THE SUNSET STRIP - EAST TO WEST
A Chapter from “The Ultimate Hollywood Tour Book”
by William A. Gordon
- FORMER SITE OF SCHWAB’S PHARMACY
8024 Sunset Boulevard (southeast corner of Crescent Heights)
Schwab’s was the most famous drugstore in America, partly because its owner, pharmacist Leon Schwab, kept claiming that Lana Turner was “discovered” sitting on a stool at the soda fountain in his store. Turner herself has said on several occasions that there is no truth to the story, and it appears the tale was concocted by Schwab to lure customers to the store.
There is, at least, truth to the story that in its heyday Schwab’s was a popular hangout for writers and actors looking for work. In the movie Sunset Boulevard, William Holden called it “a combination office, coffee klatch and waiting room.” Schwab filled prescriptions for studio executives and claimed he told them about some of the young budding actors who he thought were star material.
While Lana Turner was not discovered there, one regular, author F. Scott Fitzgerald, did have a heart attack there while buying cigarettes. The pharmacy was torn down in 1988 to make room for a block-long shopping complex now anchored by Virgin Records.
- FORMER SITE OF THE GARDEN OF ALLAH
8152 Sunset Boulevard
Remember the song “Big Yellow Taxi,” in which Joni Mitchell sang about paving paradise and putting up a parking lot? That was a reference to the tearing down of the Garden of Allah, another famous Hollywood landmark which once stood on the southwest corner of Sunset and Crescent Heights, directly across the street from Schwab’s. The apartment/hotel was what one writer called the unofficial epicenter of Hollywood social activity during the 1930s and 1940s, with Frank Sinatra, Ava Gardner, Clark Gable, David Niven, Errol Flynn, the Marx Brothers, Robert Benchley, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Tallulah Bankhead, Clara Bow, Humphrey Bogart, Ernest Hemingway, and Leopold Stokowski among the major celebrities who were Garden residents at one time or another.
According to Bruce Torrence, author of Hollywood: The First 100 Years: “It was not uncommon to see tourists and movie fans lining the sidewalk just to get a glimpse of their favorite star.” Torrence called the Garden’s inhabitants “a fast-living, hard-drinking, high-rolling lot who burned out fast and took the Garden with them.” In 1950 the Garden was sold to Lytton Savings and Loan, which tore it down and built its home office at the site. The site is now a minimall and a branch of Great Western Bank.
The Garden of Allah - A History of the Name
- “ROCKY AND BULLWINKLE” STATUE
8218 Sunset Boulevard
This converted house, once owned by Fess Parker, TV’s “Davy Crockett,” was for years the offices of Jay Ward Productions, the animation company that created “Rocky and Bullwinkle.” A 15-foot-tall plaster statue of the famous moose and squirrel still stands in front of the building, as does a small courtyard which bears signatures of June Foray (the voices of both Rocky and Natasha) and, strangely enough, the elbowprints of the cartoon’s writers. Rocky and Bullwinkle saluted a once-existing billboard for a Las Vegas hotel in the 1960s, which featured a showgirl in a bathing suit. Whenever the showgirl got a new bathing suit, Bullwinkle got a new one with colors to match.
- CHATEAU MARMONT
8221 Sunset Boulevard, (323) 656-1010
When celebrities visiting Los Angeles want to be seen, they often go to the Beverly Hills Hotel. When they wish to keep out of the limelight they often stay at the Marmont. In his book Life at the Marmont, co-authored with Fred E. Basten, former owner Raymond L. Sarlot noted that the Marmont remains “one of [Hollywood’s] best kept secrets, much to the joy of its celebrated clientele. Not too many years ago a Newsday journalist cornered Jill Clayburgh sipping coffee at [the hotel’s coffee shop]. Following the usual career questions, she was asked to comment about her stay at the Marmont. ‘Oh, don’t mention the hotel,’ she said, crinkling her face. ‘Then all the tourists will come.’ A moment later, Clayburgh was on her way, but not before leaving the journalist with a final thought. ‘If you must say something about this place, say it’s terrible. Please say it’s terrible.’
The fact that tourists have not discovered the hotel yet is one of the reasons why stars like Marilyn Monroe, Warren Beatty, Dustin Hoffman, John Lennon and Yoko Ono, Ringo Starr, Bob Dylan, Mick Jagger, Jim Morrison, Roman Polanski, Greta Garbo, Keanu Reeves, and Sarah Jessica Parker have all stayed for extended periods. One former guest, John Belushi, did attract crowds when he died of a drug overdose on March 4, 1982, in bungalow 3. In the movie The Doors Val Kilmer, playing Jim Morrison, was seen trying to leap out of a sixth-floor penthouse.
- CAJUN BISTRO
8301 Sunset Boulevard (at Sweetzer), (323) 656-6388
This restaurant was formerly the Source, the natural foods restaurant where Diane Keaton dumped Woody Allen in Annie Hall.
- MANSION OWNED BY JOHNNY DEPP
(high on the hillside just west of Sweetzer Avenue)
When actor Johnny Depp bought this 29-room mansion in 1995, some entertainment magazines reported that it was once owned by Bela Lugosi and that the Munchkins stayed there during the filming of The Wizard of Oz. Hollywood historian Laurie Jacobson insists that neither claim is correct, and that the castle only looks like the type of home the one-time Dracula star might have lived in.
In fact, the castle was once owned by Hersee Moody Carson, the childless widow of a multimillionaire, and it was called the “Castle of the Fairy Lady” because she used to hold parties there for orphans on major holidays during the 1930s and 1940s. Before Depp shelled out $2.3 million for the gated estate, it was owned by divorce attorney Michael Mitchelson, who lost it in a bankruptcy after being convicted of tax fraud.
What you can see from Sunset, behind thick foliage, is the backside of the mansion. The front entrance is on North Sweetzer Avenue.
- THE ARGYLE
8358 Sunset Boulevard, (323) 654-7100
This luxury hotel was once the Sunset Towers, the home to Hollywood stars such as John Wayne, Marilyn Monroe, Clark Gable, Errol Flynn, Howard Hughes, Roger Moore, and the Gabor sisters. One resident, Bugsy Siegel, was reportedly asked to leave after he was arrested for placing bets at the hotel.
The building itself is an intriguing 13-story Art Deco tower emblazoned with mythological creatures, zeppelins, airplanes, and Adam and Eve.
The hotel is occasionally used as a film location and has served as the outside of the Voltaire Restaurant in Pretty Woman, John Travolta’s hotel in Get Shorty, Stuart Margolin’s apartment in Guilty by Suspicion, and Richard Crenna’s apartment in the short-lived TV series “Pros and Cons.” In the Hollywood satire The Player, Tim Robbins was pitched a story idea at the Argyle poolside.
- LIBERACE HOME
8433 Harold Way (between Kings and Queens Road)
Liberace lived in this 28-room mansion from 1961 to 1979. He told his biographer Bob Thomas, author of Liberace: “I tried to turn this place into a museum. In one month we had seventeen thousand reservations. But the neighbors complained” about traffic from the tourists. Liberace’s museum was instead built in Las Vegas.
- HYATT WEST HOLLYWOOD ON SUNSET
8401 Sunset Boulevard (at Kings Road), (323) 656-4101
In the 1960s and 1970s, when the hotel was the Continental Hyatt House, and a favorite of rock and rollers, the hotel was better known as “The Riot House.” According to Art Fein’s L.A. Musical History Tour book, “Led Zeppelin rented as many as six floors here for their carryings on. Their partying set a standard that has never been equaled, with orgies, motorcycles in the halls, and stories yet untold.” Fein also reports that “The Rolling Stones movie Cocksucker Blues shows Keith Richards and Bobby Keyes throwing a television out a window of this hotel” and that the Doors’ “Jim Morrison lived here until he was evicted by management for hanging out a window by his fingertips, dangling over the pavement.” Little Richard lived here through much of the 1980s and 1990s.
- HOUSE OF BLUES
8430 Sunset Boulevard (at Olive), (323) 848-5100
Investors in this nightclub include Blues Brother Dan Aykroyd.
- COMEDY STORE
8433 Sunset Boulevard, (323) 656-6225
One of Los Angeles’ premier comedy clubs, the Comedy Store has featured performances from every important comedian. The names of its headliners are vaunted on its outside walls. This was once the site of Ciro’s, one of Hollywood’s most popular nightclubs during the 1940s and 1950s.
- PIAZZA DEL SOL
8439 Sunset Boulevard
This Spanish Revival apartment building was designated a historic landmark because of its beauty, not because of its notorious history. During the 1930s, this was the site of Lee Francis’ “House of Francis,” the classiest brothel on the Sunset Strip. The building now houses the offices of several production companies—the names of which most people would not recognize—and the brothels are now located in private homes above the Strip.
- SITE OF “77 SUNSET STRIP”
8532 Sunset Boulevard
Although fans of the popular 1950s TV series would never recognize it today, the front door of the Tiffany Theater is where Efrem Zimbalist, Jr., and Roger Smith played private eyes at the fictitious address “77 Sunset Strip.” The restaurant next to their offices, Dino’s Lodge—which was once owned by Dean Martin—is also gone. It has been replaced by an office building housing Casablanca Records. Fans of the show will remember Edd “Kookie” Byrnes parking cars at Dino’s Lodge.
- SUNSET PLAZA
This is a two-block cluster of hip outdoor cafes, boutiques, hair salons, and other stores whose prices rival those of Rodeo Drive’s. It is one of the best people-watching places in town.
(NOTE: Tourists often ask how to get to the top of the mountain above the Sunset Strip to get some of the most commanding views of the Strip and the city below. It is possible to get there by taking a side trip up Sunset Plaza Drive. Just follow it continuously for about fifteen minutes, as Sunset Plaza Drive becomes Appian Way at the crest of the mountain. Then make a right onto Stanley Hills, and another right on Lookout Mountain, which dead-ends at Laurel Canyon Boulevard. Turn right on Laurel Canyon if you want to return to the Strip. This is not my favorite tour through the Hollywood Hills—the homes are not as unique or as impressive as they are elsewhere in the Hills—but the trip is worth trying once.)
- LE DOME RESTAURANT
8720 Sunset Boulevard, (323) 659-6919
People magazine calls “the mammoth circular bar at Le Dome one of L.A.’s best (celebrity) meet-and-mate spots.” Author Jackie Collins calls Le Dome “definitely THE place to have that power lunch.”
- TOWER RECORDS
8801 Sunset Boulevard, (323) 657-7300
The store, which is often featured in national news stories about the record business, was held up by Jane Fonda and George Segal in the feature film Fun With Dick and Jane.
- THE VIPER ROOM
8852 Sunset Boulevard
On October 31, 1993, 23-year-old River Phoenix died of a drug overdose outside this nightclub owned by Johnny Depp.
Depp told an interviewer he named the club “after a group of musicians who called themselves Vipers. They were reefer heads and they helped start modern music.” In the 1940s, the club was known as the Melody Room and was a notorious hangout for Los Angeles mobsters.
- THE WHISKY
8901 Sunset Boulevard (at Clark Street)
This was the West Coast’s first discotheque. “Go-go” dancing was born here.
- THE ROXY
9009 Sunset Boulevard, (310) 276-2222
The Roxy is one of Los Angeles’ top music clubs and showcases for new talent. Although nearby restaurants claim otherwise, John Belushi had his last supper here at On The Rox, an exclusive private club above the Roxy.
- RAINBOW BAR AND GRILL
9015 Sunset Boulevard, (323) 278-4232
Vincente Minnelli proposed to Judy Garland, and Marilyn Monroe met her future husband, Joe DiMaggio, on a blind date, when the Grill’s predecessor, the Villa Nova Restaurant, was here.