The Los Angeles Conservancy held its annual benefit gala Oct. 17 at the magnificent Waverly Mansion — a Beverly Hills landmark — hosted by Jill and Lily Collins. This sprawling estate was built by silent film moguls Al and Charles Christie in 1926. Notable occupants have included silent screen actor Richard Barthelmess and composer Cole Porter. The stunning home is surrounded by nearly four acres of rolling landscaped gardens, a grotto and orchard and was designated Beverly Hills Local Historic Landmark no. 9 in 2013.
At a sunset cocktail party held on the lawn a few steps from the grand house’s front entryway, Variety chatted with event co-chair Linda Bruckheimer about the work the organization is doing. “I think we should be more aware of what the historic sites are. We’ve lost so many historic houses — half of them have been destroyed in one way or another. America doesn’t value its historic properties the way other countries do. We’re getting better but there’s room for improvement.”
Her favorite historic L.A. sites include the Farmers Market and the Santa Monica Pier, “local buildings that have had big roles in the city’s history. They’ve been preserved in meaningful ways. They have that vintage feeling.
Bruckheimer also touted the org’s “Last Remaining Seats” series, which shows old movies in movie theaters in downtown Los Angeles that date from the 1920s. “(They) are such a credit to Hollywood and what moviegoing used to be. We need to resuscitate those and bring them back to their former glory,” she said.
Her husband, mega-producer Jerry Bruckheimer, concurred with his wife: “We have such fabulous history in this town. It’s a shame that we destroy the beautiful creations of some of the founders of our community. That’s what this is all about: to show one of the treasures. This home has great history.” Bruckheimer pointed to Union Station as one of the many fantastic shooting locations his productions have used.
L.A. Conservancy board member and architect Linda Brettler said she is constantly discovering local treasures on her daily runs, where she finds secret stairs and stops to talk to contractors or homeowners when she spots properties of interest.
“There was this fantastic house in Hancock Park, it was a Spanish house with a very Moorish minaret on it, it didn’t seem to go with the house but it was interesting. The owner was in a housecoat outside the house and I asked him if the minaret was original — he turned around and it was John Malkovich. He had added the minarets.”
Variety asked Brettler about her husband, Matthew Weiner’s, hit TV series “Mad Men” and its use of many local historic sites. She credits the show’s talented production team for finding the locations and shared, “Whenever they shot somewhere cool, Matthew invited me to set.” Crediting the L.A. Conservancy for their efforts, Brettler lamented the current development craze. “They’re trying to turn L.A. into New York, which it will never be. The great thing about L.A. is you can see vistas, you can see the Hollywood sign, you can see the sunset over palm trees and we’re obliterating that. Beyond preservation, I hope there’s some grander thought about preserving the urban fabric of the city, not making it something it really isn’t.”
Brettler also shared another hidden treasure — the Hollywood Heritage Museum in the parking lot of the Hollywood Bowl — “It’s a little barn that you’ve driven by a million times, it looks like a little shack and that barn turns out to be the very first building Cecil B. DeMille shot ‘Squaw Man’ in when he first came to Los Angeles. And that’s a fabulous thing about Hollywood: there are so many hidden relics around and people don’t know about them and they get demolished. Hollywood Boulevard is the nexus of everything — beyond movies, the television and music industries are there.”
Actress Marg Helgenberger thinks Hollywood can shed some light on the importance of restoration instead of demolition when it comes to Los Angeles properties. “I always try to preserve something because you lose a lot of the character. Why not recycle?” Helgenberger counts the Ambassador and the Biltmore in downtown L.A. as two of her classic favorites. She recalled hosting a New Year’s Eve party at the Ambassador. “This was in 1989 when I did my series ‘China Beach.’ ” She also loves the Santa Monica Pier, the Casa del Mar Hotel, Griffith Observatory, and as more favorites came to mind, she exclaimed, “I performed at the Wiltern!”
|The Waverly Mansion grounds in Beverly Hills at the Los Angeles Conservancy’s benefit gala
Rob Latour/Variety/Rex Shutterstock