Heritage Square misses the Hollywood spotlight – and cash *

The Victorian-era residents who once inhabited the homes and buildings of the Heritage Square Museum probably would not have approved of underwear commercials or the sight of actress Reese Witherspoon in a skimpy bunny suit. But the shooting of modern-day TV commercials and feature films at the Montecito Heights compound has been welcomed by museum officials because it proved to be a stable and significant source of income – until this year. On-location shooting in Los Angeles has taken a beating* and Heritage Square has suffered as well. No commercials, TV shows or movies were shot this year at Heritage Square, which usually could count on location fees to generate about $35,000 or about 15% of its budget, said spokesman Brian Sheridan. Partly as a result of these and other financial pressures, Heritage Square is seeking to raise additional donations to fill the gap. If the museum fails to fill the financial hole, Sheridan said “we will have to make some pretty nasty cuts.”

Sheridan wants to make clear, however, that Heritage Square and its multicolored Victorians standing alongside the 110 Freeway is in no danger of closing. In fact, it has expanded its membership and plans to launch new programs on historic restoration next year. But the loss of the film locations fees – which last year topped $60,000 – has been felt, setting the stage for a more aggressive year-end appeal for donations. President Saline Davis issued a call for help on the museum’s blog:

“The decline of the filming industry’s location use in Los Angeles has meant that Heritage Square has lost a significant source of operating revenue to help keep the lights on, pay staff salaries and other essentials of running a non-profit organization. Today, we are asking those who have the same passion for what we do to help fill that gap and help us to unlock the key to the history of Southern California for thousands of others.”

If the fundraising falls short, employee hours may be cut, Sheridan said. “Since we are already stretched to the limit, the ensuing next step would be to cut some programming. You can sort of see the spiral from there.”

*Update: FilmLA reports that on-location shooting activity was down more than 21% during the first nine months of the year compared to same period in 2008. “Based on what we’ve observed these past three months, I predict that the 2009 year end results will be disappointing,” said FilmLA spokesman Philip Sokoloski in an email. “At this time, we predict the data will show annual losses in feature film, commercial and television production. We do see a ray of hope in how commercial production has fared of late … although the category will still finish the year in negative territory, there’s been a pickup in the last part of the year that is helping offset the losses we observed in October.

Photo by Floyd Bariscale/Flickr

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