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Sunset Boulevard History

                                                                              SUNSET BOULEVARD HISTORY

Sunset Boulevard is probably one of the most popular and celebrated streets in Los Angeles.  With its westerly terminus at Pacific Coast Highway (at the Pacific Ocean) and running east through Echo Park, it famous street is approximately 24 miles long.  Beginning at the west end, the street winds its way through such affluent areas as Pacific Palisades, Bel Aire and Beverly Hills.  As it leaves Beverly Hills, Sunset Blvd. passes through a portion of Los Angeles County which is commonly referred to as “the Sunset Strip.”  After leaving this portion of Los Angeles County, Sunset Blvd. winds its way through Hollywood. At the easterly end of Hollywood, Sunset Blvd. crosses Hollywood Blvd.  It was near this intersection was the famous Fine Arts Studio that existed in the teens and early twenties.  It was at this studio that D.W. Griffith made some of his epoch films, such as “Intolerance”.

Sunset Blvd. boasts of having been the home for most of the very early motion picture companies  in the Hollywood area.  Sunset Blvd., near the intersection of Gower St. was commonly known as Gower Gulch because it was here that the small film companies made hundreds of “westerns”.  This area was also know as “Poverty Row” because of the high mortality rate of these small film companies.  It was not uncommon for small independent film companies to rent a building on Sunset Blvd. (near Gower St.) and begin making movies.  However, because film distribution was difficult, their films could not be sold -- so they simply went out of business.  Some of these companies included, California Film Co., Century Film Co., H. Paulis Studio and Francis Ford Studio.  

As the motion picture industry merged and consolidated fewer and fewer film companies  survived.  Those who did, on Sunset Blvd. included Columbia Studios, Christie Film Co.  and Warner Bros. Studios

Sunset Blvd., in Hollywood,  was host to two very popular nightclub/theaters during the 1940s & ‘’50s.  Earl Carroll built his second famous Earl Carroll Theater at 6230 Sunset Blvd. in Hollywood, California that opened on December 26, 1938. As he had done at the New York theater, over the doors of the entrance to the Earl Carroll Nightclub had emblazoned the words 'Through these portals pass the most beautiful girls in the world.' An 'entertainment palace,' the glamorous supper club-theatre offered shows on a massive stage with a 60-foot wide double revolving turntable and staircase plus swings that could be lowered from the ceiling. The building's facade was adorned by what at the time was one of Hollywood's most famous landmarks: a 20-foot high neon head portrait of entertainer Beryl Wallace, one of Earl Carroll's 'most beautiful girls in the world,' who became his devoted companion. For almost ten years, the famous nightspot was popular with both Hollywood residents and tourists.  The Earl Carroll Theater was sold following the 1948 deaths of Earl Carroll and Beryl Wallace in the crash of United Airlines Flight 624 at Mount Carmel, Pennsylvania. 

The theater continued to operate, but in the 1950s fell on hard times. Beginning in 1953, for a while it operated as a nightclub under the name, the 'Moulin Rouge.' During part of its run (19561964), the popular TV game show Queen for a Day was broadcast from this location.  After changing hands it eventually became the 'Hullabaloo' Rock and Roll club, capitalizing on the popularity of the television variety show Hullabaloo. It then became the 'Aquarius Theater' in the late 1960s and was used as a venue for the long running musical Hair and made famous as the place where The Doors performed on July 21, 1969.

Further west on Sunset Blvd. is the once popular Hollywood Athletic Club.  Founded in 1921, the club was so popular that by 1926, it had close to one thousand members. In addition to the many activities for its own members, the Hollywood Athletic Club sponsored teams in basketball, wrestling, track, tennis, swimming, boxing, squash, handball, water polo and fencing. 

At the corner of Sunset Blvd. and Highland Ave. Is Hollywood High School.  The cornerstone of Hollywood Union High School was laid on November 23rd, 1904.  Over the course of the next few years, many other buildings were erected making the school one of the most beautiful in Southern California.  The school has quite a reputation for having so many entertainment personalities as alumni -- Carol Burnett, Alan Ladd, Charlene Tilton, Carole Lombard, nanette Fabray and Ricky Nelson just to name a few.

Further west, near the intersection of Crescent Heights, was the most celebrated drugstore in the world.  Schwab’s Pharmacy became the hangout for some of Hollywood’s most glamorous stars.  Soon after the store opened at 8024 Sunset Boulevard in 1932, Hollywood's famous began coming down from the hills to pick up sundries, gather to meet friends, or just relax over a soda or cup of coffee. Schwab's Drug Store became known for the stars that would appear there, and attracted the attention of locals and tourists alike. Stories began to circulate about what happened at Schwab's. One of the most popular legends was that Lana Turner was 'discovered' while sipping a soda at the counter. Nothing could have been further from the truth. Lana Turner was discovered at Tops Cafe which was located diagonally across the street from Hollywood High School, where she was attending. It was said that Orson Wells used to sit at the soda fountain, unaware that the Pharmacist was on the phone to William Randolph Hearst, who would call about hangover medicine for Marion Davies. Ava Gardner dropped in regularly to pick up her favorite color lipstick and nail polish. Marilyn Monroe would leave messages there for her friend, Photoplay gossip columnist, Sidney Skolsky, under the name 'Miss Caswell.' The most popular spot was the soda fountain with its most famous treat, 'The Chocolate Ice Cream Soda.' Some stars were allowed behind the soda fountain to make their own sodas. Elvis Presley would come in with his entourage whenever he was in town. Jack Nicholson, then an unknown, spent many hours in the coffee shop. Diane Keaton, who was a regular at the fountain, brought Woody Allen into the pharmacy to enjoy the environment with a young clientele.  For over fifty years, Schwab’s was the meeting place for some of Hollywood’s brightest stars.  Schwab’s closed its doors in the mid-1980’s and fell to the wrecking ball in 1988.

One of the most famous, or infamous, hotels on Sunset Blvd. was the Garden of Allah Hotel.  Located just west of Crescent Heights Ave, the hotel was developed by an actress named Alla Nazimova and had it’s opening in 1927.  Over the course of it’s thirty year career,  countless celebrities including Humphrey Bogart, Lauren Bacall, Robert Benchley, and John Barrymore stayed at the hotel.  The hotel developed quite a reputation as being a “party” hotel which later was the cause for its downfall.  In 1959, the property was sold to Lynton Savings who demolished the building to make way for its corporate offices.

Unquestionably, the most popular section of Sunset Blvd. is the area known as the “Sunset Strip”.  Between the mid-1930s through the  1950s, the Sunset Strip was the home of some of the most glamorous restaurants and nightclubs in the country.  Cafe Trocadero, Mocambo, Ciro’s and La Rues were the playground of the stars.  In the 1960s and ‘70s, such nightspots as Interlude, Crescendo, Gazzarri’s, Rainbow Bar and Grill and Whisky-A-Go-Go were extremely popular.  Other well know eateries, that called the Strip their home were Cock ‘n Bull Restaurant, Cyranos, Scandia and Dino’s Restaurant.   

There are hundreds of photos of Sunset Blvd. on the hollywoodphotographs.com web site.  All the photos are available for purchase.

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