Historic Building Purchased for Renovation

11-Hayman, Robert

By LAUREL BUSBY,  Staff Writer.

The historic Thelma Todd building is getting a facelift. The new owner, Robert Hayman of Hayman Properties, plans to return the property at 17575 Pacific Coast Hwy. to its glory days of the early 1930s, when actress Todd lived and operated her sidewalk café there. He bought it specifically so he would have such an opportunity.

“I’ve always loved that building, and I’ve always thought it could be something spectacular and wondered why it was in a state of seeming neglect,” said Hayman, a Malibu resident who purchased the three-story, 16,000-sq.-ft building for $6 million in 2014. The renovation project “is almost more personal than business.”

Todd, an actress who died under mysterious circumstances on December 16, 1935, ran a café on the first floor of the edifice. She also lived on the second floor in side-by-side apartments next to her married lover, Roland West, a film director, who ran the nightclub Joya’s on the second floor.

Todd, who starred in dozens of movies, including Monkey Business and Horse Feathers with the Marx Brothers, was found dead in a garage above the property. Whether Todd was murdered or died of suicide or an accident was never fully determined, although theories abound.

For Hayman, the intrigue of the history, which includes gangster Lucky Luciano, one of the suspects, appealed to him, as did the building’s location—across from the beach (just west of Sunset Boulevard)—and the unique Mediterranean architectural style with its Moorish influence.

“That’s what made it really become intoxicating,” Hayman said. “It’s a period piece of the late ‘20s and the ‘30s.”

Over the next year, Hayman and his team plan to use pictures and research about the building’s original look to bring it as much as possible back to those roots. Michael Treiman and several others working on the project, including hands-on manager Lisa Baragosh and Pacific Palisades historian Eric Dugdale, gave a tour for a few dozen people on April 14 to provide a peek at both their plans and the building’s history.

For example, the front of the building used to have an open walkway that is now enclosed, Treiman said. The group is working within building code requirements to provide a bit of that open feel by switching out the windows that are half-sized now with full floor-to-arch windows.

Many fixtures, such as period lights, lightboxes in the front arches and the aesthetics of the grand staircase, will be retained. Other parts of the renovation are more pragmatic. For example, Hayman’s team is working to waterproof the structure, because waterproofing was not done when it was originally built. In addition, they plan to install an elevator to make the second floor more accessible and meet ADA requirements.

The floor of Todd’s former café is now slanted, so the crew has to pull out the hardwood flooring and repair it. However, they are carefully removing the wood, so that ideally it can be reinstalled after the repairs are finished.

“We just want to put it into its original pristine condition,” said Hayman, who noted that his employees are lobbying him to move Hayman Properties’ offices into part of the building once it’s renovated. “It’s a real labor of love . . . not just for me, but for the whole team.”

The building was previously owned by director West until his death in 1952, and then his widow, singer Lola Lane, inherited it. She later deeded it to the Catholic production company Paulist Productions, which sold it to Hayman.

Hayman grew up with an entrepreneurial father, Fred Hayman, who also had a strong sense of beauty and style. The elder Hayman, who died in April, was known as “the godfather of Rodeo Drive” and owned the landmark menswear store Giorgio on Rodeo Drive with its signature perfume. His son still owns the building, which now houses Louis Vuitton.

The younger Hayman grew up in Malibu and Beverly Hills, where his father had previously worked as manager of the Beverly Hilton. The boy spent his summers with his maternal grandfather in Mansfield, Ohio, in a two-story log cabin in the woods. Going from ritzy Beverly Hills to “hillbilly” country every year “was a hell of a juxtaposition.”

After graduating from Boston University in 1982, he worked in commercial real estate for a few years before returning home to work with his father at Giorgio.

Hayman later branched out on his own, creating a T-shirt company with Soviet-inspired prints. He intended to sell a few shirts, but the venture took off and the items were soon selling at Macy’s, Sax Fifth Avenue, and other stores.

He then started a consulting business that evolved into work with a direct-sales dental company called Discus Dental that had multiple teeth-whitening products like Brite Smile and Zoom. When the company was sold after 17 years to a division of Philips Sonicare in 2010, it was earning almost $200 million annually.

During most of his time with Discus, Hayman lived in the Palisades, but he and his wife, Denise, and their children Gabriella, 14, and Julian, 11, moved to Malibu four years ago. His attention now has moved mainly to real estate. He owns a medical office property in Huntington Beach, a Burbank office building designed by Roy Disney, and a second Beverly Hills property. However, the Thelma Todd building is his most unique property.

“We’re just proud and really honored to be able to have this incredible piece of history and be the caretakers for it,” Hayman said.


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