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Hollywood's Don The Beachcomber Restaurant

            ** Click Here To View Photos **

The story of Don the Beachcomber began shortly after Prohibition. A small town Minnesota schoolteacher with a big imagine named Cora Irene Sound saved enough money so that she could move to Los Angeles and secure a job as a waitress at the Tick Tock Tear Room, a family owned restaurant. Cora soon met an inventive bartender, Ernest Raymond Beaumont-Gantt, who served exotic rum drinks in his tacky tropical bar located in the Hollywood Hotel.  His moniker was 'Don The Beachcomber'. When the schoolteacher and bartender mated, Hollywood's first tropical restaurant was born.  Cora Irene (a.k.a. 'Sunny Sound' and 'Mama C.I.') borrowed money and opened Don's  Beachcomber Cafe, in 1934, at 1722 N. McCadden Pl., in Hollywood.  To give the effect of tropical rain, Ernest would go out with a garden hose and sprinkle water on the corrugated too and awnings.  Needing better quarters, they moved the restaurant across the street to 1727 N. Mc Cadden Pl., in 1937. At this time, Cora had become the company's president and Ernest's wife. Ganett changed his name several times, using Donn-Beach-Comber, to Donn  Beachcomber, and finally settling on Donn Beach.

At their new restaurant, the couple created their own Hollywood influenced, romantic notion of a tropical paradise, a real conceit restaurant, complete with artificial rainstorms designed to romantically pitter patter down the corrugated roof.
Filmland potentates have always had a soft spot for hidden spots, and Don The Beachcomber was just that. From the outside, the place, surrounded by a forest of bamboo, was hard to find, save for a small sign that was intentionally made difficult to read - the underlying message being that if you didn't know where it was, you didn't belong.

But inside,, for L.A.'s first South Sea eatery, the schoolteacher and bartender let the collective fantasies run wild.  It was twenty years ahead of Disneyland, and Hollywood's royalty, including the Marx Brothers, Franchot Tone, Bing Crosby, Marlene Dietrich, and Greer Garson basked in its folly. Frequent patrons were Charles E. Toberman, his wife, Josephine and his many grandchildren. The proof was in the chopsticks that were enshrined in a glass case.

Small dining rooms, which bore names like the 'Black Hole of Calcutta' and the 'Cannibal Room' were decorated with palm trees, bananas, coconuts, sea shells, shark's jaws, headdresses and carved wooden gods.  AAt one point, the restaurant included a Chinese grocery store, rum shop, gift shop and lei shop. The island-shaped dining tables were made of varnished woods, and more than a few glamorous creatures received proposals of one sort or another in the provocative, candle-illuminated rooms. Certainly helping things along weere Don's intoxicating rum drinks. Missionary's Downfall, Vicious Virgin, Cobra's Fang and the notorious Zombie.  Don's rum concoctions were so ingenious they even impressed drinkers like 'Trader' Vis Bergeron.

While Don handled the bar part of the business, Cora Irene hired Chinese cooks to create a South Seas-Cantonese hybrid cuisine that was way beyond the chop sue and chow mien found on the menus of most Chinese restaurants of the day. Dishes were made with then-uncommon ingredients like water chestnuts, bamboo shoots, lichee nuts and oyster sauce imported from China. 

The schoolteacher and bartender succeeded in business but failed in their relationship. They divorced in 1940 but continued to work together, opening Beachcombers in Palm Springs and Chicago.

In 1958, Joe Drown, owner of L.A.'s Glamorous Bel-Air Hotel, took over the company with businessman David Price and opened more Beachcombers in Marina Del Rey, Newport Beach.  A decade later, J. Ronald Getty, son of J. Paul, bought the  chain.  In 1985, the original Don The Beachcomber restaurant closed and was demolished in 1987.

Don The Beachcomber photos can be seen on hollywoodphotographs.com. It is the largest collection of Hollywood photographs and all can be view on this web site. Please email Bruce Torrence at myoldphotos@me.com if you have any questions.

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