When she arrives at work each day at the American Cinematheque's Egyptian Theatre headquarters on Hollywood Boulevard, Margot Gerber cannot help but be reminded of her avocational passion — historic preservation. The Cinematheque notably restored Sid Grauman's exotic movie palace to much of its original 1922 glory two decades ago, something that cannot be said for so many other beloved structures in town.
So, when Gerber isn't promoting the Cinematheque's film programming as its director of marketing and publicity, she is fighting for other Hollywood landmarks, some perhaps not as familiar as her own workplace but, as far as she is concerned, equally precious as part of an endangered civic fabric.
“Los Angeles is increasingly controlled by developers,” she laments over a meal at Taix, the historic L.A. bistro that seems to accord with her own flair for a certain nostalgic look (brunette bangs, vintage-style eyewear). “There's really no master plan for our city — and our skyline is changing drastically.”
To that point, Gerber invokes one of her heroes, noted urbanist Jane Jacobs, who “fought against the notion that the city knows best.” For the past two decades this native Angeleno has entered into that fight, advocating ardently for some of Hollywood's fast-disappearing architectural gems, from Craftsman bungalows to jewel-box storefronts.
As an erstwhile board member of Hollywood Heritage and current president of the Art Deco Society of Los Angeles, Gerber has evangelized on behalf of a litany of threatened structures, fought countless battles — and won many. She counts among her successes the city's recent Historic Cultural Monument designation for The Hollywood Reporter's original home (and the L.A. Weekly's for a while), which she worked to save as part of a coalition that included the Los Angeles Conservancy. “That was the first preservation project I oversaw as [Art Deco Society] president,” she says. “The campaign process was exhausting. … There is a lot of coordination to get people to hearings and help them shape their ideas.”
Another feather in Gerber's fedora is the Earl Carroll Theatre (later the Aquarius Theatre and the home of Nickelodeon), the 1930s Hollywood supper club that she helped get landmarked. Hollywood's deco Redwine Building, near the Egyptian Theater, also benefited from Gerber's touch. She's hoping to work her magic again on the Hollywood Regency style Las Palmas Selma garden apartments and other early Hollywood bungalows.
Despite her devotion to all things vintage, it would be a mistake to accuse Gerber of living in the past or being averse to development. She is very much focused on the future — L.A.'s and Hollywood's. “The organizations that I am involved with are not anti-development. We believe that the layers of history can co-exist in a city. Historic resources can and should be part of new developments,” she says, with particular concern for projects that focus disproportionately on luxury housing complexes at the expense of affordable housing. “Whole city blocks of small bungalows that might have been a couple's first house are being demolished,” she sighs.
Gerber wryly notes that while her day job often focuses on marketing classic films, movies in many ways can speak for themselves onscreen, while historic buildings cannot. “Margot is a beacon of light in the preservation world, with her perseverance and complete genuineness in her motivations,” says John Girodo of Hollywood Heritage's preservation committee. In that regard, she may well be a cultural monument herself.