Superimposed photograph showing the Bank of Hollywood building as it will appear with the completion of the 12-story annex, photo courtesy of Mary Mallory.
One of Hollywood’s first height limit buildings, the lovely Equitable Building, has proudly stood at the northeast corner of Hollywood Boulevard and Vine Street for over 88 years. Built in two parts over two years at the start of the Great Depression, architect Aleck Curlett’s gorgeous building stands as one of Hollywood’s architectural treasures.
Various small businesses operated at the address 6253 Hollywood Blvd. and on the block long before the Equitable arose, showing the evolution of Hollywood and its world famous Boulevard, which began life as Prospect Avenue, from small town street to major business hub and center. J.F. Kent built a residence at 6251 Hollywood Blvd. per an October 25, 1912 building permit. On June 5, 1913, Clara Holt obtained a permit to construct a one-story brick building on the lot to hold several stores, with the permit estimating a cost of $6,000. From 1917-1923 at least, Ida Fortwengler operated a hairdressing business in the building. In 1924, new owners Foster and Kleiser obtained a permit to erect a metal sign atop the building after reinforcing it.
Hollywood at Play, by Donovan Brandt, Mary Mallory and Stephen X. Sylvester is now on sale.
The entrance to the Equitable Building, courtesy of Water and Power Associates.
In late 1926, the Bank of Hollywood took over the location, after changing their name from Central Commercial and Savings Bank. The Board of Directors, composed of such people as actor Jean Hersholt, pioneer film producer J. Stuart Blackton, and drugstore chain magnate, Sam Kress, owner of multiple outlets of Kress Department stores, considered the name more forward thinking, taking it on years after Hollywood’s first bank by the same name went out of business because of fraud. That original bank reopened under the name First National Bank.
A demolition permit was pulled March 21, 1928, to remove the home at 6251 Hollywood Blvd., and another was pulled July 25 to demolish the store building. Hollywood Central Building Corporation, owned by G. K. Dexter and Kress, purchased the property, announcing in the August 30, 1928, Los Angeles Times that they proposed building a 12-story height limit building at the site, with the Bank of Hollywood occupying the first floor. 187 feet tall at its highest point, the building would be named the Bank of Hollywood Building, with the current bank agreeing to the demolition and new construction.
The owner’s September 18 building permit listed Aleck Curlett, designer of such buildings as the Los Angeles Elks’ Lodge #99 and Merchants Bank, as architect for the construction of a reinforced concrete and terra cotta building, with composition roof and concrete with cement finish floors. A penthouse on the roof would feature a copper roof over concrete. The permit estimated a cost of $350,000 to build one tower of 200 rooms immediately adjacent to the corner. Construction estimates included 210 tons of steel and 4600 Bbl of concrete. The October 8 permit for the project lists Scofel/Twaits Engineering Corporation as contractor, noting that the first floor would include a bank vault, a mezzanine, marble and linoleum floors, as well as cabinetry. California Electric Sign Company took out a permit April 1, 1929 to build a $900 sign atop the building.
Sept. 30, 1928: An artist’s rendering of the Bank of Hollywood Building.
The first tower opened May 28, 1929, now under the ownership of Hollywood Holding Co., the new name of Dexter and Kress’s concern. It contained what could be considered the first ATM, with a safe attached to the building allowing customers to make deposits even after closing. Upscale businesses such as investment companies, doctors, dentists, real estate firms, and attorneys moved into the new facility, located at one of Hollywood’s most prominent locations. Fanchon Royer of the renowned dance team Fanchon and Marco even leased an office in the fledgling building. Thanks to city efforts to widen major streets to help traffic flow in the area, Vine Street now served as one of Hollywood’s most important thoroughfares.
The Bank of Hollywood Building thrived throughout 1929 and into 1930, even with the stock market crash and plummeting of the economy. What The Times called the world’s largest sign was unveiled March 18, a neon sign 50 x 43, with lit letters standing up to 27 feet tall. The article estimated that the piece of land had skyrocketed in worth by more than 27,000% since 1919, thanks to Hollywood’s booming construction business, the worth of the valuable location, and the beauty of the new building. Building on their investment, owners announced plans in the April 5, 1930, Los Angeles Times for the construction of a second twelve-story L-shaped building at the site, joining together with the first tower to create a new U-shaped structure. June 13, 1930, plans included creating an arcade north of the building which would connect with a planned hotel at the site, which never saw the light of day. Owners estimated this new tower of 320 rooms to cost $5,000,00 and open by December 28, 1930.
Beginning construction June 1 over the existing one story reinforced structure at the site, builders rolled with the punches regarding tenants and owners. The Bank of Hollywood suspended operations December 9, 1930, after major financial irregularities, which were not formally resolved for years. On November 29, 1930, new tenant to be Myron Selznick and Company received a permit to add wood paneling in Room 749, Selznick’s office, just one of the firm’s suite which occupied the entire seventh floor.
Pat O’Brien at the Butler Health Club atop the Equitable Building, Modern Screen.
On January 10, 1931, the Bank of Hollywood Building welcomed its first closeup of its new second tower, and by January 31, William M. Davey, investor and Gloria Swanson husband, purchased the property for $1.5 million. A March 8 Los Angeles Times story welcomed incoming new tenants Rheingold jewelry and Myron Selznick-Frank Joyce Agency, with Chicagoan J. C. Thompson listed as building manager.
On March 15, The Times now reported that henceforth, the structure had been rechristened the Equitable Building, with Citizens National Bank moving in to the empty Bank of Hollywood location on the first floor. To go along with its name change, publicists announced on April 18 that the world’s tallest neon sign, 76 feet tall and over 7 stories high, would replace the roof’s current sign.
May 29, 1929: Plans for a neon sign billed as the world’s largest.
With the announcement of the Selznick talent agency, which represented such people as William Powell, Ruth Chatterton, Lewis Milestone, and Ben Hecht, moving into the building, more agencies large and small moved their headquarters into the structure as well, following their industry’s largest player into fancy new digs. Ancillary businesses related to talent agencies followed as well, making the building one of the more important entertainment addresses in the city. Across the street, other entertainment trade organizations like AMPAS opened swanky new facilities. To assist these industry players hoping to stay slim and trim, owners announced October 4, 1931, that Butler Health Institute, one of the first businesses that operated training facilities, would move into the whole roof and parts of the twelfth floor. Though called Butler Health Club, the private establishment operated strictly as a conditioning business, not as a gym, with with steam rooms, conditioning and treatment rooms, guest rooms, and places for individual exercise, as well as a solarium on the roof along with squash courts.
In the mid-1930s, with Twentieth Century-Fox moving to Century City and Beverly Hills rising in popularity, most talent firms closed in the Equitable Building and opened luxurious new headquarters in Beverly Hills and adjacent areas. As agents moved out, radio studios and companies moved in, taking advantage of office space near the major radio broadcasting stations and studios. Insurance agents, detectives, tax companies, and advertising firms like Young and Rubicam also opened offices in 6253 Hollywood Blvd, in 1942. When television took off in the late 1950s, radio companies departed, opening up space.
While the gorgeous architecture remained, owners and tenants cycled in and out of the facility over the next several decades. On August 15, 1954, Chicago investor Louis Glickman purchased six buildings around Los Angeles, including the Equitable, for $13 million. He sold to American Airlines in 1956, which added their own sign on the exterior.
Tom Gilmour purchased the property in 2000, restoring it over the next two years, with the Hollywood and Vine Diner opening in 2002. Palisades Development Group purchased the building and converted it into lofts by 2008.
A gorgeous Art Deco and neo-Gothic masterpiece, the Equitable Building represents the heyday of Hollywood’s glamorous Golden Age, a sleek, high-class building adaptively reused and offering style and refinement, showing that historic architecture still makes a striking impact today.