Alissa Walker | Essays

Why Scientology is Good for Hollywood

Last week may have marked the end of a year-long promotional campaign of impossible proportions. But it was only the beginning of the age of enlightenment for the Church of Scientology.

An astounding 23 million visitors visited Scientology websites in 2005, where the FAQ page now seems to tap the mind of an US Weekly reader. In the same year, Scientology logged a record 289,000 minutes of radio and TV coverage — coverage that upgraded Scientology from an obscure insider reference to national late night talk show fodder. When Isaac Hayes left "South Park" because of an episode that depicted Scientologist beliefs, Comedy Central issued an stunningly cheeky response from the show's creators: "Scientology, you may have won THIS battle, but the million-year war for Earth has just begun!" They said exactly what had been on our minds for months: Scientology is really screwing up Hollywood.

But if you live where I do, in the actual city of Hollywood, just a few blocks away from where the Oscars are held, you see the Church of Scientology as somewhat of a savior. Within a two-mile corridor along Hollywood Boulevard, the Church owns eight historic buildings, four of which are on the National Register of Historic Places. In a neighborhood where architectural triumphs evaporate with little remorse, Scientology is the most ardent preservationist force in town.

Los Angeles is infamous for its design amnesia, but Hollywood seems to have been whacked over the head particularly hard. By 1960, all but one of the film studios that financed the building boom in the 20's had relocated to different parts of the city, leaving a gilded shell to rot. Over the next 40 years, the city adopted some rather extreme planning methods.

The earthquake-damaged Egyptian Theater was cemented shut, sealing its ornate 1922 details inside like the King Tut tomb it was inspired by. Sardi's, the glamorous Schindler-designed sister to the NY power lunch spot was thrust out by current tenant, Le Sex Shoppe. Even after it was declared a cultural monument, the once-lush Garden Court apartment building, known later as "Hotel Hell," was soon leveled by an even more frightening, white cage of a complex named The Galaxy. No such measures were needed when the famous Brown Derby restaurant fell into disrepair; transients simply burned it to the ground.

When I moved here five years ago, the legendary heart of Hollywood — the intersection of Hollywood and Highland — was a vacant lot. I walked my new neighborhood expecting a shimmering celluloid siren — or at least a seductive dark-hearted lounge lizard. But Hollywood today is more of a jaundiced has-been with her teeth punched out. Shingle-weary 1926 Craftsman, weedy parking lot, strip mall with stucco frosting, chain link fence. Repeat.

Slowly, Hollywood is making a comeback. But discovering an original structure that's not impregnated by souvenir shops is like seeing a celebrity on Hollywood Boulevard before 11pm.

One such structure holds court in the center of Hollywood: it's the prestigious Guaranty Building, a true Beaux Arts beauty. Charlie Chaplin and Cecil B. DeMille invested in this building. Social columnist Hedda Hopper kept an office here. It still looks much like a 1923 banking center, which, at 150 feet, was once one of the tallest buildings in LA. Today, it is the mother church of the worldwide Scientology religion.

Next door, the Church owns the Regal Shoes building, a Streamline Moderne curved-corner property built in 1939. A few blocks down is a two-story Normandy-style building, home of the Scientology Test Center. Across the street from that is the Hotel Christie, the bricked-and-columned Colonial Revival built in 1923 by Arthur Kelly, considered the first luxury hotel in Hollywood due to its private baths. A neon sign runs its length like a theater marquee: S-C-I-E-N-T-O-L-O-G-Y lit up green and yellow at night. A lovely complex on the western end of Hollywood includes a Spanish Colonial church. The fluorescent pink bougainvillea of that courtyard compared to the graffiti etched in the empty storefronts of The Galaxy, right next door, makes me wish L. Ron Hubbard had started his writing career sooner.

With seemingly little self-awareness, Scientology has become the unofficial pioneer of Hollywood's gentrification movement. But why? In the 60's and 70's, when Scientology was staking its claim, land was cheap. What spurred them to scout and restore aging façades instead? In addition to his talents for spinning a religion out of a mediocre science fiction career, was Hubbard was an urban planning visionary?

Maybe, I thought, in Scientology speak, architectural renovation serves as a stirring metaphor for spiritual rebirth. Like a suppressive robbing an engram bank, I needed answers.

The crown jewel of Scientology's heirlooms is the Chateau Elysee, a 1929 replica of a 17th century French chateau now known as the Celebrity Centre International. It was built by Eleanor Ince, widow of Thomas Ince, the original movie mogul to house luminaries like Clark Gable, Humphrey Bogart, Katharine Hepburn, Errol Flynn and Ginger Rogers. It's also where Katie Holmes came, reportedly almost every day during the past year, to study. I chose this as my architectural gateway into Scientology.

I call ahead, saying I'm an architecture enthusiast and I'd like to set up an appointment to tour the building with someone who knows about the restoration process. They assure me they have someone on hand for just that request, and urge me to come any day, from 9am until 10pm. Their doors are always open.

The doors are, in fact, closed, when I arrive, so I tell the guard smiling outside why I'm here. This request puzzles him greatly, and he guides me in, looking for backup.

In 1992, the Church devoted over one million hours to restoring the Chateau Elysee to its 1929 state. The lobby is Rococo-perfect. Hand-painted frescoes cover the ceilings and most of the walls. Original crystal fixtures sprout from every surface, throwing their glittery patina over the room. Thick, large-footed furniture is upholstered in sumptuous Victorian florals. I sit in a burgundy armchair and stare up at the blue plaster sky, rimmed with clouds and columns.

A woman named Trish scurries to my side, asking if I'm indeed the person who wanted to know about the building's architecture. I ask her if she's the restoration expert. "Well, I know a little bit about the building," she says. "But I know a lot about Scientology, and that's who owns the building!"

But — the restoration expert? "I'm not sure who you spoke to," she says. "But I could show you around. And you could learn a little about Scientology on the way?"

I'd only gotten a peek at the famous pink-and-green checkerboarded marble floors. And the French gardens — I could barely see them from the street since they stretched canvas around the property's perimeter. "I'd love to learn about Scientology," I say.

Perfectly centered in the salmon recesses of the lobby's wide cream paneling are huge flat-screened monitors. The tour begins by walking from screen to screen, where wide-eyed people demonstrate Scientology's ability to overcome life's trauma — in this case, attacks by German Shepherds. I pretend to watch but secretly memorize the carved gold woodwork along the wall.

My e-meter readings are taken in the corner of a sitting room with an ivory grand piano. When I'm forced to grip metal cylinders and recall a traumatic moment myself — I conjure visions of vicious German Shepherds — I observe how well the scarlet curtain swags match the red in the carpet. The auditing classrooms are upstairs, on a level painted entirely in pastoral motif, with glossy-eyed rabbits prancing along the chair rail. The world-famous purification program, a regimen which releases toxins so violently that students have been known to have drug flashbacks, takes place in a pristine black-and-white tiled spa.

When we step into the garden, I audibly gasp. This is the view I've strained to see over the jasmine-entwined fence for five years — the Chateau Elysee, unobscured. Towering above neighboring cinderblock apartments, it's quite literally a castle. Turrets rise from fluffy Englemann oaks to spike the sky. A splashy fountain drowns out the hum of the Hollywood Freeway. The afternoon sun filters through 90-foot palms onto feather-thin ferns that surround an orangerie. I'm in the Loire, not Los Angeles. I feel dangerously close to being brainwashed with period detail.

In my reverie I point at a leafy balcony on the sixth floor. The top four floors are home to the hotel suites heaped with history. I have a list of which celebrity lived in which room — each with original furnishings — and I'd like to see Bogart's or Hepburn's, maybe. Trish shakes her head without dimming her smile. It's a functioning hotel for visiting Scientologists, she says. They're off-limits. The tour is over.

Trish guides me back into a tiny office where I politely decline several classes that will lead to enhanced professional growth. She looks troubled when I don't write my phone number down on her evaluation sheet. I get it: the door to Scientology will reopen if I pay $35 for "The Personal Efficiency Course." I stare out the window, where Eleanor Ince designed a moat to encircle her sculpted boxwoods, and seriously consider it.

Hubbard didn't live to see the completion of the Celebrity Centre's restoration, but he did author a 1955 initiative called Project Celebrity, in which he acknowledged his desire to recruit those who "entertain, fashion and take care of the world." The century of star power threaded through these buildings draws a direct line to the headline-snagging Scientologists of today. Even the consecrations concentrated in Hollywood's historic entertainment district milk every bit of their Walk of Fame locations: the L. Ron Hubbard Life Exhibition in the Guaranty Building packs as much bang into its guided tour as the Hollywood Wax Museum down the street.

The Chateau Elysee has the same theme-park appeal; as a castle it rivals the one inhabited by Sleeping Beauty, a mere 39 miles away. But the fairy-tale perfection is also a physical representation of the hyper-idyllic world in which Scientologists so firmly believe. Scientology preaches "a civilization without insanity, without criminals and without war, where the able can prosper and honest beings can have rights, and where man is free to rise to greater heights..." A building frozen in the prime of its bygone era becomes a more believable refuge from the complications of modern life.

Perhaps then, the distinctive landmarks serve as a motivational tool? As students of Scientology ascend the Bridge towards total self-determinism, maybe they also climb the architectural ranks. They start as cashiers at the Hubbard bookstore on the ground floor of the Hotel Christie; the penthouse of the Chateau Elysee tantalizing them along with their dreams of becoming level-seven Operating Thetans. Brochures for Flag, the spiritual retreat center and Mecca of Scientology, promise "maximum case gain" at the palatial 1927 Mediterranean-revival Fort Harrison Hotel, in Clearwater, Florida.

Hubbard's legacy has ensured that Hollywood's Golden Age is safe — albeit only for the enjoyment of those who have been saved themselves. Yet even our local government has failed to protect historic buildings from demise, and he's managed to elevate our secular spaces — hotels, banks, theaters — into untouchable sacred grounds. Given our track record, maybe it's for our own good.

And, like most of their tenets, Scientology has decided that what's good for Hollywood is good for everyone. They already have their eye on a lovely Art Deco masterpiece in a town near you.

Alissa Walker is a freelance design writer and co-editor of Unbeige. She is a graduate of the University of Colorado's journalism school and Portfolio Center. She writes from a home tucked into a hill below a 1928 Frank Lloyd Wright house and above the lights of Hollywood.

Posted in: Architecture, Arts + Culture, Social Good

Comments [31]

Alissa, this has to be the worst excuse for why Scientology is "good" that I've ever heard.

I too lived in the heart of Hollywood, for 11 years in fact. I've been inside the Celebrity Center a number of times (it was for a "business seminar" bait & switch scam, oh those were ignorant days). Yeah, it's beautiful, but at what cost? It's beautiful in the same way I think a mushroom cloud has a graceful aesthetic.

The church is not giving squat back to Hollywood, or the world for that matter. They're claiming it for themselves. They're hoarding real estate and keeping the value high. It's a pretty effective means to make billions of dollars. Just ask Trump, Wynn, or the Academy of Art in San Francisco.
Bobby Dragulescu

I just checked with the Thetans, and they said everyone should put back on thier aluminum foil hats and suits and stay in their basements until the mother ship arrives. Standing by...
Joe Moran

Where to start? I could point out that five years ago the corner of Hollywood and Highland was hardly vacant; the giant project that dominates this corner was about to open to the public. But instead I think I should describe my own preservation experience at the Celebrity Center in the early 1990's. At the time I was the Principal Architect of the Community Redevelopment Agency of the City of Los Angeles (CRA/LA) which oversaw and still oversees today the Hollywood Redevelopment Project. This project area includes many of the properties that the Scientologists own in Hollywood.

I was invited to the Celebrity Center to try and negotiate a solution to an historic preservation problem; mainly that the Scientologists had repeatedly ignored demands by the City of Los Angeles to stop work and cease non-permitted illegal demolitions within their historic buildings; most particularly the 1923 Guaranty Building that is featured in the illustrations in this post and on the Scientology web page.

The Scientologists knew what they wanted to do in the Guaranty Building and it did not include getting permits much less following the Secretary of the Interiors Standards for Historic Presertvation. They most certainly at the time were not interested in maintaining the remaining historic fabric in the bank lobby, maintaiing the intact office corridors from the 1920's, keeping the historic windows nor resolving numerous other preservation and building code violations that I vividly remember. Historic preservationsist who had fought hard in the 1980's to designate landmarks in Hollywood were up in arms, the Scientologists were the enemy, and I was the unfortunate point person who was designated to go break bread and figure out a truce and a solution.

Perhaps the Scientologists were interested in preservation but only on their terms. They stated this loud and clear in both private and public situations. I recall being denounced by a Scientology representative at an annual public meeting of the Redevelopment Agency in Hollywood who claimed that I was personally depriving Scientology of their property rights. Actually that was not true, I just refused to sign their permits for months until they agreed to minimally meet preservation standards.

But let's get back to the lunch. No doubt Scientology's culinary standards have improved in the fifteen years since this repast took place but I recall that lunch to be unfortunate. After the requisite tour of the facility and breathless references to Scientology stars (in those days they were most excited by John Travolta). I was ushered into an ornate private dining room. I was seated at one head of a long table formally set with cloth table. At the other head was one of the Los Angeles' most powerful business lobbyists, Maureen Kindell, who had been hired to represent the interests of the Church. She seemed as embarrassed to be there as I was, and kept winking at me as the Scientology functionaries seated inbetween us worked to convince me that they were ready to reform. Towards the end of the meal the Scientologists, Kindell, and I agreed that from now on the Church would be most cooperative. Kindell winked one last time and asked if they could they please now get their permit. Mostly, I still recall the leathery chicken, soft overcooked asparagus, heavy cream sauce that tasted like flour, and glad relief when I was finally released from this environment - my only obligation to sign off their permit when and if they follwed the preservation rules - which to their credit they subsequently did. I am not sure I would call this the lunch that spurred Hollywood's preservation renaissance. I remind myself of these details because throughout the meal the Scientologists spent a lot of time describing the world class standards of their cookery as I tried to choke down their food. Their simultaneous assurances that their preservation experts had the future of the Guaranty Building well in hand did not inspire confidence. I for one will remain ever vigilant.

While I am writing all this from memory, suffice it to say that the Scientologists may have spent millions of hours restoring their landmarks but I can well demonstrate that lowly government officials were forced to spend hundreds if not thousands of hours monitoring this group's then intransigent attitude towards preservation. This last point is critical given the tenor of the post.

There are many preservation heroes in Hollywood and while Scientology should be commended for their eventual cooperation on several buildings this hardly qualifies them as heroes of preservation and Hollywood revitalization history. Unfortunately they can only be heroes to the misinformed who don't bother to do their homework and have clearly not spent much time learning about preservation and redevelopment issues in Los Angeles. I was a minor player in the dramas that "saved" Hollywood: it's worthwhile here to mention a few far more important individuals and groups. For decades both the Los Angeles Conservancy (who by the way fought continuously and very publicly for a decade to save the Ambassador Hotel - hardly an example of a resource evaporating with little remorse) and Hollywood Heritage have struggled to both document and save Hollywood's and Los Angeles' architectural resources. They provided critical support when I was working on the Guaranty Building. Local activists and government leaders have also been committed participants at each phase of Hollywood's redevelopment. Christy Johnson McAvoy has worked tirelessly on preservation issues in this corner of Los Angeles and willingly walked the halls of the Guaranty Building when the Scientologists were engaged in wanton destruction. Other heroes include Fran Offenhauser, Bill Roschen, Barton Myers, Michael Woo, Jackie Goldberg, Hillary Gittelman, and Robert Nudelman. Nudelman, a Hollywood gadfly, was a pain in many a government officials backside (and probably still is) but being on the street everyday he figured out who was not doing the right thing with regard to preservation (including the Scientologists) as well as numerous other issues usually sooner than anybody else. One could go on and on.

Suffice it to say that when the history of Hollywood redevelopment is written the Scientologists will be noted as major Hollywood property owners who initially had to be brow beaten by public and private interests into becoming preservationists. The real heroes of Hollywood revitalization and preservation are hardly unknown or blasé. They certainly have never been dispassionate about saving this community's legacy and fostering better development. Unfortunately they and their efforts, both the good, the bad and the ugly, were not the subject of this post - a post, however well intentioned, nevertheless written from the point of view of a fictional (perhaps Thetan?) design universe that I do not live in.
John Kaliski

A fascinating insight, Mr. Kaliski, that tells the other side of the story - how hard it is to get people to do the right thing. It does tie in to the issue of eminent domain -- properly used, not abused as of late -- the idea that some parts of a city or town are important enough, of historic or ecological value, and therefore are "bigger" than any one owner. The City of Montreal is using its powers in this regard (finally) to force out derelict landlords and property owners who have let historic edifices decay.

While it's not the focus of this particular discussion - and I'd prefer not to sidetrack things - I refer curious readers who may only be familiar in passing with Scientology as a "wacky" Hollywood celebrity cult to the following site, which sheds some disturbing lights on their true aims and activities.


This reasoning is bizarre, and the argument is incredibly irresponsible. I am a writer who was harassed and threatened by The Church of Scientology for four years. Because the "church" is so secretive and so flatly dishonest about their intentions and beliefs you obvioulsy have no idea what you are praising.

The increased traffic on the Scientology websites you cite as well as the coverage on television and radio is likely 99% well deserved ridicule of the absurd sci-fi tenets of this "religion," which from my direct experience of having my home and property and person threatened, I can tell you is in reality a creepy fascist cult.

Design Observer should have though much harder before letting this one go out. What next, "Albert Speer Is Awesome"?

And what's with their logo? Any insight on that thing with the pyramids / triangles? And does it have a snake someplace in it too?

I'd like to offer these detailed descriptions of Scientology's many logos, and a clarification: the intersection of Hollywood and Highland was indeed a vacant lot when I first saw it...although it was quickly transformed into one of the most disappointing development disasters in LA history. The $640 million monstrosity opened in November 2001.

I'm thrilled to hear John's story. Until now I have found nothing but words of praise from Hollywood city officials concerning the Church. He was just the person I should have been directed to during my visit to the Celebrity Centre and his experience explains why they were less than forthcoming about discussing the restoration process. But whether the Church was strongarmed into such beliefs or not, they've obviously reformed their ways, and made preservation a priority in their subsequent acquisitions.

While I support and promote the LA Conservancy and Hollywood Heritage, as donation-dependent non-profits, their efforts are limited. In the case of the Ambassador Hotel, the LA Conservancy initiated negotiations with the Los Angeles Unified School District, but lost, and the hotel was demolished. If the Church of Scientology had decided to throw their weight (and their cash) behind the same effort, we'd have a meticulously-preserved Cocoanut Grove. However, they'd probably be serving mediocre food.
Alissa Walker

a clarification: the intersection of Hollywood and Highland was indeed a vacant lot when I first saw it..
obviously you timing was off unless they built that whole complex in a few month....

The Church of Scientology has every reason to be a good citizen in Hollywood. They live there and good citizens in their civic nature applaud their efforts with regard to historic buildings, supporting parades, feeding homeless people, paving streets, etc. My points are in fact not in opposition to the capital improvement efforts of Scientology in Hollywood but to the framework of facts and consequent reading of history and place constructed by the post.

The following paragraph spurs my thoughts:

But if you live where I do, in the actual city of Hollywood, just a few blocks away from where the Oscars are held, you see the Church of Scientology as somewhat of a savior. Within a two-mile corridor along Hollywood Boulevard, the Church owns eight historic buildings, four of which are on the National Register of Historic Places. In a neighborhood where architectural triumphs evaporate with little remorse, Scientology is the most ardent preservationist force in town.

1. A minor point: Hollywood may be a state of mind, is a place, but has not been a city since the early 1900s. Many people who live in Hollywood regret this inconvenience.
2.Scientology maintained and improved their buildings, But the impression the post leaves is that they have been a key leader in the struggles to revitalize Hollywood as a place. This is very far from the reality that I know and diminishes the very significant role of people and organizations who have dedicated their lives as leaders in the community reinventing this part of Los Angeles.
3. I have a pet peeve with the too readily accepted myth that people in Los Angeles do not care about it's history or landmarks. While certain buildings may be torn down in Los Angeles and Hollywood (as they are in all cities) it is not because people in Los Angeles are somehow more blase about history then people in any other place. The Hollywood Boulevard National Register Historic District was initiated by local citizenry in the 1980s who cherished the architecture and history of Hollywood. Additionally, the fact is that the Los Angeles Conservancy is one of the largest preservation organizations in the country with over 8000 members and is very very active throughout the city. I am always amazed and impressed when thier very active board sues as a last resort to ensure that the laws are followed and that landmarks are respected. Could they do more? Sure, but to describe their efforts as "limited" when the work of this Board exposes them as individuals to great personal financial risk is unfortunate.
4. The Ambassador Hotel which is mentioned in passing in the post is not in Hollywood and is not in a National Register Historic District. The Ambassador is in the Wilshire corridor (four miles distant) and mid-Wilshire did not have a strong preservation constituency at the start of the Ambassador process. If these component factors had been present in mid-Wilshire, as they were in Hollywood when misguided renovation of the Guaranty Building was begun, the results might have been very different. The point is that somebody had to lay the ground work in Hollywood and the real saviors of Hollywood and its revitalization have been ignored and history has been tweaked in the effort to construct a story that reads more like a public relations puff piece.
5. There is no reason to comment on the notion that Scientology is the most ardent preservation force in town.

I appreciate, as I trust Alissa does, that history and symbols are relative and subject to interpretation. Surely none of us has a lock on the truth and forums such as this are invaluable at ferreting out the facts. I do feel strongly that this post constructs a too dubious story about place-making that leaves a false impression of history and reality. I believe we should always strive hard to construct histories and produce journalism that has a vital sense of accuracy or we have to accept that everything is relativistic personal impressions. For me this latter option would be less than civilized; we would give up that part of being human that wills us to construct a less forgetful and hopefully more moral culture.
John Kaliski

I was born at the old Cedars of Lebanon hospital on Fountain. It's now a Scientology center, and I too had grudgingly said at parties that I was glad the place was still there, no matter who's occupying it now. But after trying to get in one day, and getting the bum's rush, that naive sentiment immediately became history. In fact, on the way back to my car, I found myself wishing the place had been levelled, furious that some powder blue-clad robot was probably counting money orders in the delivery room where I came into this world.

The several friends I have who are also Cedars alumni feel the same way; one says it's like seeing your grade school girlfriend and finding out she's married to the guy who ate bugs on the playground. But my problem is not necessarily with Scientology, not in this context anyway. It's more with the johnny-come-lately tourists who have lived in LA for 5 years, slapped a KCRW sticker on their Explorers (Hybrid), and loudly exclaim while at the Hollywood Farmer's Market about how they've just discovered the cutest place, a place my dad's been taking me for 40 years.

These are the people we saw at the closing night of the Nickodell, their first night, who pointed at the crowd and nervily asked the poor owner how he could close with so many customers in the place. The same ones at the last night of the Cocoanut Grove who sipped ice water and mentally calculated how much the silverware would go for. LA is not Disneyland, and when something dies, shut up and let us kids who have grown up with these places mourn in peace, let them be frozen in our memories, along with the junkies and sex shop owners who have actually toughed it out here. The places Scientology "preserves" have the look and feel of stuffed corpses, prolonging death, not life.

Of course, hard workers like Mr. Kaliski and the LA CONSERVANCY and the like are the true non-whining, honorary citizens of our city, natives or not, and if they can save something the way it was meant to be saved, more power. But for real, for the right reasons, and not because some dolt driving down Franklin on her way to an appointment wants to see over a hedge.
jason katsufrakis

obviously your timing was off unless they built that whole complex in a few months....

Yes, ps, thanks for pointing that out. Construction on Hollywood and Highland was well underway by May 2001. My mistake.

John and Jason both bring worlds of insight to this discussion due to their experiences, which are precisely the stories that I want to hear. I surely do not claim to be an expert nor a native. But I walk the streets of Hollywood nearly every day and I have devoted my time in Los Angeles to learning as much as I can about the place I live and what came before. I don't mean to reimagine history, and I am aware of the well-known heroes in Hollywood's battle to preserve its heritage. Scientology came upon these buildings before most major restoration efforts began to take shape. There is little public information about it. I wanted to know why.

There is no reason to comment on the notion that Scientology is the most ardent preservation force in town.

Perhaps it is the word 'ardent' that's troublesome, since it denotes some kind of moral motivation for intent. Scientology is definitely the most 'visible' preservationist, since they slap signs on their buildings that can be seen for miles. But it is exactly that--Jason's frustration of seeing the hospital where he was born being rebranded by the Church, or the question of if saving a building is ever "for the right reasons," that I wanted to discuss in this post.
Alissa Walker

Here's Michael Beirut boo-hooing on one post about fake plagarism, and yet on this post Ms. Walker serves up blatant baloney described as ...research technique? Just what is ambiguous about this statement: "With seemingly little self-awareness, Scientology has become the unofficial pioneer of Hollywood's gentrification movement."? Is this some new journalistic technique taught at the University of Colorado, first make something up, and then hope that someone corrects you as a way of getting at "the truth?" Or is this just another case of the current fad for "truthiness"? Scientologists as civic-minded preservationsists? Sounds good to me!

"There is little public information about it. I wanted to know why." Hey, how about starting with the LA Times? I think they wrote a few hundred articles on this very subject over that last decade (before Ms. Walker moved there, but still, she could have...looked it up. On line. At the library. Somewhere).

P.S. On the newsstand today, a whole issue of Los Angeles magazine dedicated to the revival of Hollywood, attributing it to a whole set of forces driven mostly by the players Mr. Kaliski mentioned: I guess they forgot to go to the Celebrity Center for their "research."

Wow. I never thought I would end up reading an article that is more or less an endorsement of the Church of Scientology on Design Observer.

First you ban Art Chantry and now this? You've lost me for good.

FYI—Hollywood is not a independent municipality, it is a section of this city called Los Angeles that you may have heard of.

There should be some kind of law prohibiting non-natives of Los Angeles from writing about CoS—seriously these wacko fascist pyramid scheming nutballs have ruined so many lives, which obviously you know nothing about.

You got it right. Scientology takes pride in the buildings it purchases, including magnificent buildings in London, Budapest and Mexico City.

What have the religious bigots who populate the comments on this page ever done to protect human rights and religious freedom? Almost assuredly nothing. Scientology is at the vanguard of protecting human rights and religious freedom, and it has the cojones to go toe-to-toe with a $1.6 Trillion a year industry that pushes drugs and fraudulent "brain diseases" to collect insurance dollars. Go to www.infocenter2.org and get some facts.
Mathew Brown

A comment was made about a hospital (the old Cedars-Sinai Hospital) where the writer was born. That was a boarded eye sore vacant for years. The Church of Scientlogy purchased it and renovated it fully into a state of the art facility to provide services for the many thousands of Scientologists. The street, L Ron Hubbard Way, in itself is a statement of design excellence in the use of brick to resurface and beautify an entire street with City recognition for that accomplishment. www.infocenter2.org
Mathew Brown

oh jeez, who left the basement door open?
jason katsufrakis

I liked your commentary, Alissa. And don't mind the sniping. It goes with the territory.

But allow me to insert my own jab: Okay, Hollywood & Highland isn't perfect, but I'll take that any day to the miserable, bleak parking lot (now THAT was a "monstrosity") that used to occupy the space it now sits on.
Coleen Wynters

A response to Mr. Kaliski and the rest of the naysayers:

While the early days of renovation work in Los Angeles for the Church of Scientology did have see some conflicts with city permit officials etc., this was mostly due to the fact that much of the architectural and design work came from volunteers - many of them European and Australian - who were not aware enough of city regulations, who had an intense eagerness to "get the show on the road" and perceived city bureaucrats in a negative light.

By the time I was involved in restoration work with the Church of Scientology (1991-96), I saw tremendous dedication towards preserving historical buildings, and an attitude of friendliness and cooperation towards city officials and the permitting process. As in any large architectural project, OSHA was at times perceived as the nemesis, as we struggled to comply with all handicap and zoning laws and at the same time accomodate for all needed office and public spaces. We made it work.

During this time, I recall three of our senior staff members getting their contractor licenses. I remember all of us doing special courses to learn what the city requirements were, and I recall being told by Scientology executives about the importance for respecting the process.

The intense pace never slowed down. We renovated an incredible amount of square feet during those years. But the level of professionalism did increase with each project, and by the mid-nineties, city officials were praising us for the excellent documentation, attention to detail and transparency of our work.

The results speak for themselves. Scientology buildings are a preservationist's dream.

On a personal note, I don't see why an article speaking highly about the architectural value of Scientology buildings must immediately attract anti-Scientology bigots. Sure, I do realize that most of these posters subscribe to the same forum; and I realize they were probably all told to come here and post negativism.

But it becomes a bit of a joke.

It's like you can't post an article about the color of a Scientologist's tie without one of these fanatical bigots saying "Humbug! Scientology bad! Tie stolen! Silk not imported! Probably poliester anyway!

Greg Churilov
[Yes, I'm a Scientologist. Deal with it.]
Greg Churilov

"...much of the architectural and design work came from volunteers - many of them European and Australian - who were not aware enough of city regulations, who had an intense eagerness to "get the show on the road" and perceived city bureaucrats in a negative light."
....which, back in the day, apparently included attempts to intimidate those bureaucrats, according to bureaucrats I hung with back then...always the sign of the truly civic-minded! But enough about the Thetans. Congratulations to Ms. Walker for the result of her well-intentioned "journalism:" Design Observer now populated with Scientologists, those other notable purveyors of the truth (and design wisdom).


"There is little public information about it. I wanted to know why." Hey, how about starting with the LA Times? I think they wrote a few hundred articles on this very subject over that last decade

tarpitizen, I did indeed start with the LA Times, which ran 683 stories about Scientology from 1985 until the present. There are two stories about the Church's Hollywood preservation efforts: a 1990 story about the compromise reached with city planners concerning the Chateau Elysee's neon sign, and a 2003 photo spread in the Los Angeles Times Magazine which documents the Chateau Elysee's restoration.
Alissa Walker

Perhaps the scant coverage of the LA times about preservation by Scientology reflects the dimensions of "their" story?. But the Times wrote plenty about the struggle to save Hollywood, and the activities of CRA, the Hollywood councilman's district, etc. Your note only amplifies my point: you drove this post with a thesis uncomplicated by facts. And though Hollywood as a specific governmental entitiy may be "imaginary," the city of Los Angeles and the ongoing struggle over it's nature is not.

Thanks to Alissa for posting a well-written commentary on the Church of Scientology's history in Hollywood preservation. In her original essay, Alissa aptly highlights the irony implicit in how the organization gradually adopted community standards as it addressed its properties. The fact that Scientology's beliefs are crudely disguised paeans to fascism and superstition hardly distinguishes them from other laughably childish attempts at philosophy which routinely pass themselves off as religions. It seems somewhat beside the point. As a preservationist of many years standing, I have seen similar stories played out with respect to the Catholic Church, municipalities and private developers. Sometimes these parties get in step with the community and sometimes they don't. Preservationists might decry the lack of accessibility to the public that the Church of Scientology maintains with these properties ... I would say rightly so. That indicates there's more work to be done. In this little storm of controversy Alissa is experiencing firsthand the strong feelings that preservationists have—feelings that sometimes devolve into sniping and peevishness. But some of the writers here seem to have overlooked that the irony factor is in fact Alissa's theme and the focus of her essay. Perhaps her more strident critics should reread her piece; maybe on second reading they'd get the subtext. It seemed pretty obvious to me.
Tom Biederbeck

Don't you mean, "Why Hollywood is good for Scientology". Where else to sell the idea that "the whole universe and everything in it is about ME"?

Scientology is definitely the most 'visible' preservationist, since they slap signs on their buildings that can be seen for miles.

And they're not the first "preservationists" to do so either. Check it out!
Bobby Dragulescu

If only South Park would do an episode about this... The Preservationists vs. The Scientologists.

Please Matt and Trey...where are you in a time of need?

L K Jones

Alissa, as you can now see, the mere mention of $cientology is guaranteed to bring out a phalanx of Elron's OT MkVIII Flamebots™, and, in response, me and my Marcabian minions. Yeah, Churilov, my obedience implant that the eeeeeevil Lord Xenu placed in my neck began flashing as soon as this article appeared. I was compelled by his Dark Majesty to besmirch the brilliance of Hubbard.
As for $cientology's "fabulous taste", I guess so, if by "taste" you mean Liberace meets Albert Speer. Check this out to see what kind of taste they really have . . .


Artoo 45
Marcabian Acres
Artoo 45

Great article and so evocatively put together, too. Almost makes me want to start sneaking into these building, or getting "tested" so I can see them up close.

And what's with these anti-scientology zealots posting about this article? Totally unecessary/unrelated jabbering on about "facists" and whatnot! Isn't this about archetecture? They're more annoying than the scientology zealots -and I live in Hollywood so I've dealt with a few believe me. They aren't as evil as some people are saying.
Rob Adams

Was pleased to find this website.

"First you ban Art Chantry and now this? You've lost me for good"


what the hell is wrong with you beirut?

A city that parleys is half gotten. Gerrard.

75 years of a VERY full life brought me to fashion my life moto:
Scientology contains the three of them and therefore, after a lifelong of frustrated search, I adopted it.
Let the dogs bark while the line of happy people passes by. I hope they have one day the guts to find out by themselves what is hidden in our tantalizing teachings...and join the row. The ones who dont, will soon enough tire of barking and find other targets to attack.

Jobs | July 21