TagBilly Wilkerson

Rare Shot from 1949 of the Trocadero Nightclub on the Sunset Strip Before the Building Was Demolished

Screen capture from the 1949 film “The Crooked Way” showing La Rue restaurant in Sunset Plaza on the Strip with the Trocadero building across the street behind what appears to be a construction barricade; note also Mocambo in the upper right

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.

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Felix Young, the Sunset Strip Impresario Who Killed Cafe Trocadero, Launched Mocambo and Discovered Lena Horne

A rare photo of Felix Young,1941

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

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Schwab’s Drug Store: Where Lana Turner Was Not Discovered

Sweater girl: Lana Turner

Sweater girl: Lana Turner

In its five decades at the epicenter of the movie industry’s comings and goings on the Sunset Strip, Schwab’s Drug Store was a lot of things — a movie industry meeting place, restaurant, soda fountain, liquor store, tourist attraction and, oh yeah, a pharmacy.

But there was one thing Schwab’s was not. Despite the persistent myth otherwise, it was not where Lana Turner was discovered.

Here’s the myth: In January 1937, 16-year-old Judy Turner ditched high school to grab a Coke at Schwab’s. Mervyn Le Roy, the famous movie director, happened to be seated at the counter that day. He couldn’t help noticing the attractive young lady. Sure, she was wearing a tight sweater but what really got the director’s attention was Judy’s wholesome beauty. The director introduced himself and offered her a screen test. The test was boffo, and the studio offered her a contract on the spot. Judy changed her name to Lana and, after making a movie or two, she was Lana Turner, one of the biggest stars in Hollywood.

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1933 Tourist Map of Hollywood

This map of Hollywood was apparently taken from a tourist guidebook. Unfortunately, the page shown here, Plate 59, is all that was available online, based on a quick but thorough scour.

As the map key notes, items indicated with letters refer to “pleasure resorts.” The first of these, A. La Boheme Cafe, is not shown on this map because it was located at 8614 Sunset Blvd. [map], four miles west of Hollywood and Vine, in the Sunset Plaza section of the Sunset Strip. Cafe LaBoheme — which for a while featured entertainment by Karyl Norman, a cross-dressing star of what was known as the “Pansy Craze” — was closed during Prohibition. Later, Hollywood Reporter publisher Billy Wilkerson acquired the space and reconfigured into the Trocadero Cafe, which, in the 1930s and ’40s, was one of the most famous night clubs in the world.

Many of the spots shown here are still standing eight decades after this map was published:

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1934: Cary Grant at Trocadero with Billy Wilkerson

At Trocadero Cafe in 1934: From left, unknown woman, Cary Grant and Billy Wilkerson, owner of the Trocadero and publisher of The Hollywood Reporter

Source: The Man Who Invented Las Vegas.

1934: The Strip’s Style Setter

Top left: Billy Wilkerson with Marilyn Monroe; bottom right: Wilkerson with Cary Grant and friend at Trocadero; left: Wilkerson in photo taken by George Hurrell

Top left: Billy Wilkerson with Marilyn Monroe; bottom right: Wilkerson with Cary Grant and friend at Trocadero; left: Wilkerson in photo taken by George Hurrell

William R. Wilkerson wore many hats. He was publisher of the Hollywood Reporter, of course, which, along with Variety, has been the go-to trade paper for the movie industry for decades. He was also a nightclub and restaurant visionary who had a genius for articulating Hollywood glamor through the decor and ambiance of his nightspots. But perhaps most of all, Billy Wilkerson was a gambler. It was the gambling, more than anything, that drove him.

Billy Wilkerson arrived in Los Angeles from New York in 1930. He immediately went into business publishing the Hollywood Reporter. Later, he opened Vendome, a lunchtime restaurant, in Hollywood near the Hollywood Reporter offices. In 1934, after Prohibition ended, he launched his first venture on the Sunset Strip, the Cafe Trocadero–named for the Trocadero Plaza near the Eiffel Tower in Paris–at 8610 Sunset Blvd., in Sunset Plaza.

The Troc soon became the top A-list place to be seen in the city and one of the most famous night clubs in the world. Wilkerson went on to be the creative force behind two other top Sunset Strip venues, Ciro’s and Cafe La Rue. He also was also the originator of the Flamingo Hotel in Las Vegas, which he lost to fellow Sunset Strip denizen, the gangster, Bugsy Siegel.

1940: Ciro’s Opens

Ciro's

Ciro’s

Louis Adlon, son of the proprietor of Berlin’s Hotel Adlon opened Hollywood’s first iteration of Ciro’s in 1934. Located on Hollywood Boulevard, the club was informally part of a chain with locations in London, Paris and Berlin. The Hollywood Ciro’s was not a success, apparently, because it soon folded.

A year after the Hollywood Boulevard Ciro’s opened, the building at 8433 Sunset Blvd. [map] that would later house the Sunset Strip’s Ciro’s was completed. The first tenant was Club Seville, where the gimmick was a dance floor made from sheets of glass over a giant aquarium. But dancing on fish proved not to be popular, and the club closed within a year.

In 1940, seven years after he successfully launched Cafe Trocadero down the street in Sunset Plaza, Hollywood Reporter publisher, Billy Wilkerson, acquired the former Club Seville building, redesigned the interior in his trademark Hollywood style and opened a new Ciro’s in the space on January 31.

Wilkerson created Ciro’s as a “celebrities only” club, but by the summer of 1942, he had lost interest in Ciro’s. In November, he leased it to Herman Hover, who reconfigured the layout and opened it up to the public as well as the stars. In June, the building was nearly destroyed by fire. It was closed for four months, after which Hover purchased the building from Wilkerson.

In the post-war era, Ciro’s became notorious as a venue for celebrity brawling. There were so many fights that Hover said he was considering replacing the dance floor with a boxing ring. He also declared a limit of three brawls per customer. One of the most infamous of these was in 1951, when famed actor Franchot Tone approached gossip columnist Florabel Muir at her table and spat in her face.

That same year, as a publicity stunt, Hover put high-class stripper Lili St. Cyr on the bill. The stunt worked. As she was doing her act one night, sheriff’s deputies emerged from the crowd, stopped the act and arrested St. Cyr and Hover. The story became front-page news for weeks afterwards.

Hover was forced into bankruptcy in late 1957, and eventually lost the club. The venue became a rock club in the 1960s, and in 1972 opened as the Comedy Store, which is there today and thriving.

1934: Cafe Trocadero Opens

Cafe Trocadero

Cafe Trocadero

La Boheme, at 8614 Sunset in Sunset Plaza, was closed when Billy Wilkerson acquired and remodeled it with what would become his trademark Hollywood style. He named the new club after the Trocadero Plaza at the Eiffel Tower in Paris. It opened on Sept. 17, 1934, just nine months after Prohibition ended. Wilkerson was an inveterate gambler and provided high stakes gaming in private rooms below the main floor.

The Troc soon became the top A-list place to be seen in the city and one of the most famous night clubs in the world. Wilkerson went on to be the creative force behind two other top Sunset Strip venues, Ciro’s and Cafe La Rue. He also was also the originator of the Flamingo Hotel in Las Vegas, which he lost to fellow Sunset Strip denizen, Benjamin “Bugsy” Siegel.