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The Hollywood Motion Picture and Television Museum (commonly known as the Hollywood Museum) was planned in the early 1960s but was never built. Lack of funding, over-ambitious plans (a museum, galleries, film archive, library and academic complex, theater, sound stage, television studio, demonstration center, concessions, and administrative offices were part of the project at one time or another), and politics all contributed to its failure. This was not the first or the last attempt to build a museum in Hollywood honoring filmmaking. Previous plans—none directly linked to the Hollywood Motion Picture and Television Museum—included Motion Picture Relief Fund president Jean Hersholt's efforts in 1954 to build a film museum to bring in revenue for the Motion Picture & Television Fund Country House. His successor as president, E. L. DePatie, launched a campaign the following year for a Motion Picture Exposition and Hall of Fame, but the plans were dropped due to lack of industry support. Two years later John Anson Ford, acting chairman of the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors, moved to establish a committee to explore the creation of a museum in Hollywood. Headed by producer Jack Warner, the committee considered the Hollywood Bowl area as well as Exposition Park, near downtown Los Angeles, as possible locations. The possibility of such a museum in Exposition Park prompted the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce to push for a Hollywood locale. This was the impetus that resulted in the Hollywood Museum commission.
In June 1959, under the initiative of Los Angeles County Supervisor Ernest Debs, whose district included Hollywood, the board of supervisors issued a mandate to build and operate a museum in Hollywood that would foster and perpetuate interest in the motion picture, television, radio, and recording industries. The Los Angeles County Hollywood Motion Picture and Television Museum Commission was formed, with retired producer Sol Lesser acting as chairman. The supervisors offered county-owned land opposite the main entrance to the Hollywood Bowl, supplemented by the acquisition of contiguous parcels. William Pereira, architect of the Motion Picture & Television Fund Country House and Hospital, was hired to study the site and eventually design the building. Two private nonprofit corporations were established in June 1960: the Hollywood Museum Corporation, for the museum construction, and the autonomous Hollywood Museum Associates (HMA), of which Lesser was president. The former would build the facility with county-guaranteed bonds, and the latter would lease it from the county for thirty years, after which the building would revert to the county.
In December 1960 the board of supervisors suggested that the film industry put up half the cost of the project. This caused the HMA concern and was an early warning sign of the troubles to come. Over the next few years the HMA raised nearly $500,000 and gifts continued to accumulate. Groundbreaking ceremonies were held at the proposed site on October 20, 1963. Debs and Lesser, along with Gene Autry, Walt Disney, Jack Warner, Mary Pickford, Gregory Peck, Gloria Swanson, and others, addressed an audience of several thousand people.
Early the following year, financier Bart Lytton, a founding member of the museum, publicly demanded an investigation of HMA finances. Despite his claims, the board of supervisors approved the museum lease. A county-condemned building on the site necessitated the eviction of its occupant, who consequently held sheriff's deputies at bay with a shotgun for several weeks until his arrest in April 1964. The dramatic standoff received much attention from the media, and taxpayers began to question the expenditure of public funds. The attorney for the evicted man immediately sued the county to prevent the sale of bonds to finance construction. The supervisors appointed a review board, headed by Lytton (who some claimed was disgruntled because he hadn't been appointed to the commission), that reported the HMA was operating at a deficit.
By late 1964, after having invested more than $1,000,000, the county froze funding. When Lytton saw the architect's plans in March 1965, he claimed the museum would cost $21 million to build. This estimated price tag far exceeded the original $6.5 million proposal and surpassed the amount of money raised thus far. Arguments ensued over how much the building would cost and where the money would come from. The HMA then suspended financial operations and stopped soliciting monetary donations. Two months later the county had completely withdrawn its support. The following month the proposed site was paved over to create a parking lot. (In the early 1980s the unrelated Hollywood Studio Museum, operated by Hollywood Heritage, Inc., opened in the Lasky-DeMille barn, which had been moved to the site.) By the time Lesser resigned as president of the HMA in August 1965, plans for the museum had been abandoned. Numerous attempts to resuscitate the project failed. (Two unrelated museums later opened in Hollywood: the presently shuttered Hollywood Museum on Hollywood Boulevard, showcasing John LeBold's costume collection, in 1984, and the Hollywood Entertainment Museum, near Mann's Chinese Theater in 1996.)
The museum's acquisitions remained in storage facilities supervised by the county until September 1967. In 1968 the City of Los Angeles, through its Board of Recreation and Parks Commission, inherited the Hollywood Museum memorabilia when it paid storage fees owed by the county to the warehouses storing the material. The materials were transferred to the Lincoln Heights jail, near downtown Los Angeles, and placed in the custody of the Hollywood Center for the Audio-Visual Arts. Donor Betty Lasky began a campaign around 1976 to find a proper home for the acquisitions. Terrys Olender, Lasky's attorney, tried to convince Los Angeles Councilwoman Peggy Stevenson to relocate the material to Los Angeles-area institutions. Stevenson appointed Olender public service legal coordinator for the Hollywood Museum project in 1979. Within two years Olender and Los Angeles Deputy City Attorney Bruce Sottile had drawn up city-approved contracts to loan the "research" portion of the collection to four area institutions for a period of 25 years, renewable for an additional 15 years. By May 1982 the research material was distributed among the American Film Institute, the University of Southern California, the University of California at Los Angeles, and the Academy. Ironically, one of the proposals made by Sol Lesser at a 1960 Hollywood Museum Library Committee organizational meeting attended by Margaret Herrick, Academy librarian Betty Franklin, and others was to have the legal committee draw up a performance contract so that the Academy could repossess Hollywood Museum gifts if they were in storage or not in use.
Hollywood Museum artist's rendering