“Cars travel in both directions on Sunset Boulevard, at Sweetzer Avenue, in what is now West Hollywood. Seen are homes in the Hollywood Hills, Foster and Kleiser billboards for Grant’s whiskey and Ford automobiles, and a glimpse of the Chateau Marmont (right). Photograph dated March 14, 1950.”
Here’s a view of the same area, around the same time, taken from the roof of the Sunset Tower Apartments.
Barbara Payton reached the pinnacle of Hollywood in 1950. Blonde and beautiful, her libido was robust, her taste ribald; her lovers formed a who’s who of Hollywood leading men from Bob Hope, George Raft, Gary Cooper, Gregory Peck, Guy Madison to Tarzan — with dozens and dozens of lesser lights in between. The tabloids feasted on her liaisons. When she flouted Hollywood’s code by taking on a black lover in 1955, her career was over at age 27. She went from making $10,000 a week at Warner Brothers to utter destitution and ruin, turning tricks for $5 on Sunset Strip.
The death of Leonard Nimoy last week was one of those rare losses to the culture that cuts across generations. As Mr. Spock, the ultra-rational, half-human, half-alien character he portrayed on “Star Trek,” Nimoy was instantly recognizable to sci-fi fans of all ages, from wizened old Boomers to hipster millenials — like the crowd who paused for a moment of silence at the Long Beach Comic Expo on Saturday, all of them giving Spock’s trademark Vulcan salute, to honor the passing of the 83-year-old actor.
While Nimoy personified Spock, the character was the invention of Gene Roddenberry, the creative genius behind “Star Trek,” a bold and imaginative wild-West adventure series set in the far reaches of the galaxies — “where no man had gone before” — that premiered in 1966, three years before the first man, Neil Armstrong, had stepped foot on the moon.
Top: Sunset Plaza Drive on the Sunset Strip at Christmastime in the late 1930s, with the luxurious Sunset Plaza Apartments on the hill in the background. Bottom: The same intersection in December 2014. Many of the nearby buildings remain but the Sunset Plaza Apartments were demolished in 1987 and replaced by a residence that is hidden behind tall shrubbery.
During the Sunset Strip’s early incarnation as Hollywood’s playground, the Strip was more than just an entertainment destination where the stars dined, drank and gambled, it was a desirable address. Perched on a hill above Sunset Plaza midway along the Strip, the Sunset Plaza Apartments were the westernmost and last-built luxury apartment buildings on the Strip. Three of the buildings on Sunset are still standing. Two have been repurposed as hotels — the Chateau Marmont and Sunset Tower, built in 1929 and 1931, respectively — and one, the Hacienda Park Apartments, built in 1927, is an office building now called the Piazza del Sol.
The others, including Sunset Plaza Apartments, have been demolished.
(Click to enlarge) 1. Victor Ponet estate, 2. back of a north-facing building in Sunset Plaza, 3 steeple of S.t Victor’s Catholic Church on Holloway Drive, 4. Hancock Avenue, 5. Palm Avenue, 6. Horn Avenue and Shoreham Heights, and 7. Sherman Trolley Yards
This is a section of an aerial photo of West Hollywood taken in the early 1930s that has been slightly enlarged to highlight noteworthy historic sites, including (1) the stately-looking home of Victor Ponet, an early major landowner in the area. In 1892, he purchased 280 acres in the hills above the village of Sherman (7), where he grew poinsettias and avocados. In 1906, Sunset Boulevard was extended westward from the Hollywood city limits to Ponet’s estate when land to the east of his property was developed into a residential neighborhood called Hacienda Park. That same year, Ponet donated land and funds to build St. Victor’s Catholic Church (3) on Holloway Drive. (St. Victor’s original woodframe building was replaced with its current building in the 1960s.) Within the next few years, the Sunset extension was graded all the way west to the Beverly Hills city limits, completing the 1.5 mile route that would become the Sunset Strip.
Here’s an item, interesting in retrospect, by Sylvia Kahn from the January 1942 edition of Modern Screen:
It’ll be a great for Hollywood when John Carroll takes plumpish, black-eyed Virginia Hill to be his blushing bride. If the pair do bounce to the altar, John will bring into the Movietown family the most fantastic personality it has known since Bogus Prince Romanoff was in his prime.
At 23, Virginia Hill is a woman of mystery. Her wealth is inestimable and untraceable, though it is surmised her three marriages (the first occurred when she was 14) might have had something to do with it. Her extravagances are notorious. At $1,000 evening gown [$16,000 today], the gem of Designer Irene’s fall collection, draped her body only three or four times before she gave it to a friend. Other gowns for which she pays from $100 to $400 are often discarded without being worn at all.
Her parties are reminiscent of something that went out with the Romans. Starting with two or three couples, Virginia frequently finds herself winding up the night hosting a mob of fifty. One evening she rented the Mocambo and its entire staff for a shindig. Conservative estimates say that little social cost her well over $3,000.
It’s always cash on the line for Virginia Hill. She travels with gobs of it tied in a rubber band. She’s never used a checkbook even to pay bills for her Chicago apartment, her New York and Hollywood hotel suites, automobile upkeep, maid and secretary.
There’s no denying, Husband Number Four will have to step fast to keep pace with the mad, exciting Miss Hill. But if anyone can do it, John Carroll is the boy. He’s not exactly a rest cure himself.
John Carroll was a popular actor who had appeared in over 25 films by January 1942 — his best-remembered performance, with John Wayne in “Flying Tigers,” would be released in October that year. Six-foot-four and ruggedly handsome — he was often compared to Clark Gable — he had a reputation at the time for playing the field.
Pianist Liberace, hoisted by crane above Sahara Hotel billboard on the Sunset Strip in Los Angeles, Calif., 1966
From the Los Angeles Times, June 23, 1966:
LIGHT TOUCH-Pianist Liberace uses a Tiki torch to symbolically light a 4-foot-high replica of his trademark candelabra, held by the rotating female statue atop the Sahara Hotel billboard on the Sunset Strip. Liberace was hoisted 60 feet for the stunt, designed to publicize his new two-year, $500,000 contract with the Las Vegas hotel.
The showgirl billboard stood at the Hollywood end of the Strip, adjacent to the Chateau Marmont Hotel.
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.
Photo of the Mocambo’s dance floor from a January 1949 article in Modern Screen titled, “The Mocambo Affairs,” by Charlie Morrison, the nightclub’s proprietor
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.