The Cinecon Caper revealed in emails between Hollywood Heritage, Netflix and Councilman Mitch O’Farrell’s Office

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Some emails have just been released in response to a public records request by government transparency blogger Adrian Riskin of MichaelKohlhaas.org. He asked Councilman Mitch O’Farrell’s office for any correspondence between the councilman’s staff and anyone with netflix.com email address. You can read the emails here.

In addition to emails expressing the councilman’s desire to be helpful in addressing the streaming giant’s need for hotel rooms and apartments in Hollywood, you’ll find a fascinating email thread with Richard Adkins, president of Hollywood Heritage.

This thread helps clear up some of the mystery surrounding the rumored cancellation and last minute restoration of the 55th Annual Cinecon Classic Film Festival’s five-day booking at the Egyptian Theatre, a booking that we’ve heard from several sources had been salvaged through the direct intervention of Councilman O’Farrell’s office.

In his email (Subject: Additional Information on Cinecon and the petition, 7/20/2019), Mr. Adkins explains at the outset, “I would like to make it clear that Hollywood Heritage has not spoken publicly about the Cinematheque or the proposed purchase of the Egyptian Theatre.”

(We think this lack of comment on a major change of use for Hollywood’s oldest motion picture palace is unfortunate, both because Hollywood Heritage was founded in 1980 “to protect, maintain and enhance buildings and neighborhoods, natural resources, and other monuments and artifacts that exemplify or constitute a part of the historic, architectural or cultural heritage of Hollywood,” and because it is the only other Hollywood non-profit that received a landmark building as a gift with the expectation that it would be operated as a public benefit. The opinion of Hollywood Heritage on this proposed sale is in the public interest.)

Further, Richard Adkins wishes it known that he is not the same person as Richard Schave, who is circulating the petition seeking transparency around the sale of the Egyptian Theatre.

He continues: “In regards to Cinecon, Hollywood Heritage has the non-profit operator of Cinecon for the past three years. We have been associated with the festival since the museum was established inn 1985, but only began managing the festival following the passing of Robert S. Birchard who was the president of Cinecon… To be able to continue to operate, Hollywood Heritage filed a DBA with the state as operators of the festival. Select personnel at the Cinematheque have been familiar with Cinecon Classic Film Festival for almost 20 years and may not have been aware of the changeover, as we kept it low key in order not to alarm registrants, vendors and creditors… I am sure this is why there may be some unfamiliarity with our relationship to the festival, but I assure you it is now a Hollywood Heritage activity. If at all possible we would like to have notification of the return of our Egyptian dates by Wednesday [7/24/2019], so that should there be a problem, we can seek alternate venues.”

(The ellipses above are included to remove a claim made in the email that the late Bob Birchard, a dedicated film historian and preservationist who once gave a wonderful interview about lost Hollywood bookstores on our podcast, was misleading the public by operating Cinecon as a non-profit, when it was not one in good standing with the California Attorney General. We have looked far and wide for any claim ever made by Bob Birchard that Cinecon, or the parent organization Society of Cinephiles, was a non-profit, without success. To the contrary, Bob Birchard partnered with a non-profit at the end of his life to allow Cinecon to receive tax-deductible donations (see this PDF link). Since 2016, Cinecon has been operated by a non-profit, Hollywood Heritage.)

Two days later (7/22/2019) Craig Bullock, Planning Director for Councilman Mitch O’Farrell, forwards Richard Adkins’ email to London Kemp, Netflix’ Director of Corporate Real Estate:

“FYI. I wanted to share the email below regarding the petition. I would not have intervened had the people doing the petition were the same as the people doing the film festival. At my request, Richard Atkins sent this email to me to better clarify the players… it get confusing especially with multiple Richards haha”

With the air cleared, Cinecon did indeed go on as planned at the Egyptian Theatre from 8/29-9/2/2019. It was a close call for the festival, and for the hundreds of film fans, guest speakers and memorabilia vendors who purchased tickets and paid for travel and lodging, unaware that the event was hanging by a thread.

We’re glad Cinecon happened this year at its longtime home, The Egyptian Theatre. And we’re glad Los Angeles Times reporter Ryan Faughnder was able to attend Cinecon and to meet as perfect a dues-paying American Cinematheque member as Christina Rice there, so her quote can wrap up today’s front page story: “If it’s such a great thing, why does this all need to be shrouded in secrecy?”

And we’re deeply troubled that something as silly and as capricious as Netflix executives mistakenly thinking the preservationist named Richard who is petitioning the American Cinematheque to explain why they want to sell the Egyptian Theatre is the same person as the non-profit president named Richard who has no comment about the situation came thisclose to stopping Cinecon’s show from going on.

The city gave the Egyptian Theatre to the American Cinematheque for a dollar so festivals like Cinecon can have a home. We the people of Los Angeles and the wider film community deserve some honest answers before we lose this precious place. If you agree, please sign the petition, and share it with friends. You can learn more about the situation here.


Update: On September 12, two days after publication of this post containing the email in which he tells Netflix and Councilman Mitch O’Farrell’s office that Hollywood Heritage has made no public comment about the proposed sale, the non-profit’s president Richard Adkins made the following statement on Facebook, in which he commits to Hollywood Heritage sharing its informed opinion about the sale… after or as it closes. We understand that journalists have been reaching out to Adkins and Hollywood Heritage while reporting the story, with no response. These observations could have been helpful to them.

“The landmark Egyptian Theatre has been the focus of press attention in the last six months due to media reports of a pending transfer of ownership. At this date, and to our knowledge, no such transfer has as yet been completed and articles in the press lack sufficient detail to justify taking any position on a projected, but unexecuted, transaction. That being said, we would clearly anticipate that any such transfer of a national landmark building in a national historic register district would be reviewed with transparency by and all responsible public agencies, departments, or commissions. As the first Sid Grauman theatre in Hollywood and the site of the first gala “premiere” with searchlights and a red carpet, the Egyptian Theatre is a defining structure in our built environment and merits careful consideration in order to protect and preserve its unique architectural and cultural value not only to Hollywood, Los Angeles and America, but the world in general, which views Hollywood as a shared international cultural asset. When there is specificity and detail regarding a change in the projected operation of the theatre which may affect its future, Hollywood Heritage will be happy to share its observations and opinions on such plans, specifically as it relates to the monument, the district, and non-profit law and operation.”

In a follow up comment to someone seeking clarification, he adds: “That would be a simplification of the historic building process and this one is complicated by ownership by a non-profit. Yes, changes which require a permit are automatically reviewed for any building over 50 years of age under regulations which were designed to protect existing and potential landmarks. Painting for instance, is not a permit-necessary process. The review I was referring to has everything to do with how a non-profit steward of a historic structure has to proceed via non-profit law. A non-profit which owns or operates a landmark structure is periodically reviewed to make sure funds donated specifically for projects such as restoration are actually used for that purpose and not for staffing or other ancillary purposes. The Egyptian is a landmark, the Cinematheque is a non-profit, review of their management of the site is appropriate.”

Peek inside Frank Sinatra’s endangered motion picture bungalow

For the past few weeks, we’ve been offering support and advice to Doug Quill, the filmmaker who has been petitioning to keep a 1929 bungalow on The Lot (formerly Goldwyn Studios and United Artists) from being demolished for an expansion of LADWP’s electrical distribution system. Doug shares his story with us on the latest You Can’t Eat the Sunshine podcast.

Dozens of creative people have worked in the comfortable Spanish-style bungalow over the decades, but it’s most closely associated with Frank Sinatra. His Essex Productions was based at the Goldwyn Studios in the early 1960s, and the bungalow was his retreat during the recording of The Concert Sinatra (1963) at Sound Stage 7. It is recognized as a primary contributing resource to the studio’s historic fabric.

So it’s Frank Sinatra’s bungalow that’s teetering on the brink, and the reason, naturally, is a woman. After Mary Pickford and Douglas Fairbanks divorced in 1936, she donated the southern portion of the then-United Artists studio backlot to the city, legend has it for a park. Somehow, the land instead passed into the control of LADWP, and it became an essential part of the city’s electrical power distribution infrastructure. A few buildings, the Sinatra bungalow among them, sat all or partly on LADWP land, but functioned as part of the studio for decades. Last month, ahead of a planned expansion, LADWP declined to extend these building’s leases, and the preservation crisis began.

Sound stage demolition in progress

Now it’s up to LADWP and studio owner CIM Group to find common ground with the Los Angeles Conservancy and Hollywood Heritage, two agile preservation organizations that have stepped in to support Doug’s campaign. What will happen to Frank Sinatra’s motion picture bungalow? It will either be moved (but where?) or demolished in the coming weeks. As a tangible link to the golden age of Hollywood and popular music, we think it’s a treasure worth keeping, even as the sound stages behind it are torn to pieces by heavy machinery.

Last week, we attended a site visit to explore the feasibility of moving the building; happily, it is a simple structure that will be easy to lift and transport in one piece. Take a behind-the-scenes peek at this endangered piece of Hollywood history, and please sign the petition to show your support and get updates as they happen.

If this medicine chest could talk…