Marc Wanamaker of Bison Archives is a passionate advocate of protecting Hollywood history and architecture. Here is an article that appeared on the subject in 1980:
Film archivist fights endless battle to preserve Hollywood’s historic assets
by Christine Spines
Los Angeles is a city that runs from its past. Like the movie business it provides a home to, L.A. creates a new set for each successive circumstance, rarely making use of the structures that already exist.
Unlike New York and San Francisco, which capitalize on their histories and flaunt them like peacocks, the past of the nation's second largest city rarely exists in photographs, movies and myths.
The reasons why L.A.’s history is so elusive – and often bulldozed – are many and complex. West Hollywood resident Marc Wanamaker has made it his life’s work to preserve and make sense of what’s left.
“L.A. is a transient society,” explains Wanamaker, a historian who studies the evolution of film, studios and cities. For more than 20 years, the L.A. native who attended University High School, Cal State Northridge and UCLA has been involved in researching and compiling the histories of art, architecture, and antiques relating to the movie business.
Wanamaker has come to be known to preservationists, historians and film buffs as the man with all the answers through the use of his extensive collection of photographs and publications, Wanamaker has developed a system which helps him find out obscure facts like whether Rudolph Valentino actually lived in the Valentino Frank’s.
This information is extremely useful in determining the cultural significance of a building. Both preservationists and developers consult with Wanamaker to find out the true value of the property, which is sometimes hidden in history.
Historic Resources Group, a private preservation-consulting firm in Hollywood, uses Wanamaker’s expertise regularly. “Marc is very good at putting together materials that will go through the life of a building,” says Christy McAvoy, who is a principal with the firm. The group most recently consulted with Wanamaker on its historic preservation plan for Twentieth Century Fox Studios.
“Marc’s verifications are precise because he does have records,” adds McAvoy, referring to Wanamaker’s Bison Archives, a research archive of the history of the motion picture industry that he operates out of his garage.
However, this one-man jackpot of information is juggling so many projects that his archival activity frequently has to take back seat to other, more profitable and pressing projects.
Wanamaker is currently working on an appraisal of the value of Max Factor make up collection for Proctor and Gamble, the owners of the collection who plan to donate it to the Hollywood Entertainment Museum.
Although it seems impossible to put a dollar value on a collection of antique make-up, this is where Wanamaker’s expertise and thorough research techniques kick in. “I know someone who collects old cans of make-up from flea markets,” says Wanamaker, who keeps an office at historic Raleigh Studios in Hollywood. After he accomplishes that task, he must determine the price of all the period photographs and beauty enhancers relating to the beginning of film.
But Wanamaker sees his work reaching beyond something’s monetary or even cultural significance. The real gratification comes on a personal level.
“History can change people,” says Wanamaker, emphasizing the necessity for L.A. to start realizing the value of its past. “Its use is not simply nostalgic, it has to do with enriching your life.”
Although he is only in his early 40s, Wanamaker came to adore many of his city’s assets that have since fallen prey to the wrecking ball. “I’ve seen the city disappear in front of my eyes,” says Wanamaker who’s office walls are covered with pictures of Los Angeles dating back to the turn of the century.
Wanamaker’s romantic view of Los Angeles originated with his trips around the city with his father. “I remember Angels Flight, Gilmore Stadium and Pony Land,” he says, referring to some attractions that no longer exist but still play a role in the city’s mystique. “Knowing the history of a place gives you a sense of pride about where you came from.”
This heightened sense of the value behind the urban sprawl of L.A. has gone into his consulting on many period movies, museums and publications. However, for the past 20 years Wanamaker has been at work on comprehensive encyclopedic volume on history of motion pictures in the U.S. It’s an enormous project that he has to find time to fit in between his multitude of research and consulting commitments.
But Wanamaker remains steadfast about the importance of creating awareness of the facts behind the business of fantasy. “People must learn to use history as an asset,” he says. “The crux of the whole thing is how it relates to today.”