Sunset & Vine

Side Trip: Sunset & Vine:

Like the words “Hollywood & Vine,” “Sunset & Vine” carries a certain mystique. Whether real or imagined is yours to decide. Regardless, there’s plenty of history at and around this corner: more Hollywood Walk of Fame stars, a certain derby restaurant, the filming location of Hollywood’s first major movie, the Cinerama Dome and the world’s largest record store. Allow 45 minutes for this Side Trip.

–> From the Hollywood/Vine subway station entrance, walk to Vine Street and turn left.

About half a block down on Vine Street you’ll pass by an empty storefront at #1638. Designed by Carl Weyl and completed in 1928, Bernard Luggage was a purveyor of fine luggage and leather goods to Hollywood celebrities and big-wigs. Back in 2006 plans for the W Hotel and Residences called for the demolition of the store. The structure’s proprietor protested and as you can see, prevailed. As you can also see, the luggage business didn’t. The building remains empty at this writing.

–> Continue down Vine Street.

A) Brown Derby Site. A parking lot is all that remains of Hollywood’s famous eatery, The Brown Derby. It’s the second in the derby chain, though this one, unlike the original down on Wilshire Boulevard, wasn’t built in the shape of a derby. [That “derby,” incidentally, remains, though no longer part of the restaurant. You can see the derby on WalknRideLA’s “Deco by Metro” tour.] On Valentine’s Day in 1929, Herbert Somborn (Gloria Swanson’s ex), cut the ribbon to open the restaurant and it became an immediate hit for Hollywood celebrities. Co-owner, Bob Cobb, is usually attributed as the inventer of the restaurant’s Cobb Salad.

The restaurant closed in 1985 and the building was demolished nine years later.

It was at this Derby that star-struck Lucy Ricardo accidentally caused a waiter to dump a plate of food atop William Holden in the “I Love Lucy” episode “L.A. at Last!Click here to view the episode.

The celebrity-autographed caricatures sketched by Jack Lane (copies of them are shown in the studio set at left) are hallmarks of this and the Wilshire Boulevard restaurant. Jimmy Durante had two pictures here: one for his face and an adjoining frame for his “schnozzle.” It was at this Derby where Clark Gable was rumored to have proposed to Carole Lombard (booth #54).

It’s a Fact:

“Telephone for Ava Gardner!” Well, maybe it’s true that Hollywood’s Brown Derby originated tableside telephones for use by its patrons. The expense seemed justified as waiters were spending too much time dragging telephones and their long cords to celebrity diners and too little time waiting tables. It seems celebrities and celebrity wannabes arranged for friends to call them at the restaurant in order to impress studio execs at nearby tables.

Notice that the Hollywood Walk of Fame stars are underfoot. Remember, the walk isn’t just on Hollywood Boulevard but includes a three-block stretch on both sides of Vine Street from Yucca down to Sunset Boulevard.

Across the street to the right, at #1537, is the Hollywood Plaza Hotel (Walker and Eisen, 1925). It may not look like much but “it” is where “The It Cafe” was once located, named for “The It Girl,” flapper Clara Bow.

B) Ricardo Montalban Theatre. Next door to the hotel stands the Ricardo Montalban Theatre (Myron Hunt and H. C. Chambers, 1927). Opening as a legitimate theatre it converted to films a few years later and for years operated by CBS as a venue for live, radio performances. Its local affiliate, KNX, used the building for its AM radio station facilities. When radio personalities moved to television in the 1950s, the theatre returned to its roots as a live theatre. Tough times hit in the 1970s but a recent exterior renovation has brought new life – and an all-over-the-map series of productions – to the 1,200-seat venue. From big screen World Cup feeds to acrobatic troupes, the Montalban is pulling them in.

–> Cross Selma Avenue and continue down Vine Street.

As Quoted…”The time has come in Hollywood to exalt plain, simple Americanism. Let us open the door and say to the bizarre, the dancing follies and the jazz, begone to return no more.” – Dr. Martin, a Hollywood Methodist minister in the 1920s.

C) “The Squaw Man” Filming Site. To the left, just after you cross Selma Avenue, is the site of significance in local history. Here, in 1913, Hollywood’s first feature-length film was shot. “The Squaw Man,” directed by a young, 32-year-old Cecil B. DeMille, used part of a barn rented by Jesse Lasky as a studio. Both DeMille and Laskey went on to greater things. DeMille directed dozens of movies – many of them Technicolor “cast of thousands” spectaculars; Laskey helped found Paramount Pictures. The barn went on to greater things, too, moving to the Paramount lot (for a time it served as a train station for the popular western TV series, “Bonanza“) and eventually moving up to Highland Boulevard opposite the Hollywood Bowl entrance where it now houses the Hollywood Heritage Museum.

–> Continue to the corner at Sunset Boulevard.

You already saw (and can still see) the iconic Capitol Records Building. Their first office wasn’t so iconic. It stood above the Music City record store at #1507 Vine Street, on the corner to the right (where the book store now stands). The shop was owned by Glenn Wallichs, the first president of Capitol Records.

D) Chase Bank. The building on the corner where you stand goes back a bit, too. As elswhere, banks morph, merge and move around a lot. This building, once home to Home Savings (Millard Sheets, 1968), became Washington Mutual some years ago before becoming today’s Chase Bank.

Through all the new owners, the building survived, as did its signature mural. Home Savings commissioned the architect/artist Millard Sheets to design their buildings as well as their murals. Sheets has done dozens of paintings and murals throughout the Southland but none are more visible than those on these former savings and loan buildings. This one (untitled, 1970) salutes Hollywood, as well it should given the barn next door you just read about. Make sure you check out the mosaics on around the sides, too.

The bronze sculpture out front (“Flight of Europa,” Paul Manship, 1931) was purchased by Home Savings and installed here in 1968; Millard Sheets designed the fountain.

But before the banks, before the mural, fountain and sculpture, there was the Streamline Moderne NBC West Coast Radio City building. Designed by John C. Austin and completed in 1938, the NBC network’s facilities worked fine for radio but as television broadcasting grew in the late 1940s – and as NBC began promoting color telecasts, the space proved too small. The network moved to Burbank and the structure was demolished in 1963. The bank you see went up five years later.

It’s a Fact:

In 1954 a Tinseltown time capsule was buried beneath the sidewalk on the corner of Sunset and Vine. It was to be opened in 2004 but in 1968, the construction of the Home Savings Building necessitated the early “exhuming” and replanting of the capsule. The problem was the contents, including an “I Love Lucy” script, were already ruined by the elements. A replacement capsule was buried in its place, this one with a script from the movie “Gone With the Wind.” Unearthed as scheduled in 2004, that capsule’s contents were also ruined. Another capsule was buried, this one to be opened in 2037 – the 150th anniversary of Hollywood’s founding. Stay tuned.

E) Sunset & Vine Tower. Across the street rises the Sunset & Vine Tower (Honnold and Rex, 1963). Amazing views, great location but the jury’s still out on this office-to-residences conversion, based on tenant issues.

This is the building that collapsed in the 1974 disaster movie “Earthquake.” Real Hollywood movers and shakers had offices here, Charlton Heston – a star in the disaster movie – among them.

The 20-story building was vacated in 2001 following a major electrical malfunction. With the building closed and elevators inoperable, office workers had to hand carry their files, desks, chairs and computers down from the building. Enterprising movers reportedly charged as much as $1,200 to carry a copy machine down from the upper floors. Soon after the buiding’s closure the owner went bankrupt.

Then things got worse.

During the conversion from offices to apartments, a rooftop fire broke out and fire fighters, still unable to use the elevators, had a tough time putting it out. Then there was the issue of asbestos removal. Encased in plastic sheathing during that operation, locals fondly referred to the building as the “condom.” Today there’s the issue of those giant billboards.

F) Hollywood Palladium. To the left, further down Sunset Strip (about 2 blocks, should you decide to walk it) is the Streamline Moderne Hollywood Palladium (1940) designed by Gordon Kaufman, the same architect who drew up the plans for the Hoover Dam. Long neglected and long threatened with demoltion, a 2008 renovation returned the Palladium to its original appearance.

Tommy Dorsey was the bandleader when the ballroom opened; Frank Sinatra the crooner. Over the years the venue hosted Betty Grable’s USO radio shows, TV’s “The Lawrence Welk Show” and Mr. Welk’s champagne bubbles, performances by Stevie Wonder, and recordings by The Grateful Dead and Bad Religion. It’s still a busy place.  

–> Cross Sunset to the Sunset & Vine Tower. Turn right and cross Vine Street.

–> Continue down Sunset Boulevard to the Cinerama Dome.

G) Cinerama Dome. Something like 316 interlocking hexagons form the circular roof of the 900-seat Cinerama Dome theatre building (Welton Becket and Associates, 1963). As television set sales sucked viewers out of theatres, Hollywood studios tried everything they could to put them back in those seats: widescreens, 3-D and even “smell-o-vision” technologies emerged. Cinerama was w-i-d-e-r than anything before it. Utilizing three, 35mm projectors (later technology compromised with single lens projection), movie screens were rounded to allow viewers to take in the spectacular scenes.

Cinerama features such as the promotional “This is Cinerama,” “It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World” (this theatre’s premiere) and “How the West Was Won” proved popular but the process and the production was a bear. The Cinerama fad faded and eventually Cinerama theatres either closed their doors or (like this one) converted back to standard formats.

But…it’s back! Owned by ArcLight Cinemas, a division of Pacific Theatres, the Cinerama Dome has recently been outfitted with the original, 3-projector format – a format it never before possessed, having used only single lens projectors. As such, it’s reportedly one of only three venues in the world with that capability. As you can see, there’s also a 14-screen multiplex adjacent to the dome, making this one of the areas most popular movie venues.

H) Los Angeles Film School. Across the street from the Cinerama Dome is the Los Angeles Film School founded in 1999. The Albert C. Martin-designed main structure, the RCA  Building, dates from 1963 and was where Elvis Presley, The Rolling Stones, John Williams and Henry Mancini made recordings.

If you’re near here on a Sunday morning (up Ivar and Selma Avenues from 8 am through 1 pm,) you’ll be among the 10,000 or so customers winding your way through the Hollywood Farmers Market. Parking access – always a hassle for non-rail riders – reportedly created problems for film school students – and some online e-throwing of e-tomatoes between the school and market fans. But solutions were found and things have settled down.

–> Cross Ivar Avenue to Amoeba Music.

I) Amoeba Music. It’s worth a visit to Amoeba Music because it’s the biggest biggest. Amoeba Music is the world’s largest independent chain of record stores. And this one, here in Hollywood, stocks more records and movies – vinyl, CDs, cassettes, DVDs, new and unused – under this roof than any place else on earth.

In the distance beyond Amoeba Records rises the 15-story CNN Tower (Maxwell Starkman, 1967), another of Hollywood’s early “skyscrapers.”  For 25 years, this was where “The Larry King Live” was broadcast. The block in front of the building was recently named “Larry King Square” in his honor.

This concludes the Sunset & Vine Side Trip!

–> At Ivar Avenue, cross Sunset Boulevard and turn right.

–> Return to the Hollywood/Vine subway station, via the other side of Sunset Boulevard and Vine Street.

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