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The Academy Awards Architecture and Gardens

Chris d Craiker AIA/NCARB

On Sunday, March 12, the 95th annual Academy Awards, better known as the Oscars, will be awarded to artists and technicians for their international film work. This annual event by the Academy of Motion Pictures, Arts and Science, AMPAS, presents a brass statue for the so-called best performances on the big, and now little, screen. Interestingly, a lot goes into the Academy Awards involving architecture. There are the buildings where the Oscars are presented, the buildings in the movies and landscaped gardens that are notable in the movie trade.

Starting in 1929 as a private dinner by Douglas Fairbanks at the Hollywood Roosevelt hotel, it has continued to be controversial for its impact on American and International culture. At the turn of the 20 th Century Southern California became the epicenter for the movie industry because of its easy weather and gorgeous backgrounds. “Hollywood’ became the catch-phrase for all that went into the meat grinder producing the cellulose images. Building monuments on Hollywood Boulevard has been a keystone of the entertainment industry with palaces such as Grauman’s Chinese Theater, The Egyptian and Pantages Theater worked well as ceremonial locations for the Oscars. The Chinese, as it is known, is probably the most iconic building in Hollywood.

One of the most interesting locations for the Academy Awards was at the Los Angeles Union Station, LA Downtown, 2021. While only for one year, it also appeared in “Blade Runner “and many Film Noir’s of the 40’s and 50’s.

The Biltmore Hotel with its elegant lobby and ornate Crystal Ballroom became the most common from 1930 to 1943 for it’s over the top presentations. The movies loved the Biltmore as well with the likes of “Ocean’s Eleven”, “The Sting”, “Beverly Hills Cop” and “Chinatown”, which by the way, is the second greatest movie after “The Godfather”.

The 2023 Academy Award ceremony will be at Dolby Theater in Hollywood definitely among the most unremarkable buildings in LA. Maybe it’s just as well that it won’t compete with the Oscars.

When it comes to movie backdrop buildings, who can forget the Griffith Observatory, famous for “Rebel Without a Cause” or “La La Land”? And the New York Empire State building is the most filmed building in the World and will always be remembered for “Sleepless in Seattle “and most famously “An Affair to Remember “ made three time. “Diehard” would not have been as good a movie without the Nagatomo Building, a.k.a. Fox Plaza building in West Hollywood.

My favorite is the Bradbury building for “Blade Runner”, and countless other movies. The audacity of a glass covered courtyard was unheard of in 1893 but has lived on for dozens of movies.

The motion picture industry would not be as electrifying if it was not for gardens and landscape. These have been settings of many of its greatest moments in films. We cannot forget the gardens and conservatory of “The Sound of Music” or the vegetable garden where Vito Corleone had his heart attack in “The Godfather”.

My vote for best garden movie is “The Biggest Little Farm“, a  2018 Oscar Shortlist Documentary where we could all learn from biodiversity and surviving disasters. And if you haven’t seen “The Garden” the 2008, nominated for best documentary about a 14 acre community garden arising from the LA 1960 riots, you’re missing something.

There has been over 30 movies filmed in Napa and Sonoma, and one to watch is, “A Walk in the Clouds”, about the Mayacamas and the Hispanic influence in the Valley. But a really lost gem is “This Earth is Mine” 1959 with Rock Hudson about the 1930’s Napa Prohibition recovery. Check them out.

Chris d Craiker AIA/NCARB was born and raised in the shadow of the Griffith Observatory

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