A Ramble Through Pink Taco with The Players Club Founder’s Son, Tom Sturges

Here’s an interesting way to spend a June afternoon on the Sunset Strip. Have lunch and a drink at the Pink Taco with Martin Turnbull, my friend, the author of The Garden of Allah novel series, and Tom Sturges, a music executive who is the son of Preston Sturges, one of the most brilliant and eccentric writers and directors in the studio era.

The location was significant. Pink Taco occupies hallowed ground in Sunset Strip history. Originally a residence built in 1926, Preston Sturges extensively (and expensively) renovated it 14 years later and then opened it as a celebrity nightspot called The Players.

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Rare Early Photo of the Players Club – Today’s Pink Taco – When It was a Residence

In the early 20th century, the eastern end of the Sunset Strip was lined with large homes, including more than a few mansions and country estates. Few of these remain today, however, but in a photo recently published by friend-of-Playground Martin Turnbull, we spotted a house that, though greatly transformed, is still standing.

The photo Martin found is published above. He wrote:

I’ve been researching and writing about the Garden of Allah Hotel for more than ten years now, so it isn’t often that a new photo surfaces—but it IS exciting! We’re looking west along Sunset Blvd from Crescent Heights Blvd. On the left we can clearly see the ‘Garden of Allah – Villas” sign—it’s actually more striking than I pictured. As Sunset curves around to the left, on the right we can see the Chateau Marmont Hotel, which went up a year or two after the Garden of Allah, and which is still around today. The license plate on the rear of the car in the right foreground is probably from 1936, so can date this photo to circa mid 1930s.

But what we noticed right away in the photo was perhaps even more exciting for Hollywood history buffs. There it is dead center: The residence that would one day be director Preston Sturges’ Players Club, and that is today the Pink Taco. Here’s a blow-up showing it more clearly:

The future Players Club — and Pink Taco — when it was a residence, circa 1936

We know a few things about the residence. It was once the home of William Morris, a well-known stage actor who was the father of Chester Morris, who was a big star who got his start playing Boston Blackie in the popular serial and went to appear opposite Norma Shearer, Jean Harlow, Wallace Beery and Robert Montgomery.

The house was later used as a wedding chapel, which may be its purpose around the time this photo was taken.

In 1940, it was purchased by Sturges, one of the most innovative directors in the studio era — the list of films he directed includes “The Lady Eve,” “Sullivan’s Travels,” “The Palm Beach Story” and many more. Sturges excavated the hill in front of the house — shown to the right of the structure in the photo — to create space for the parking lot. He then apparently built a ground floor under the basement of the house, which is now the main floor of the Pink Taco.

Here’s the Players Club in the late 1940s:

And here’s the Pink Taco in a recent shot:

Laverne Cummings, the Late San Francisco Cross-Dressing Performer

Last month Bay Area Reporter writer Michael Flanagan got in touch with me seeking information about a cross-dressing performance venue in West Hollywood back in the day. Specifically, he was attempting to verify the late Laverne Cummings’ story that he (as Laverne referred to himself) got his start in a club in West Hollywood owned by Mickey Cohen. Here’s an excerpt:

Paul Laverne Cummings was born in Santa Ana in 1927. In a 1977 article in the San Francisco Examiner he related how he got his start.

“When I was in high school I was in the choir,” he said. “I was always told to sing lower, but I wanted to be a soprano. After high school, some friends took me to audition at the Club Continental, a gay night club owned by Mickey Cohen.”

I contacted Jon Ponder, editor of Sunset Strip history site Playground to the Stars (www.playgroundtothestars.com) to ask about Cohen and L.A. female impersonator bars.

Ponder told me that the Continental was not gay and did not feature cross-dressing acts and it is more likely that Cummings performed at the Flamingo Club (1027 N. La Brea), which it is suspected Cohen controlled. The Flamingo Club closed in 1951, after Cummings had left for Florida.

READ THE REST OF THE STORY: Laverne, surely

Sunset Strip’s Crosby Building – Where Videotape Recording Was Invented – Nominated for Historic Status

From my article at Wehoville.com: “The California State Historical Resources Commission voted this week to nominate the Bing Crosby Building in West Hollywood for listing in the National Register of Historic Places. The vote at the commission’s May 17 meeting was unanimous among the seven members present.”

Here’s more from the article:

From 1936 to 1977 the building, which is at 9026 Sunset Blvd., was the headquarters for businesses operated by Bing Crosby, one of the 20th century’s most popular singers and movie stars.

During that time, two groundbreaking technologies were developed in the building. In the late 1940s, engineers employed by Crosby perfected audiotape recording for commercial use. A few years later they invented a game-changing technology: videotape recording. These innovations revolutionized the music, film and broadcasting industries in the latter half of the century.

READ THE REST OF THE ARTICLE: WeHo’s Bing Crosby Building Nominated for National Historic Register

Review: ‘Tales from the Strip’ an Entertaining Romp Through Sunset Strip History

Check out my review at WEHOville.com of Tales from the Strip: A Century in the Fast Lane, written by Van Gordon Sauter. Here’s an excerpt:

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USPS Issues Stamp Honoring Lena Horne, Who Got Her Big Break on the Sunset Strip

Along with Sammy Davis Jr. and Guns ‘N Roses, Lena Horne is one of the big acts who was discovered on the Sunset Strip. This month she’s being honored with a postal stamp as part of the postal services annual Black Heritage program. Check out my article on Lena and her discovery in a Sunset Strip nightclub at WEHOville.com. Here’s an excerpt:

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Round about Hollywood

A British production from 1931.

Film Clip from ‘Casablanca’: Ilsa Asks Sam to Play ‘As Time Goes By’

“Casablanca” was filmed while Humphrey Bogart lived above the Sunset Strip, at the corner of Shoreham Drive and Horn Avenue.

November 2016: 50th Anniversary of the Sunset Strip Riots

Los Angeles Times, 2005:

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Go Inside Cafe Trocadero on the Strip in the Early Thirties

Cafe Trocadero as it appeared not long after it opened in 1934

Cafe Trocadero as it appeared not long after it opened in 1934

From former Los Angeles Times columnist Cecilia Rasmussen, here’s a description of the genesis of Cafe Trocadero, published on Dec. 7, 1997:

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