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Vintage Schwab's Pharmacy Photos & Images

Vintage Schwab’s Pharmacy Photos

When the widowed Lena Schwab opened a pharmacy in the 1920s to support herself and her four sons and two daughters, little did she know she had put in motion the early beginnings of a legend. All six of her children worked at the pharmacy, but it was Jack Schwab who found the Schwab's Pharmacy on Sunset Boulevard, and after Jack's death, his brother Leon took it over Leon understood the unique potential of a pharmacy nestled among the Hollywood studios, and from the first morning swabs open its doors and its counter for breakfast at 7 AM, it became the haven to hang out and the home away from home for the best and brightest of Hollywood's honchos as well as hopefulness.

Vintage photo of Schwab's Pharmacy patrons

In 1975, the hollywoodphotographs.com website acquired many Schwab's Pharmacy photos which can be viewed on the internet.

Schwab's pharmacy immediately caught on as an indispensable locale for the Hollywood film community, becoming the place to fill a prescription, browse through the magazine rack, sip a soda, make a phone call to an agent or studio, need and exchange's showbiz gossip, or just mingle with the Hollywood crowd that adopted these unique place as its own.

Exterior photo of Schwab's Pharmacy

It's Sunset Boulevard and Crescent Heights corner location put it squarely in the midst of the action - F Scott Fitzgerald and Robert Benchley’s favorite LA watering hole, the Garden of Allah Hotel, across the street. So was Ah Fongs, the restaurant owned by then Benson Fong, the actor who played the number one son in the Charlie Chan movies. Ciro’s. the famous Mocambo, and Preston Sturge’s Players were just down the strip. But none of these stainless icons had quite the same club like familiarity that was the signature of Schwab’s. This was the place Hollywood insiders could feel safe, even sheltered from the harsher world outside.

There was something about Schwab’s - with its wood paneling and it's long, narrow interior that seemed so inviting. The long counter with his comfortable stools beckoned - and the hot coffee in the chocolate milkshakes with the best in town. The perfume, cosmetics and candy counters with their sweet, seductive smells, and the tobacco counter with its rich, exotic aroma, all serve to create an environment that made anyone who entered want to linger.

Old photo of Schwab's Phramacy

And, oh yes, there were the stars. Nobody seemed to bother them here as Schwab's - because it was home. It was said that Orson Welles used to sit at the soda fountain, unaware that the pharmacist behind them was occasionally on the phone to William Randolph Hearst, who would call to check on a hangover prescription for Marion Davies. Ava Gardner drop in regularly to pick up “Fire & Ice”, her favorite color lipstick and nail polish. Charles Chaplin often came in accompanied by his son; in fact he made his own milkshakes behind the fountain. Howard Hughes came by in wrinkled clothes and 10 issues, some said after visiting various women he In apartments nearby and down the street at the Château Marmont. Greta Garbo stopped by frequently to buy a bottle of wine and have it giftwrapped on her way to a friends. Groucho Marx purchased his smokes at the cigar counter, so to Jack Benny. Gloria Swanson bought much of her stage makeup at Schwab’s.

Sidney Skolsky at Schwab's Pharmacy

The phone booth in the back of the store was where the stars would make - and receive their calls from their agents or the studios. Many was the time when an act or waited anxiously for the call. Leon Schwab later installed separate phone booths just for actors, and when the call was the one they wanted they were a bit down on this, they were “comped”, at the lunch counter.

Much of Schwab's lore focus on the legendary counter and later its booze, but some of the truly inside stories took place at the prescription counter. Leon Schwab was himself a pharmacist, and in the 1940s pharmacist Sam Bazrod joined the staff and immediately became a trusted insider. Dr. Frank Nolan, whose patients included Marion Davies, Errol Flynn and Rita Hayworth, among others, at his office next door. Schwab's was the place there prescriptions were filled. Marilyn Monroe had all her prescriptions filled their, as did James Dean. And when Judy Garland's doctor worried about prescribing sleeping pills, Sam Bazrod came up with the plan to deliver Garland only one pill each night. The Schwab’s delivery boys had stories to tell - but were relied upon to be the souls of discretion and propriety.

In 1933, Hollywood columnist Sidney Skolsky began making Schwab's is hang out. Taking an office upstairs, it soon became evident that the real inside scoop was happening downstairs in the drugstore and at the counter. Writing for Photoplay Magazine, Skolsky’s regular column penned the tagline, “From “A Stool At Schwab’s” furthering Schwab's legendary status around the globe. He was allocated a drawer in the prescription department where he stashed the news tips called in or passed on to him during the day. Skolsky covered the Hollywood beat from the drugstore for over 40 years, interviewing stars from his original booth in the back, identifying who was the newest “discovery”, and what was the latest picture. He wrote about Hollywood from the inside and Schwab's, the ultimate inside spot, was as central a player as any one of the stars, writers, producers, or directors he wrote about.

Photo of Schwab's Pharmacy sign

Schwab’s became further etched in the pantheon of popular culture when it was featured in the Paramount film “Sunset Blvd”. Directed by Billy Wilder, the film stars William Holden, as writer Joe Gillis and Gloria Swanson as aging screen legend Norma Desmond.  Joe uses Schwab’s as his social haven and office. When Joe is rejected by the head of the studio, he tells the audience: “After that, I drove down to headquarters. That's the way a lot of us think about Schwab's, kind of a combination office, and waiting room. Waiting and waiting for the gravy train.” Later, Joe is sent into Schwab's to purchase cigarettes for Norma Desmond, who is sitting waiting outside in her chauffeur limousine. The audience sees the Schwab's sign lit in all its neon splendor. This scene help make Schwab's world famous and a destination for tourists from around the world.

In 1953, the old Schwab’s was remodeled and expanded into the store next door. A new generation of stars was starting to claim Schwab’s as their own. Brigitte Bardot ordered perfume. Elvis Presley came in with his entourage whenever he was in town. Marlon Brando caused a stir among the sales girls at the cosmetic counter.

In 1956 the famed garden of all the apartment hotel was torn down, severing an important link to Hollywood's past. It had been home to many of early Schwab's customers, and it signaled the first erosion of Schwab's customer base.

By the 1960’s, the drug scene and hippie culture took over the Sunset strip. The once glamorous restaurant and nightclub scene gave way to the younger music oriented club scene dominated by the Whisky-a go-go, about a mile to the West.

After hours everyone flocked to Ben Franks on the strip or Canter’s on Fairfax. Schwab's closed at midnight, while the owners of other pharmacies stayed opened 24 hours, and a shift took place. Many of the Schwab's regulars felt uncomfortable on the strip - it just wasn't the same place anymore.

The 1970s saw yet another shift in Hollywood - and Schwab's underwent changes in its clientele once again. A new generation of stars was calling Schwab's home - Diane Keaton, Woody Allen, Al Pacino, Goldie Hawn, Jack Nicholson and Cher, who bought lipstick by the dozens. Schwab's delivery service continued to deliver to Hollywood, Beverly Hills and as far away as Malibu.

In February 1982, Schwab's held its 50th anniversary at the Sunset strip location. It was a major press event. But as the press was reporting on Schwab's illustrious past, Leon Schwab was struggling to keep the business afloat.  Escalating rents, increased competition, and changing times challenged the legendary institution.

Almost 2 years later, in October 1983, Schwab's closed its doors. The party was held on the eve of its closing, with many of his old customers attending. Many a star reminisced about their fond memories and unique bond with the legendary drugstore. It wasn't a sad and loving tribute to an enduring icon. The entire store and all its fixtures went on the auction block on Wednesday, December 7, 1983. Many Hollywood insiders labeled it, “death in the family”.

In October 1988, a wrecking ball demolished the building and caused the Schwab's Pharmacy to become part of Hollywood's illustrious past.

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