July 9, 2009

In the good old days…

Posted in Between Us column, Business at 6:32 am by dinaheng

Louis A. Heilbron can remember going to the Sportsmen’s Lodge in Studio City, Calif. with his grandmother and cousins as a child in the 1950s. The kids would get bait from a little store by the pond, catch some trout, and go to the lodge restaurant, where the fish would be cooked for dinner.

“We have koi and swans in the ponds now,” says Heilbron, COO of Weintraub Financial Services, Inc., which now owns the Sportsmen’s Lodge. “The lodge goes back to 1930, and we’re hanging onto the older pieces of the property.”

Historic preservation is rarely easy. Getting people to agree that something historic should be maintained as it was originally built takes time, money and an appreciation for the past. When historic structures are smack in the middle of valuable real estate, they’re even harder to save.

The Sportsmen’s Lodge and Hotel are old Hollywood landmarks in the San Fernando Valley of Los Angeles. Originally a race track at the turn of the century, the lodge was built to cater to the stars of Republic Pictures Studio nearby, the biggest producer of Western movies of that era. Republic later became the CBS Studio Center.dinah-eng-21

“Howard Hughes’ favorite table was in that corner, and he’d bring the starlets over from Republic Pictures,” Heilbron says, pointing to a spot in the lodge dining room. “In that corner, the gangster Mickey Cohen would dine, with his bodyguards watching over him.”

Walking through the historic rooms, it’s easy to imagine the Hollywood deals that were made over long lunches with drinks from the built-in bars in most every room. While the lodge is currently closed for renovation, the past is keenly felt in the grand staircase foyer and ballroom where couples posed for wedding pictures.

The lodge and ponds will reopen later this year as a banquet facility, but the hotel next door is open for business. The hotel, built in 1961, reflects a later period in Hollywood’s history. The lobby, renovated with a fireplace and comfortable seating, has retained the original bar and high tables in one corner with the original front desk for check-in.

A working beauty salon off the lobby looks straight out of the 1960s, as does the layout of the motel-style inn, built around an Olympic-size swimming pool. For fans of “Happy Days,” Marion Ross’s jacket from the show is framed in the alcove of the booth where Ross sits when she comes to dine at the hotel’s Patio Cafe.

A Cowboy Hall of Fame can be found lining the walls outside the cafe, a tribute to stars including Dale Robertson, George Montgomery and Tom Selleck.

“John Wayne, Gene Autry and Kate Smith used to eat here regularly,” Heilbron says. “Today, we get a lot of musicians and rock bands who stay here. We get Pink Lady, KiSS, Randy Travis, Toby Keith, Loretta Lynn. Anybody who plays this area stays here.”

Cable TV shows and commercials are often filmed on the property, ensuring that some part of the Sportsmen’s Lodge and Hotel will live on. History, of course, is what we make it. Today’s trends will inevitably become yesterday’s memories. While this property is not a designated historic landmark, it’s clearly a survivor of changing times.

These days, that’s quite an accomplishment.

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