Joel Silver and a pantheon of executives and industry luminaries, including actor Tom Hanks and Universal Studios chief Ron Meyer, gathered Wednesday as the producer presented his vision for the restoration of the historic Venice Post Office, which is in the process of becoming the headquarters for Silver Pictures.
“We have great plans for this business, and it will be a fantastic place for us," Silver said. "For the past 25 years, I have been in beautiful downtown Burbank. It’s kind of nice to get off the island, to be in this world here where there is a life outside."
In April, Silver and Warner Bros. parted ways after the studio opted not to renew his longtime production deal. His relationship with Warner Bros. dated back to the 1980s.
In 1985, he founded Silver Pictures, which was based on the studio lot. He announced last month that he was buying the post office in Venice to house his company.
Once filled with local residents sending letters at a long row of counters, the building is currently a mass of exposed concrete walls and wires dangling from the ceiling.
But Silver plans to restore the building and to modernize the interior to function as his home base. The restoration of Edward Biberman's 1941 “First Thirty Years of Venice’s History" mural inside the building is currently underway.
“This is a magnificent building,” he said. “Eight hundred buildings were built between 1929 and 1939 when there was a Department of Architecture inside the Department of the Treasury, including this one.”
The building was designed by the architect Louis Smith and completed in 1939.
No stranger to renovating and restoring historic properties, including several Frank Lloyd Wright homes, Silver hopes to have the project completed within two years.
“I just love doing this. It is like a hobby and a passion,” Silver told TheWrap. “I just love being here.”
The move is symbolic in several ways. It's a creative way to preserve a landmark building, and is also a plus for Venice, which is attracting ever more businesses — from Google, which has an office nearby, to Hollywood professionals such as composer Harry Gregson-Williams, whose recording studio stands opposite the former post office on the Venice circle.
The move also signals a greater change at play in Hollywood, with the studios divesting themselves of producer deals and producers physically moving from the Hollywood studio lots.
“I think we will really make a difference here because we can help change the paradigm of Venice and the paradigm of Hollywood,” Silver said. “When I came here in the 1970s, they still made films like they did at the beginning of Hollywood, apart from the advent of sound. We used to shoot on the lot, finish on a stage at the studio, and use other rooms at the studios and then release the film.
"We don’t work that way anymore," he declared. "We develop them elsewhere, shoot them elsewhere and go back and forth. And with digital, the business is going back and forth in many ways. [We] want to make this the new center of digital technology.”
“Joel’s decision to restore this historic former post office is a win-win for Los Angeles and Venice,” said Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, who opened the press conference.
The office will be transformed into a state-of-the-art production facility, which will include offices, editing suites and a screening room. Architect Bret Thoeny is overseeing the project and will also restore the façade and windows, as well as the lobby and the ceilings, to the original design.
“It makes a great example of a reuse of a historic building,” said Villaraigosa. “Venice Beach has always been inextricably linked to arts and entertainment. Today, it is Joel Silver who embodies the spirit of Venice, from boundary-pushing internet companies to great cuisine; this is a community of dreamers and doers. Now Joel Silver will have an address that matches his grand imagination.”
Silver announced a number of initiatives to involve the local community and will allow groups, such as the L.A. Conservancy, to use the building, where he also plans to hold premieres of his films. The initiatives include a 10-week program with the Venice High School, whereby the company will help teach students to write and direct their own films.
Silver said he is planning a series of Bieberman art lectures.
Silver recalled coming to Venice to shoot “The Matrix Reloaded” and “The Matrix Revolutions” with the Andy and Larry (now Lana) Wachowski, who wanted to be by the ocean, not on the lot.
“It felt really good when I came down here every day,” Silver said. “I think this will be a new chapter, and we will be able to broaden what we have done, bring in fresh blood and add to our company, our staff and our lives."