Beverly Hills Waterworks Building / Fairbanks Center for Motion Picture Study | Los Angeles Conservancy
Photo by L.A. Conservancy

Beverly Hills Waterworks Building / Fairbanks Center for Motion Picture Study

When the Beverly Hills Waterworks Building was threatened with demolition in 1986, the Conservancy and the local advocacy group Friends of the Waterworks worked to find a new use and tenant for the venerable structure that was considered an engineering feat when completed in 1928.  A lawsuit jointly filed by the Conservancy and Friends of the Waterworks blocked the demolition of the structure and gained more time for adaptive reuse proposals to be submitted. Ultimately, The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences submitted a proposal to adaptively reuse the structure for their research library, which opened in 1991 following a $5 million rehabilitation. The effort to save the Waterworks Building demonstrated the importance of adaptive reuse in revitalizing historic structures whose original use is no longer viable. 

After nearly five decades of service as Beverly Hills’ water treatment plant, the Waterworks Building was shuttered in 1976 after the city began purchasing its water from the Los Angeles Metropolitan Water District. The building sat unused for another ten years and by 1986, Beverly Hills deemed the obsolete structure unsalvageable and planned to demolish it to expand the adjacent La Cienega Park.

News of the building’s proposed demolition prompted the formation of a local advocacy group, Friends of the Waterworks, which included local residents and preservationists. Together with the Conservancy, the Friends of the Waterworks sought to find a new use for the building.  However, the City of Beverly Hills approved demolition of the Waterworks Building in 1987 without any review of possible reuse alternatives that would preserve the building.  The Conservancy and Friends of the Waterworks filed a joint lawsuit again the city; an early injunction was granted which halted its demolition.

With more time to find a new use for the building, the Conservancy and Friends of the Waterworks provided assistance to the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences in crafting a reuse proposal that would transform the facility into a research library and film archive. The city accepted this proposal in March 1988, which led to the end of the lawsuit. Following a $5 renovation that seismically retrofitted and sensitively rehabilitated the structure, the former Waterworks reopened in January 1991 as the home of the Margaret Herrick Library and Academy Film Archive, demonstrating the importance of adaptive reuse in revitalizing historic structures whose original use is no longer viable. Renamed the Fairbanks Center for Motion Picture Study, the former Waterworks continues to house the Margaret Herrick Library, while the Academy Film Archive is now housed at the Pickford Center for Motion Picture Study —another historic structure that the Academy adaptively reused in Hollywood.