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Vintage Brown Derby Restaurant photos

Vintage Brown Derby Restaurant Photographs & History

The website is the largest collection of Brown Derby restaurant photos. With photos of all four restaurants, all photos are available for purchase.

The First Brown Derby Restaurant

Angelenos have always had a fondness for whimsical architecture, including fast food stands shaped like hot dogs and drive through the doughnut snack shops. The original Brown Derby, a restaurant shaped like a hat, was the most famous and popular of them all. It was certainly the most eye-catching place to emerge on Wilshire Boulevard in the 20s. Located across the street from the ambassador for hotel, the Derby Leeward diners with a sign purchased on top of the crown urging them to “Eat in the Hat.”

Many versions of just how and why a derby was chosen have been passed down through the years. One account argues that the hat was chosen as a classy symbol for the newly Moneyed and sophisticated folk of Hollywood. Another story was that cofounder, Wilson Mizner fancied the hat worn by Al Smith, the governor of New York, during a visit to Los Angeles. Or, perhaps Mr. like this because it was the favored by gambler bat Masterson.

In any case, the droll looking eatery was an instant hit in 1926 for owners Herbert Somborn, and entrepreneur and ex-husband of Gloria Swanson, and Mizner, a well-known wit and writer. Studio head Jack Warner supposedly put up the cash as the silent partner. With its circular counter, Derby shaped lighting fixtures and waitresses wearing starched, Derby shaped skirts, there was absolutely nothing else like it around. It appealed to celebrities such as Charles Chaplin, WC Fields, John Barrymore and Sid Grumman because the food was good and the place stayed open until 4 AM.

Brown Derby photo

Hollywood Brown Derby Restaurant is Founded

Three years later, a second Derby made its debut near the intersection of Hollywood Boulevard and Vine Street, a location which the Derby helped immortalize. This location, minus the Derby architecture, was even more packed with stars since it was situated so close to many movie studios. It was not uncommon to find various actors and actresses dropping in for lunch in full makeup and costume.

Hollywood Brown derby photo

At one point,  during the Golden age of Hollywood, this vine Street location stayed open 24 hours a day seven days a week. The most prominent customers were Katharine Hepburn, Joan Bennett, Jean Harlow, William Powell and Joan Crawford. They sat in booze on the desirable North side beneath caricatures of themselves drawn by artist Eddie Vitch, who sketched in exchange for meals. It is clear that the particularly Hollywood style practice of paging patrons and delivering telephones to their tables started.

Besides feeding filmmakers, the Derby was featured in 27 films.  Popularized by the work of an  enterprising press agent, the restaurants fame spread even further. In the glory days of Hollywood in the 30s and 40s to other derbies were built, one in Beverly Hills and one in Los Feliz.

Beverly Hills Brown Derby

New Brown Derby Restaurant Owner

Robert Cobb took over as owner after Somborn’s death in 1934 and became the namesake of the very popular chop salad called the Cobb Salad. Equally popular at lunch time was the more caloric corn beef hash. Afterwards many customers couldn't resist finishing off a meal with a slice of the famous  grapefruit cake.

Although the Brown Derby restaurants are now close they live on through the licensing Corporation the company and trade name were bought by Walter Scharfe, who held on to the entire contents of the Vine St., Derby after it closed in 1985. A few years later, the Hollywood Brown Derby was destroyed by a fire caused by vagrants were living in the building.

Today the Brown Derby is remembered at the MGM studio tours in Orlando Florida where the original Cobb salad and grapefruit cake are still served.

The largest collection of Brown Derby photos is on the website.

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