Frank S. Hoover was an influential chronicler of early Hollywood. A photographer much in demand before World War I, Hoover capitalized on the movie industry's need for glamour photographs of actors to peak the public's interest in this new entertainment form. Combining inventive lighting with customized applications of color, he elevated the photo portrait to an art form.
When World War I began Hoover sold his studio to his employees and enlisted in the Army. Returning to Los Angeles after the Armistice he no longer photographed the stars but instead focused on shooting the images of "leading citizens" and society debutants. (Los Angeles Daily Mirror. December 17, 2012) After he retired in 1930 he and his wife decided to invest in a relatively new commercial concept in Los Angeles for elegant living-- a deluxe apartment building to be built on the Sunset Strip. They contracted with Paul R. Williams for the design.
Named the Sunset Plaza Apartments, this commercial project was a rare example of a privately funded multi-family project designed by Paul R. Williams and L. G. Scherer. (Another example being the International Art Moderne-style Kaye Building, 1947.) Originally conceived as a combination apartment/hotel, the Georgian Revival-style building with interiors by Bullock’s offered potential residents elegance in a grouping of home-like spaces without sacrificing the luxurious features found in single family residences. When completed the three-story complex flanked by its two-story wings cost the Hoovers more than $350,000 to build. (Los Angeles Times. September 20, 1936)
Described as “stately and dignified” in California Arts & Architecture (1937), the Georgian-style of the Sunset Plaza Apartments was a modernized California version. Each apartment had a compact kitchen filled with “all the latest gadgets to aid modern culinary arts” and tiled baths with full glass enclosed showers. An illustrated article in Architect and Engineer (1937) stressed Williams' and Scherer's solutions to a variety of design problems especially how to customize heating and cooling for each of the 18 units. Together the designers adapted a state-of-the-art forced air unit gas furnaces to heat, cool and even clean the circulating air.
Sunset Plaza Apartments became a model for a California style of apartment living. Rental units in the eastern U.S. typically opened off long halls in high rise buildings. Williams' horizontal design allowed for more individuality in the arrangement of a unit's rooms, independent heating systems and an exterior treatment allowing each resident his own front door. While these touches added more to the building costs the Hoovers were able to recoup them through higher rents. The pool, tennis court, and attractive landscape were all part of Williams' original plans and were designed to take advantage of the California sunshine and climate. As important design elements these outdoor amenities extended the tenants' living space and formed a "nucleus for social festivities." (The Architect and Engineer, June 1937)
Through the years the Sunset Plaza was home to many celebrities and the grounds and tennis courts were often used as background for studio publicity shots. The pool area became a popular setting for a new Hollywood photographic form: "cheesecake photos of starlets." Many of the long-time residents lived on the property for decades describing it less like an apartment and more like "a very fine country club" with a fresh change of linen delivered every day.
In 1980, the City of Los Angeles added the Sunset Plaza Apartments to the list of Historic-Cultural Monuments. In spite of the efforts by the neighborhood and tenents the building was demolished in July 1987.