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Schwab's Pharmacy Photos & History

Schwab’s Pharmacy Photos and History

The famous Schwab's Pharmacy wasn't just a drugstore, it was the Hollywood hopeful hangout. Known throughout the world as the meeting place for many of Hollywood's most famous celebrities, Schwab's pharmacy catered to anyone and everyone.

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Founding Schwab’s Pharmacy

Schwab's Pharmacy opened at 8024 Sunset Boulevard in 1932, and was run by brothers Bernard, Leon, Jack and Martin Schwab. They purchased a failing drugstore and decided to capitalize on the local business from nearby studios, like Republic, RKO and Columbia. The first Schwab's was located in downtown Los Angeles on sixth Street. The four brothers were raised by their Polish immigrant parents in Philadelphia. All of the brothers became trained pharmacist, educated at USC. Situated across the street from the famous Garden of Allah Hotel, it was only natural that the store, renamed Schwab's, would be frequented by the folks that work in the bustling movie studios.

What made Schwab's pharmacy unlike other drugstores was the fact that it became a gathering place for actors. Not just celebrities, but mostly working, or hoping to be working, actors, who called the place headquarters and who spent hours at the counter chatting with each other and perusing the trade rags.

Famous Customers

It was unique among local hotspots in that it welcomed business from all runs of the film industry ladder, and everyone was treated with equal deference. In the 1930s and 1940s you could spot Judy Garland, Mickey Rooney, Orson Welles, Ida Lupino, the Marx Brothers, Ritz Brothers, Marilyn Monroe, and Ronald Reagan rubbing shoulders with the rabble here. Chaplin and Harold Lloyd came to play the pinball machines, and it was a favorite trysting place for F Scott Fitzgerald and his lover Sheilah Graham. Schwab's was particularly solicitous of Tinseltown's underemployed; credit was guaranteed, and struggling young performers could always drop in for a free meal. One of them, Ava Gardner, landed a job behind the soda fountain while waiting for her big break. The co-mingling of movie stars and more polls was a daily occurrence at Schwab's. It was also rumored that Charlie Chaplin and Paulette Goddard would come in after hours to make their own sodas.

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To understand the impact of Schwab's Pharmacy, it is vital to understand the role of the drugstore in mid century American life. Schwab's, like most drugstores of the era, housed a pharmacy, newsstand, a shoeshine and a dry goods section. It was also a place where checks could be cached and mail could be received. Most importantly, it was a restaurant, featuring a soda fountain lunch counter. Cheap, fast diner food included hamburgers, eggs and onions, loxs, meatloaf, corned beef and cabbage, Chop Suey, beef stew, lentil soup and pies were served.

Perhaps the biggest draw where the non-alcoholic, festive beverages prepared by soda jerks, so named because of the jerking motion made when a lever was pulled on a soda machine. Soda jerks were much like bartenders, skillfully mixing flavored malts, egg creams, and phosphate sodas.

Sidney Skolsky

Schwab's added a row of telephones so that agents could reach clients at a moments notice, and extended lines of credit to those down on their luck. One of the most popular regulars was Hollywood columnist, Sydney Skolsky. Sydney, who in 1933 began making the pharmacy his hangout, dubbed Schwab's as the Schwabadero, after the famous Café Trocadero nightclub, just a mild to the west on Sunset Boulevard. It was at Schwab's pharmacy that Skolsky pan many of his daily gossip columns and use the tag line” from a stool at Schwab's”. When Skolsky branched into producing with, The Al Jolson Story”, he held the premier at Schwab's. The popular hollywoodphotographs.com website has many photos of, not only, the Al Jolson party, but also of the many people who patronized Schwab's pharmacy.

Lana Turner Discovered

Probably the best known Schwab’s story is that actress, Lana Turner was “discovered” here while sitting at the soda fountain counter.  The teenager soon to become Hollywood’s gorgeous  “sweater girl”, was a student at Hollywood High School. The story was that an agent saw her and convinced her to try out for a film test.  Well, nothing could be further from the truth. The real story is that Lana was at the Tops Café, across the street from Hollywood High.  The person who discovered Lana Turner was William “Billy” Wilkerson, who founded and owned the Hollywood Reporter. The Hollywood Reporter was the first daily entertainment trade newspaper.

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Sunset Boulevard Movie

Schwab's drugstore was also the location for one of the scenes in Cecil B DeMille's classic film, Sunset Boulevard, starring Gloria Swanson and William Holden. In one of the film’s scenes, Joe (played by William Holden) is sent into Schwab's to buy cigarettes for Norma Desmond (played by Gloria Swanson), who is sitting and waiting outside in her chauffeured limousine. The audience sees the Schwab sign lit in all its neon splendor. This scene helped make Schwab's world-famous and a destination for tourists from all over the world. Later in the film, there is a scene where Holden uses a pay phone inside Schwab's. These two scenes were filmed on a paramount soundstage where Schwab's pharmacy was painstakingly re-created.

Garden Of Allah Hotel

In 1956, the Garden Of Allah hotel, which was located across the street, was torn down, severing an important link with Hollywood's past. It had been home to many of the early Schwab's customers, and signaled the first erosion of Schwab's customer base. By the 1960s, the drug scene and hippie culture took over the Sunset strip. The once glamorous nightclubs and popular restaurants began experiencing reduced patronage. The Sunset Strip, gave way to the younger, and music oriented club scene which was dominated by the likes of Whisky_A-Go-Go. Also, Schwab's closed at midnight while many other new places state open 24 hours. Many of Schwab's regulars felt uncomfortable going on to the Sunset Strip -- it just wasn't the same place anymore.

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In February, 1982 a 50th anniversary party was held at Schwab's Pharmacy. Even as the press was reporting on Schwab's illustrious past, the pharmacy was having financial difficulty. Less than two years later, Schwab's closed its Sunset Boulevard location. Five years later, in October 1988, Schwab's fell to the wrecking ball. All of the furniture and fixtures were auctioned off, including the large letter “S” from the sign on the top of the building.

Schwab Pharmacy Photos

The largest collection of Schwab's pharmacy photos is on the  hollywoodphotographs.com website. All of the photos are available for purchase.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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