At Harvey Apartments, the Beatles and Marilyn Monroe live on
Hollywood’s Harvey Apartments present a bright face: 80-foot-tall murals of the Beatles, Elvis Presley, Arnold Schwarzenegger and Marilyn Monroe. But a darker past lies inside the 177-unit building.
On Dec. 1, tenant Harold Smith shot himself in the head as Beverly Hills detectives approached him for questioning in the building’s lobby. Smith was a suspect in the November slaying of publicist Ronni Chasen, gunned down in her Mercedes after attending a premiere of the movie "Burlesque."
The case jangled Hollywood nerves, even after police said it was solved: Bullets from the .38 revolver that Smith used to shoot himself matched those at the Chasen crime scene, police said.
“I was in my apartment and remember hearing a noise," said Harvey resident David Damas, who has lived in a single here for 32 years. "I thought it was the usual -- a car backfiring. The awful thing is, the shooting made the building look bad, and that’s just not true.”
Reports of Smith’s suicide invariably included tawdry descriptions of the building at 5640 Santa Monica Blvd. “A seedy Hollywood transient hotel” was among the more pointed portrayals.
Damas likes to steer conversation to the building’s brighter side, especially his connection to Harvey’s property manager, Ana Gladys Amaya. (That's the two of them at right.)
“She has been like a second mother to me,” said Damas, seated in an office beside the 1927 building’s teal-accented lobby. "She’s my guardian angel, asking after me when I’m sick, helping a partially blind tenant. Damas called Amaya "one of my blesseds."
Damas moved from New York City to Los Angeles in 1978, soon landing acting gigs, including a starring role in the 1980 Disney comedy "Midnight Madness." Roles gradually thinned for Damas, who now works as a basketball coach for high schools and youth groups. “I’m grateful I moved into an affordable place early on,” he said.
The murals were painted in 2001 by Hector Ponce, who said of his strikingly colorful work: “I wanted to make Hollywood more beautiful.”
Amaya said Eric Guefen bought the building in 1985. She had no clue as to the origin of its name. Rent, which was about $150 when Damas moved in three decades ago, now ranges from $645 to $795 for studios of varied sizes.
“I wish people would see the positive side of this building,” said Damas, who cited improvements in the last decade, including a security guard and a sweep of the boulevard’s drug dealers.
“There’s a lot of great people who care about each other here. Ana is like a mother to the whole building. And this is my home.”
-- R. Daniel Foster
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Photos: R. Daniel Foster