The LA City Council voted on Nov. 7 to grant landmark status to 6715 Sunset Blvd., The Hollywood Reporter’s home from 1936 all the way into the 1990s. W.R. Wilkerson III, son of the magazine’s then publisher, recalls the building’s secret passageways and other hidden histories …
There were ghosts. How else to explain the mysterious toilet rolls that unraveled themselves in the ladies rest room? And what about those footstep that echoed in the halls late at night, long after the building was empty? Not to mention the lights in the massive pressroom flickering on and off by themselves and even occasional sightings of apparitions in mourning suits disappearing into the walls.
I spent much of my childhood in 6715 Sunset Blvd, the building my father, Billy Wilkerson, built for The Hollywood Reporter in 1936, when he was owner and publisher. I knew the structure’s every secret stairwell and secret passageway — and my dad had made sure there were plenty of both when he commissioned the design, although what these hidden chambers were intended for nobody seemed quite sure. Some believed they were for Billy’s clandestine poker games, others thought they were for his private meetings with his organized crime conies. I didn’t care. I just enjoyed playing with them, especially the secret panel in the wall behind my father’s desk, where he kept his personal papers.
Back then, the building was called Sunset House and my father, always ahead of his time, decided to open his own barbershop on the first floor. It attracted a lot of gangsters — Bugsy Siegel and Johnny Rosselli routinely stopped by for a shave, facial and manicure — but also movie stars, everyone from Charlie Chaplin to Cary Grant. When the barbershop wasn’t earning what my father hoped, he shut it down and rented the space to glamour photographer George Hurrell, who took many iconic pictures of movie stars there.
To me, it seemed as if all of Hollywood intersected at that building. After THR ran an unflattering editorial about his girlfriend, columnist Sheila Graham, F. Scott Fitzgerald paced the wooden floors outside my father’s office waiting to challenge him to a duel (maybe that’s why my dad had installed some many secret passageways!). One time Jimmy Cagney came to my father’s office and sank to his knees, begging for help getting his job back at Warner Bros. after he’d been kicked off the lot. Ronald Reagan came to the Reporter’s editorial office to take a swing at an editor after a bad review, but ended up slipping on falling on the parquet floors.
There were a couple of notable deaths in the building, as well. Once after my father caught a member of his sales staff cooking the books, he literally screamed him to death. The body was removed through the back entrance. Nobody who stole from my dad ever left by the front door.
Most days, though, were less eventful. I remember the editorial department furiously tapping out their copy on abused Royal typewriters while the room was bathed in a blue grey mist of cigarette smoke that never lifted. When the press rolled, the entire building vibrated. To my father, that was the sound of money being printed.
The building still stands on Sunset, still exhales memories, its ghosts now, thankfully, no longer in danger of being silenced.
A version of this story first appeared in the Nov. 15 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.