By Sue Pascoe
The pinkish Business Block building, located between Sunset, Swarthmore and Antioch, celebrates its 90th birthday this month.
If Joan Graves, wife of legendary Hollywood star Peter Graves, had not led the fight against its intended destruction, most likely there would now be a mall at that site.
Leading a protest was the furthest thought in Graves’ mind when she went to the pharmacy situated at the current location of Starbucks in 1981.
“I saw a petition on the counter that the building was going to be sold and the developer had plans for a mall,” Graves recalled in a recent interview.
The Business Block building was the center of the fledgling town of Pacific Palisades when it was dedicated on November 15, 1924. The community’s newsletter described it as “185 feet on Beverly Boulevard (now Sunset), 150 feet on Hillcrest, and 158 feet on Park Place, set back from the street with wide walks and parking on each front.
“It is designed with brick and plaster, with ornamental stone. All store fronts are plate glass and there are red tile roofs, 14 store rooms and a market on the first floor and 15 offices on the second floor.”
The building’s owner, the Methodist-sponsored Pacific Palisades Association, ran into financial problems, and in 1926 the building was purchased by one of its tenants, Santa Monica Land and Water Company.
Jump ahead to 1981. “The L.A. City Council had passed a law that all buildings had to be brought up to seismic codes,” Graves said. That prompted the building’s owner, Arthur Loomis, to sell it to developer Rohit Joshi for $4.5 million.
“Joshi said he was going to demolish it and put in a mall. I knew we could not let that happen to the Land and Water Building. It was the most important historical building in the Palisades.”
Graves, who had lived in in seven different neighborhoods in the Palisades since moving here with husband Peter in 1951, went to Bobbie Farberow, who was Chamber of Commerce president at the time and asked for advice. Farberow (co-owner of Mort’s Deli) advised her to reach out to local groups.
“I started a new petition and organized a town meeting to see if I could get anyone to help us fight this battle,” said Graves, who had been a stay-at-home mom with her three daughters. “We placed a banner over Sunset, and at the meeting 150 people
showed up. We formed committees and started a campaign to write letters and to get all of the local organizations to back our efforts.”
Her next step was to organize a town rally. “I called every celebrity that Peter knew, and they all said they’d come,” Graves said. “This got the attention of the Hollywood Reporter and the L.A. Times.”
At the same time Graves was organizing the rally, another committee was contacting Los Angeles department stores, such as Bullocks and Robinsons, explaining why this would be a bad location for a large chain department store, citing the town’s isolation and its lack of out-of-town shoppers.
Celebrities attending the rally on October 2, 1982, in addition to Peter Graves, included Ted Knight, Jim Arness, Jack Barry, Mel Blanc, Bert Convy, Billy Crystal, Dom DeLuise, Tony Dow, Paul Michael Glasor, Nanette Fabray, Walter Matthau, Randy Newman, Louis Nye, Jerry Parris, Tom Poston, John Raitt, William Schallert, Charles Seivert, Bo Swenson, Adam West and Debbie Winters.
After the rally, “Joshi pulled out, and the escrow fell through,” Graves said. By that time, City Councilman Marvin Braude and his aide Cindy Miscikowski had also joined the campaign to save the building. “Braude told me, ‘I’ll find an owner,’” Graves recalled.
TOPA Management Company, a Malibu-based developer, brought the property in 1983.
“TOPA called me in their offices and said, ‘Now, Mrs. Graves, the building has to be built up to earthquake standards and if it can’t be, how about these plans for a mall?”
Graves looked at them and remembers saying, “Absolutely not. We do not want a mall here. It’s the Palisades.”
Eventually, she said, TOPA paid for the upgrades “and became our heroes.” (The building is still owned and managed by TOPA.)
In 1984, the building was declared a City of Los Angeles Historic Cultural Monument and rededicated.
Entertainment included the OomPaPa Band and Jack Russell’s Band, the Palisades High School Madrigal Singers, Methodist Church Children’s Choir, Theatre Palisades Players, the Jazz Duo (Marilyn Pierose and Larry Ackard) with Ebsen Studio Charleston Dancers, and a roving Barbershop quartet.
“Today I don’t think we could have saved the building,” Graves said. “The feeling, the attitude now is so different. It was such an innocent time then. You said ‘hello’ to people even if you didn’t know them. It was a wonderful time to bring up kids.”
Ironically, she credited Hollywood stars with making a key difference in the ‘Mall’ campaign. “Peter backed me all the way,” Graves said. “I asked him and Ted (Knight) if they would stand on Sunset and get signatures on the petition. The two stood there all day.
“It was a whole different feeling then that doesn’t exist anymore.”