Ingrid Abramovitch

Hollywood

I just returned from a trip to Los Angeles, where hard-won victories in architectural preservation seem to lead quickly to fresh new battles.
Case in point: on February 10, the LA Conservancy announced that the Century Plaza Hotel would be preserved as part of a mixed-use development, not torn down as the developers had planned. The crescent-shaped 19-story hotel, built in 1966 and located at the corner of Avenue of the Stars and Constellation, was designed by architect Minoru Yamasaki, who later designed the Twin Towers. The hotel, dubbed the West Coast White House, was where Richard Nixon feted the Apollo 11 architects after their launch. Architecture firm Marmol Radziner has done groundbreaking research into how to preserve the building’s historic features, including its aluminum shell. http://laconservancy.org/centuryplaza/index.php

But no sooner was that demolition averted came the news that another L.A. landmark was at risk–this one almost absurdly unthinkable. Who can imagine Los Angeles without its iconic Hollywood sign set against the green backdrop of the Hollywood Hills? Well, guess what? Turns out the land behind the sign (which was originally created as an advertisement in the 1920s) has been sold to developers by its owner, the estate of Howard Hughes (who bought it in the 1940s with the intention of building a mansion there for his girlfriend, Ginger Rogers–before they broke up). A Chicago real estate group bought the land and planned to develop estates along the ridgeline, known as Cahuenga Peak. This is why during my visit the sign was covered by hand-made banners saying “Save the Peak.” It was a very odd sight, visible from both my brother Seth’s apartment window in Silver Lake and from the Griffith Park Observatory where the view was otherwise gorgeous one late afternoon. A preservation group, Save Cahuenga Peak, orchestrated the stunt to raise the $12.5 million they need to buy the land back and save the sign. http://www.savehollywoodland.org
At last report, they were $4 million short of their goal.

Meanwhile, a few highlights of my trip:
1. Lunch at the Los Feliz home of Mayer Rus, my former colleague at House & Garden, now the design editor of the L.A. Times Magazine. Check out his hilarious and always insightful blog, From Rus With Love. He has a point about those ice totem poles at the Winter Olympics opening ceremonies–they did look like a cross between a Nutcracker doll and Marge Simpson. http://fromruswithlove.latimesmagazine.com/

2. The most magical place in Los Angeles, bar none, has got to be Paul Fortune’s living room, in his restored midcentury bungalow in Laurel Canyon. Paul is the interior designer whose swanky but understated redo of the Sunset Towers Hotel put it back on the map. He is also Marc Jacobs’ decorator. But above all, he is the consummate host and storyteller and there is nowhere I’d rather be than sitting by his fireplace in his wonderfully cozy home. Check out photos of his house on his website–look for the two sections called Laurel Canyon. http://www.paulfortunedesign.com/

3. Dinner at Ford’s Filling Station in Culver City. Harrison Ford’s son, Ben, looks a lot like his dad but the man can cook! This unpretentious gastropub has deviled eggs, charcuterie, an insane Salt Cod Brandade, and an incredible Shrimp Curry. http://www.fordsfillingstation.net/xml.html

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