The Viper Room, which is celebrating its 21st anniversary this year, has lost none of the dark, edgy vibe it had when Johnny Depp launched the club on the Sunset Strip in 1993. And yet fans who have lined up over the years to see the Red Hot Chili Peppers, Green Day, Oasis, Run-DMC and dozens of other acts that have topped the Viper Room’s bill might be surprised to learn that the venue itself is one of the oldest commercial buildings still in use on the Strip — maybe even the oldest — and that at one point it was a Safeway Market.
These photos were published in the January 1949 issue of Modern Screen magazine illustrating an article titled, “The Mocambo Affairs,” penned by the Sunset Strip nightclub’s proprietor, Charlie Morrison.
It is rare to find color photos of the club’s interior, which was designed by Tony Duquette.
Click through the following three pages to see more photos, and click the photos to see larger versions.
The attempted murder of a rap mogul Suge Knight in a Sunset Strip nightclub early Sunday morning has striking parallels to another even more brazen — and more historically significant — assassination attempt against a powerful underworld figure on the Strip 65 years earlier.
Most striking is the fact that both shootings occurred at the same address, 9039 Sunset Blvd. Today it is the location of 1 Oak, an upscale live entertainment venue. In 1949 Sherry’s, a nightspot that was popular with movie stars and mobsters, occupied the site.(One of Sherry’s owners was famed Sunset Strip private eye and former NYPD detective Barney Ruditsky.)
Knight, 49, was shot inside the crowded club during a pre-Video Music Awards party hosted by Chris Brown. Police say a gunman approached him and opened fire, hitting him six times and wounding two others, an unidentified man and woman. All three are expected to recover.
“We believe it was a crime of opportunity,” a Sheriff’s Department investigator told the Los Angeles Times. Knight, who made millions producing and distributing rap music in the 1990s, has ties to the Piru Bloods of Compton.
The target of the 1949 assassination attempt was mob boss Mickey Cohen, 35, the powerful head of the national crime syndicate’s multimillion dollar illegal gambling and vice operations in Southern California. At the time of the attack, he was embroiled in a gang war gripping Los Angeles. Earlier in the year, his accusations of corruption against senior LAPD officers had launched highly publicized investigation into vice racketeering in the top ranks of law enforcement.
Here’s how the Los Angeles Times described the ambush at Sherry’s:
“The Last of Robin Hood” is a new film scheduled for a fall 2014 release about Errol Flynn’s late-life affair with teenager Beverly Aadland, which was a major Hollywood scandal in the latter days of the golden age. Kevin Kline plays Flynn, with Dakota Fanning as Aadland and Susan Sarandon playing her mother.
After the film played at the Toronto Film Festival in the fall of 2013, Vanity Fair published this tick-tock of the affair:
Guy McAfee was one of the preeminent crime bosses in Los Angeles in the 1920s and 1930s. He spent his early career as an LAPD officer, rising to captain on the vice squad. In the 1920s, he married a madam named Marie, who worked in the sphere of crime lords Albert Marco and Charlie Crawford, top operators in a powerful organized crime racket known as “the Combination” and, because of its entanglements in civic institutions, “the City Hall Gang.” McAfee left the LAPD for a much more lucrative career as a vice lord and soon controlled a criminal operation that included dozen of brothels, bootleg liquor operations and the most lucrative underground casino in town, the Clover Club on the Sunset Strip.
A wave of reform swept the city in the late 1930s, resulting in the recall election of Mayor Frank Shaw, who was defeated by Fletcher Bowron, a former journalist and sitting judge in superior court. Once in power, the forces of reform targeted operations like McAfee’s, and he quickly decided to move east to Las Vegas, where gambling was legal. In an interview with a newspaper there in 1939, however, McAfee, who was by then remarried to actress June Brewster, denied he’d been driven out of Los Angeles:
This shot from a 1949 film may well be the last existing photograph of the building that housed the world-famous Trocadero nightclub on the Sunset Strip.
Located at 8610 Sunset in the Strip’s Sunset Plaza section, Hollywood Reporter founder and publisher Billy Wilkerson opened Cafe Trocadero in 1934. Wilkerson was a compulsive gambler and the ground floor of the building (below the street level shown here) was devoted to high-stakes gaming. He sold the club in 1938 to Nola Hahn, who ran Wilkerson’s gambling operations. Hahn sold it within months to showman and former movie producer Felix Young, who, like Wilkerson, was a compulsive gambler and doubtless continued the illegal gaming operations downstairs.
Felix Young was an active player on the Sunset Strip in its heyday. His most significant actions included:
- Closing Cafe Trocadero, 8610 Sunset [site], the Strip’s most famous and popular nightspot at the time, in October 1939 during a lease dispute
- Launching Mocambo, 8588 Sunset [site], the Strip’s third and last marquee nightclub in the Hollywood era, with agent Charlie Morrison in January 1941
- Introducing 25-year-old Lena Horne to Hollywood at his final nightclub on the Strip, Little Troc, 9263 Sunset [site], in January 1942
On April 29, 1906, a consortium of real-estate investors announced plans for Hacienda Park, a new residential development to be built on 140 acres of farmland in the “county strip” west of Hollywood. The first order of business would be grading an extension of Sunset Boulevard westward from the Hollywood city limits into the new development. This extension of Sunset Boulevard would be the mother road of the Sunset Strip.
Here is a portion of the Sunset Strip’s birth announcement from the April 29, 1906, Sunday Times: