After years of buying up and restoring semi-decrepit buildings in the Hollywood area, the Church of Scientology was recently given a real estate award by the Los Angeles Business Journal. The theme of the magazine's property awards was “adaptive reuse,” which makes sense to anyone driving through Hollywood, where the church inhabits a number of historic buildings from the Golden Age of Tinseltown.
The church has 1.2 million square feet of renovated space in 25 buildings around Los Angeles, with approximately eight in Hollywood itself. Most notable among these holdings are buildings like the Beaux-Arts Guaranty Building on Hollywood Boulevard, which once benefited from investments from Cecile B. DeMille and Charlie Chaplin and housed the office of gossip writer Hedda Hopper. It now is home to the L. Ron Hubbard Life Exhibition, a museum dedicated to the founder of Scientology.
The Church of Scientology Celebrity Center International used to be the Chateau Elysee apartment building, built in 1929 by Eleanor Ince, the widow of movie mogul Thomas Ince, and home to legends like Clark Gable, Humphrey Bogart, Katharine Hepburn, Errol Flynn and Ginger Rogers. In its current use, the celebrities keep coming by: Rumor has it that Katie Holmes, the wife of Scientology follower and movie actor Tom Cruise, has been dropping by to study the religion. The upper floors remain a hotel for church members.
Of course, Scientology has been getting attention for more than just its real estate in recent years. The religion came under increased scrutiny following the increasingly odd behavior of Cruise throughout 2005 and 2006, including headline-grabbing interviews with Matt Lauer and Oprah Winfrey, and was later skewered in a particularly scathing episode of South Park.
But in a city that, many would argue, too often bulldozes over its history, the church must be given credit for saving these buildings from destruction or, worse, being turned into highend “lifestyle” condominiums.
Still, to get inside some of these buildings, one may be pressured to buy a copy of Dianetics, the “bible” of Scientology.