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Chris Shabel dies at 80; Hollywood community activist
Shabel, dubbed the ‘Godmother of Hollywood,’ fought construction of high-rises and helped property owners affected by construction of the Metro subway project.
Chris Shabel, left, Ziggy Kruse and Robert Blue stand across from a building condemned by the city to make room for a luxury hotel in Hollywood in 2006. Shabel was motivated to save historic buildings on Hollywood Boulevard and Vine Street. (Genaro Molina, Los Angeles Times)
By Bob Pool
November 5, 2013, 7:12 p.m.
For more than three decades Chris Shabel was considered the “Godmother of Hollywood,” who could cause headaches for developers and political power brokers.
She fought the construction of high-rises and helped property owners affected by the Metro subway project. As a community activist, she was a member or director of 14 groups, including the Hollywood Women’s Club and the Hollywood chapter of the ACLU.
Shabel, 80, died Saturday at UCLA Medical Center Santa Monica of respiratory failure tied to pulmonary fibrosis disease, said her daughter, Jacquie Shabel.
She was born Chris Gale Powell on Oct. 3, 1933, in London and raised in Llangollen, North Wales. At age 16 Shabel organized a young politicians group. She later obtained a nursing degree and worked as an industrial nurse for Unilever UK, as a secretary to a hat maker and as a boxing promoter.
She moved to the United States after meeting an American whom she later married. Her family moved from New Jersey to California in 1975 and settled in Hollywood, where she quickly became involved in her two daughters’ schools, heading the Hollywood High School Community Advisory Council for five years and founding the Greater Hollywood Civic Assn. That group assisted local residents hoping to become citizens and dealt with such issues as crime and housing.
By the 1980s Shabel had become a critic of the city Community Redevelopment Agency’s role in improving Hollywood through the seizure of property by eminent domain. She was particularly interested in saving historic buildings along Hollywood Boulevard and Vine Street, as well as ficus trees that lined the boulevard.
Her other interests included the Hollywood Boulevard Community Council, the Hollywood Highlands Democratic Club and the Hollywood Free Clinic. She served as president of a group called Hollywood Damage Control and Recovery from 1994 to 1997, helping property owners affected by the subway’s construction win a settlement from the L.A. County Metropolitan Transportation Authority.
During that same period, Shabel opened her 95-year-old Lodi Place bungalow to a blind talent agent and his wife who had been forced from the building they lived and worked in after it abruptly sank 9 inches because of the subway work.
For a time, she was a co-host and producer of “Neighborhood Point of View,” a public access show carried by a Hollywood cable TV outlet that featured interviews with political leaders. In 2003 she attempted to dissuade Arnold Schwarzenegger from running for governor. “We want him to stay out of politics because it is a very corrupt and dirty game,” said Shabel, co-founder of the “Unofficial Schwarzenegger Fan Club.”
Funeral services for Shabel will be held at 3 p.m. Thursday at Mt. Sinai Memorial Park Hollywood Hills, 5950 Forest Lawn Drive.
Shabel is survived by daughters Jacquie Shabel of Hollywood and Patricia Shabel of Detroit and a grandson.