The Tower appeared in the March 24, 1939, installment of Nuestro Pueblo by Joseph Seewerker and Charles Owens of the Los Angeles Times.
Both marketing gimmick and necessity, the elevator shaft that gave the name High Tower Drive to a street in the Hollywood Highland Avenue Tract is now an icon in Los Angeles. Almost 100 years old, the tower represents the can-do spirit of Los Angeles and its residents.
In 1901, Los Angeles investors H.J. Whitley, F.H. Rindge, Griffith J. Griffith, M.H. Sherman, and E.P. Clark organized the Los Angeles Pacific Boulevard and Development Company to purchase land for development north of Prospect Boulevard in Hollywood. Sherman and Clark, brothers-in-law from Arizona, owned the streetcar line around the city adjacent to land they purchased for later sale as residential lots. Their trolley line ran down Prospect Boulevard and up Highland Avenue as well. The November 18 Los Angeles Evening Press stated “the purpose of this corporation is to boom Hollywood, to make it an attractive suburban town.”
Mary Mallory’s “Living With Grace” is now on sale.
The syndicate purchased 165 acres north of Prospect (now Hollywood Boulevard) and adjoining Hollywood at its western edge at Emmet Avenue in the fall of 1901, with more than a mile of frontage on Prospect. The land ran adjacent to Highland Avenue to its west. Ads appeared that December calling the area the Hollywood Ocean View Tract. The December 5, 1901, Los Angeles Times stated that the area, part of Cahuenga Valley’s “frostless belt” and “home of the pineapple, banana and other tropical plants,” “has one of the most attractive views in this neighborhood, including the ocean, city, valley, and mountains.”
George Hoover would later purchase land at Highland and Prospect in 1902 to construct a 50-room hotel to be known as the Hollywood Hotel, and other sales would also include what is now the Magic Castle and Yamashiro’s. Sales would remain strong for three to four years, slowing petering out. Empty lots would continue to be sold to individual investors for years to come.
In 1922, one such syndicate appeared. Investor Fred S. Gallagher organized four other friends to pool their money for purchasing five acres of what they named the Hollywood Highland Avenue Tract. Gallagher, Platt Music Company secretary and treasurer, left the company in 1919 after six years of service, looking to set up on his own. He sold pianos and talking machines at 627 S. Broadway. By the early 1920s, he decided to invest his profits in real estate.
Gallagher’s syndicate purchased five acres north of Sycamore off of Highland Avenue from Edward S. Field for more than $50,000 on March 25, 1922. The group subdivided the property into individual lots, as best they could, with a large part found on a steep hillside. Following a common practice seen all around Los Angeles at the time, the group constructed stairs or “walk-streets” to upper reaches that lacked streets or driveways. Stairs provided easy access to city streets and public transportation, such as the streetcar line off of Highland Avenue below.
Budding mogul Gallagher hired construction engineer Edward T. Flaherty for help in designing stairs as well as even easier access to the high lots. Flaherty, “expert bridge builder” possessed great experience and reputation from constructing the Victoria Bridge at Riverside in 1917, Santa Ana’s Main Street Bridge in 1918, and the Ocean Park Pier in 1921. He would later serve as engineer for the lemon exchange building at Cahuenga and Santa Monica Boulevard as well as the Palmer Building on Hollywood Boulevard.
Newspapers reported April 9 on the group’s innovation, installing “a community electric automatic elevator, by which residents in the tract will be lifted to the top of the hill.” Residents would enjoy some of the best views in the area “without the physical efforts of climbing.” Garages would be situated at the bottom of the hill, near the entrance to the elevator. Ads even featured an illustration of the proposed tower.
Gallagher finally pulled a permit for the tower at 2178 High Tower Drive on October 24, 1922, listing Flaherty as engineer. Estimated to cost $15,000, the five-story tower would feature “250 yards of concrete and 20 tons of decomposed reinforcing steel” to bolt it to the hillside. The group intended it to stand permanently in Hollywood.
The tower’s dramatic, eye-catching look has made it a perfect choice for crime pictures looking for an evocative backdrop. First appearing in a 1961 television episode of “Naked City,” the tower has served as the home of Elliott Gould’s Philip Marlowe in the 1973 film “The Long Goodbye” and the 1991 thriller “Dead Again.” Strong yet silent, the tower’s individual design perfectly represents the character of the lone, crusading detective.
A true city landmark, 2178 High Tower Drive connects low and high, old and new, as it serves its residents’ needs and lives 98 years after construction.