Legendary Hollywood Preservationist and Community Leader Robert Wood Nudelman passes away

posted by Michael Zoldessy on May 8, 2008 at 6:30 pm

Robert Wood Nudelman, 52, a legendary figure in the fight to preserve Hollywood’s heritage, passed away at his father’s home in Tucson early this week. Ever present at meetings and hearings in the Hollywood community for 30 years, Nudelman is often credited as a driving force behind the restoration of landmark theaters and other buildings in Hollywood, spearheading a renaissance of the once-blighted area.

The loss of such a pivotal community leader has been met with unspeakable shock and sadness. He was the longtime Director of Preservation Issues for Hollywood Heritage, and was a past President and Board Member of the organization and Curator of its Hollywood Heritage Museum. He was a Vice President of the Society for Cinephiles/Cinecon Classic Film Festival and president of the Project Area Committee for the Hollywood Redevelopment Area. At the time of his death, he was working with Debbie and Todd Reynolds on the Hollywood Motion Picture Museum in Tennessee.

Nudelman was the son of Ruth Donovan Wood and Dr. Sol Nudelman, a leader in medical imaging. He grew up in Illinois and Rhode Island before a stint in Germany and then Tucson. He studied Theater Arts at the University of Arizona. His brother Mark and mother preceded him in death.

Nudelman launched his activism with the fight to save Lot 2 at the MGM Studios, and soon with the Wiltern Theater. He figured prominently in the campaigns to change minds and plans for such important landmarks as the El Capitan Theater, the Cinerama Dome, and the ABC/Merv Griffin Studios facade. Making his name synonymous with Hollywood and film history, he provided historical photographs, data, and restoration details to countless property owners of such landmarks as Grauman’s Chinese Theater, the Egyptian Theater, the Pantages Theater and the former Schwab’s Clothing Store. There probably isn’t a single historic building or development project in Hollywood that Mr. Nudelman didn’t have a part in, sharing his encyclopedic knowledge, agitating for better and more consistent planning, and defending Hollywood’s heritage.

His work has received many awards, including those from the LA County Board of Supervisors, the LA Historic Theatre Foundation and the Hollywood Highlands Democratic Club. As an expert on Hollywood history and preservation issues he has been interviewed and widely quoted in more than 150 publications, both local and nationwide, and has appeared on radio and television programs worldwide. He was the author of many books on Hollywood’s history, including “Historic Hollywood: A Centennial History” and “Images of America, Early Hollywood”.

Showcasing the Hollywood area, Nudelman developed and led the Historic Hollywood Theatre tours for the National Trust for Historic Preservation’s 2000 annual conference, and the same for the 2007 California Preservation Foundation Conference. He has frequently provided written and/or verbal testimony on historic preservation compliance at the request of Congressman Henry Waxman, California State Senators Hayden and Polanco and various high-ranking federal and state committees including the California State Assembly and Senate Joint Hearing on the Los Angeles Metro Rail Project and the Los Angeles MTA.

Nudelman made friends of enemies, keeping up a constant dialogue with politicians, property owners, and neighborhood activists, who learned to treasure his storehouse of knowledge, his intelligence, and his uncanny ability to be right. He was tireless in his contributions to the Hollywood community.

Nudelman was in the state to help care for his ailing father, and his body was discovered by a family friend after Robert had failed to appear at his father’s hospital bed for several days. Immediate cause of death is unknown.

Robert W. Nudelman helped make the village, and the village will carry on his work, although as an individual he was irreplaceable. Hollywood Heritage will hold a memorial service in his honor, which will be announced in these pages or contact Hollywood Heritage.

Comments (3)

TheaterBuff1 on May 9, 2008 at 3:25 am

My hearing his name only now, he sounds like he was one heck of a great guy, while it’s tragic to read how he left this world at such a still young age. My only becoming familiar with who he was now, already I’m greatly missing him! He sounds like he was a master of the one aspect of historic theater restoration and preservation that I find very difficult if not impossible to stomach, the political end of things. And boy, do we need people such as that now more than ever or what? At the same time it is inspiring, heartening, to read of all the great things that this man did, his proving that what we so often think is impossible can be done. May you rest in peace, Mr. Nudelman, and your legacy become one that others will surely try to emulate.

Ken Roe
Ken Roe on May 9, 2008 at 6:20 am

I am shocked and saddened by this news. I first met Robert Nudelman in 2001 when I was making preparations for the Cinema Theatre Association (CTA-UK) visit I was planning to the cinemas & theatres of Los Angeles in October 2002. Robert assisted in making just about all the many contacts he knew in Hollywood theatres aware of our visit and arranged for our group to tour their buildings. He also led the group along Hollywood Bouevard, pointing out other historic buildings and telling stories of their past history.

Three years later, when I was co-director of the Theatre Historical Society of America (THSA) Conclave to Southern California, which we were planning for June 2005, Robert again pulled out all the stops to assist the group to gain access to the buildings. I also spent many hours with him, going through my visit notes that I had prepared for the previous CTA-UK visit, which I made available to THSA members. Robert was a wealth of information and offered to check the 160 page document page-by-page for corrections and additional information. It was a real pleasure working with him and tapping into his ‘vast mind of information’, something he really enjoyed doing was sharing with others.

Robert will be greatly missed by all who knew him and came into contact with him.

ValerieYaros on May 16, 2008 at 4:11 am

The loss of Robert is of an indescribable magnitude. I miss him far more than I can say, and cannot truly grasp he is gone, even after over a week has passed now since his body was discovered. How lucky I was to have known this unique man — a model of integrity and master of distinctive fast and witty one-liners. The suddenness of his dying — for which no cause has yet been discovered — is all the more stunning to me: snatched away when he had so much work to do and many unfinished projects. My heart is aching. His mother died October 12th of last year and is father, Sol, mercifully died early yesterday morning. It would have been no life for Sol as the only remaining member of his immediate family. A memorial for Robert will be held nest month in Hollywood and we will post the information when it is available. Valerie Yaros, bereaved Hollywood Heritage board secretary.

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