in 1923 while it considered locations and opportunities and carried on the work of promoting business in Hollywood, organizing drives for better roads, transportation, and infrastructure.
“Hollywood Celebrates the Holidays” by Karie Bible and Mary Mallory is now available at Amazon and at local bookstores.
The Hollywood Chamber of Commerce, as shown in the Dec. 6, 1925, Los Angeles Times.
George, Coffin, President of the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce and member of the Los Angeles Realty Board, hunted appropriate locations on which to construct a handsome home for the 1100 member organization. The April 1, 1925 Los Angeles Times notes that a committee was organized to discuss size, location, and cost of the building, composed of people like Coffin, Carl Bush, Secretary of the Chamber, Gilbert Beesemyer, Parker Foster, and George Eastman, among others. In late 1925, the Chamber acquired 6520 Sunset Blvd. on which to build their striking new headquarters, hiring renowned Los Angeles architectural firm Morgan, Walls, & Clements to design a suitable structure.
On November 3, 1925, the William Simpson Construction Co. applied for a building permit to construct a 50 x 150 foot, two story $40,000 Class C building at 6522 Sunset Blvd. (later 6520 Sunset Blvd.) for the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce. The two story building would rise from a concrete concert foundation and be composed of wood, with composition floors in the concrete and wood interior.
The December 6 newspaper reported that the building, located across the street from the Hollywood Athletic Club, would contain offices, stage, and auditorium on the first floor, with a large assembly room on the second floor in which it planned to screen daily motion picture exhibitions of “Hollywood municipal activities.”
The company applied for an altered permit on December 11, stating that the side walls would be constructed of 13” brick instead of 12” reinforced concrete, with steel beams constructed between the H. columns to carry the weight of the upper half of the walls. The rear wall and side wall returns would also be constructed of brick instead of concrete, at 17” instead of 13” like the sides. This permit claims the building to be one story, and now 50 x 145 feet.
To add pizzazz to the somewhat simple structure, the architects designed an elaborate Churrigueresque ornamental pediment over the front entrance to the Chamber Building. Emerging as decoration in Spain in the late 17th century in the Spanish Baroque style, it featured elaborate sculptural and decorative elements over the entrance to the front facades of buildings, composed of garlands, cornices, shells, and broken pediments, all meant to attract attention. The style was revived in the mid-1910s when Mission Revival and Spanish Revival architecture exploded around the Pan Pacific Expositions in San Diego and San Francisco.
The Hollywood Chamber of Commerce organized a dignified opening ceremony on July 14, 1926 for its grand new headquarters. The large banquet featured Hollywood Methodist Church pastor Dr. Willis Martin delivering the welcome and dedication, with Chamber President Frank Galloway presiding over festivities in the $75,000 building’s large auditorium. City, county, and state officials would give short talks, along with past presidents of the Chamber. The Hollywood Athletic Club Orchestra, Rotary Club quartet, and pianist Celeste Nellis Ryus would provide entertainment.
6520 Sunset Blvd., via Google Street View.
Once ensconced in its new home, the Chamber worked to support local organizations, charities, and businesses in their daily activities, as well as promote the city of Hollywood as the ultimate tourist destination and film capital. The group pushed for widening streets such as Cahuenga, La Brea, and other major thoroughfares to help disperse growing traffic problems. They advocated for a tunnel to better connect Hollywood with the San Fernando Valley and to help alleviate the congested conditions in the Cahuenga corridor. The group planted trees to beautify the city and helped construct parks to add recreational opportunities. The Chamber worked to clean up the film business by reporting and closing bogus movie schools, “talent” firms, and writing scams.
The Chamber’s headquarters at 6520 Sunset Blvd. opened its doors to virtually every local organization to hold meetings in its auditorium, which could seat 400 people. The Chamber hosted a screening of King Vidor’s “The Jack-Knife Man for the Hollywood Film Guild on October 9, 1926. On January 1, 1927, the building hosted the Hollywood Business Men’s Club, which sponsored a presentation about constructing a proposed Mission Playhouse in San Gabriel. Several religious groups met in the auditorium, from Buddhists to Uplifters to Lutherans to Humanists.
From February 19 to March 16, 1935, the Chamber hosted an art exhibition free to the public. May 10, 1939, the Chamber hosted a presentation by actor/director Irving Pichel and writer Michael Blankfort on the history of motion picture production. On December 9, 1939 the Chamber’s auditorium hosted a rally Against Nazism, with the consuls of Czechoslovakia and Poland appearing, along Reverend Peter Samson of the Unitarian Church.
Smaller groups also conducted meetings or luncheons in other rooms at the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce, or even set up offices. The Los Angeles Realty Board honored real estate man Harry Culver with a luncheon March 9, 1927. The Hollywood branch of the Los Angeles Realty Board began operating a office in the building September 8, 1926. The State Railroad Commission presented Los Angeles area hearings in the organization’s headquarters.
On December 9, 1939, the county tax assessor opened one of 34 branch offices in the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce. The IRS opened an office here in 1947 in which to assist Hollywood residents in completing their tax returns. The USO operated an office out of the facility during World War II, while the building hosted the Veterans Service Center in 1946. In 1951, the Hollywood Committee for Civil Defense operated out of the building.
The Hollywood Chamber of Commerce even allowed a wide variety of entertainment related labor groups to hold meetings or rallies in their auditorium 6250 Sunset Blvd., including the Screen Writers’ Guild, the American Society of Cinematography, the Screen Directors’ Guild, Local 659 of Cameramen, Motion Picture Engineers, OPEIU, and IATSE. The Chamber seemed to operate as an equal opportunity facility.
On May 1, 1965, the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors approved spending over $100,00 to lease larger space in the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce Building for the County Tax Assessor for 10 years.
The Hollywood Chamber decided in 1976 that it would be more economical to lease office space rather than to own their headquarters. They decided to sell, allowing a new company to come in and adaptively reuse the space. On June 27, Schaeffer Photo and Camera Supply Co. purchased the facility and opened it as their new Hollywood branch. The company developed film, sold supplies, repaired equipment, mixed chemicals, processed motion picture film, all with a staff of 20.
As film faded away, Larson Studios, a post production audio mixing facility, moved in. They recognized the impressive facade could lend an historic and luxurious ambiance to their business.
These examples of adaptive reuse show the resilience and strength of older buildings – eye-catching architecture that still serves a purpose. If such a building possesses some type of landmark status, owners can receive tax rebates through the Mills Act to restore and rehabilitate the buildings, a win for everyone.
The Hollywood Chamber of Commerce Building at 6520 Sunset Blvd., constructed during one of the premier architectural booms in Hollywood during the 1920s-1930s, reflects the confidence and ambition of the period. The building demonstrates how glorious design continues to inspire those who enter it, even today.