Sunset Strip History
Sunset Strip is legendary worldwide.
Its allure of yesteryear -- a time when it was known as the playground to old-guard Hollywood elite like Marilyn Monroe, Clark Gable, Greta Garbo and the home of infamous nightclubs and bars like Ciros and Macombo has evolved and escalated into a preferred destination in the worlds entertainment center, both for locals and world travelers, alike.
Today The Sunset Strip, or, just The Strip, stretches 1.6 miles through the heart of the City of West Hollywood. The Strip offers restaurants, hotels, music venues, nightclubs, and upscale retail shopping that are consistently featured in the world's best lists, luring an eclectic crowd from all corners of the world.
- Sprawling poinsettia fields and avocado groves blanketed The Sunset Strip and surrounding hills before the Hollywood elite built their historical playground in the 1920s.
- Since the Strip was located outside of the city of Los Angeles and policed by the LA County Sheriff in the early years, there was a more relaxed attitude toward law enforcement which helped it become one of the hottest entertainment spots in the country.
- The boutiques and restaurants of the Sunset Plaza began to form in the 1920s and became the center of The Sunset Strip, rivaling other premiere nearby shopping destinations like Rodeo Drive and Hollywood & Vine.
- The historic Sunset Tower Hotel (a.k.a Argyle Hotel), at 8358 Sunset Blvd, was designed in 1929 by architect Leland A. Bryant and some still consider it one of the most important art deco structures in Los Angeles. Howard Hughes used to occupy the penthouse, where hotelier Jeff Klein now resides. Hughes is rumored to have owned a number of other apartments in the building for his mistresses. Many remember John Wayne keeping a cow on the balcony of his Tower apartment. In the early eighties there were plans to demolish the building but the London-based St. James Club paid $46 million for the property. It was sold again in 1994 to an Asian investor who named it the Argyle. Since then, Klein has spent $40 million acquiring and rehabilitating the classic hotel.
- The original Café Trocadero, was just east of where Chin Chin sits today. Opened in 1934 by Billy Wilkerson, owner of the Hollywood Reporter. "The Troc," as it became known was a French-themed late night club that drew the likes of stars such as Lana Turner, Sonja Henie, Robert Taylor, Tyrone Power, Fred Astaire, Jean Harlow, Clark Gable, Bing Crosby and William Powell. On Saturday nights the backroom hosted high stakes poker with Irving Thalberg, Darryl Zanuck, Carl Laemmle Jr., Joseph Shenck and Sam Goldwyn. On Sunday nights hopefuls like Judy Garland, Phil Silvers and Jackie Gleason, who had not yet made their mark, competed in the Troc's Amateur hour. It was also a popular destination for notorious mobsters like Willie Bioff, Tony Comero, Mickey Cohen, Bugsy Siegel and Johnny Roselli. The Trocadero now stands at 8278 Sunset Blvd.
- The Melody Room, an intimate jazz bar during the 1940s, is rumored to have served as an illicit gambling den for notorious gangsters Mickey Cohen and Bugsy Siegel. The space is now occupied by the world famous music venue Viper Room.
- Ciros was opened in 1940 by Billy Wilkerson of the Hollywood Reporter, where The Comedy Store currently stands. It was one of the hottest clubs around at the time. The names that frequented Ciros were a who’s who of American entertainment, starting at the very top with Frank Sinatra, and stars like Marilyn Monroe, Jimmy Stewart, Cary Grant, Humphrey Bogart, Ava Gardner, George Burns, and Jack Benny. Like many of the hot nightclubs of the Sunset Strip, the club suffered in the 50s because it could not compete with the money that Las Vegas casinos were offering to top acts and entertainers.
- In the 1940s a place called Sherry's Restaurant stood where the Key Club is today. Mickey Cohen, who was known once as Bugsy Siegel's right-hand man, was shot there in 1948.
- Wilder's 1950 film Sunset Boulevard spread interest in the Strip and attracted visitors from all over the world. This classic black comedy/drama, is a behind the scenes look at Hollywood, the price of fame, greed, narcissism, and ambition. It was honored with eleven Academy Award nominations and the recipient of three Oscars.
- Hamburger Hamlet was opened in 1950 by Marilyn Lewis, who moved to LA to pursue a career in fashion. She met her husband Harry Lewis, an aspiring actor who shared her dreams to star in Hamlet someday and open a restaurant. When the restaurant first opened, Harry named the burgers on the menu after his wife’s celebrity friends.
- Joe DiMaggio and Marilyn Monroe had their first blind date at the Rainbow Bar and Grill in 1953 when it was still the Villa Nova. Vincente Minelli, Liza's father, proposed to Judy Garland at the restaurant in 1945.
- Marilyn Monroe used to frequent a restaurant called Furs, which is now JAXX Restaurant. At one point Charlie Chaplin owned the building where the restaurant was located.
- The televison series 77 Sunset Strip, which debuted in 1959, featured Stu Bailey and Jeff Spencer as the wisecracking, womanizing private detectives. Their office was located at the factious address, 77 Sunset Strip, right next door to a flashy restaurant where Kookie worked as a valet.
- Key Club sits on the site that was once Gazzarri's, a renowned Sunset Strip venue that gave bands like the Doors and Van Halen their starts.
- Whisky A Go-Go was opened in the 1960s by a former Chicago cop named Elmer Valentine. He modeled the discotheque after a club he had seen in Paris, and suspended the 1st female DJ in a glass cage above the dance floor. Go-Go girls were born when he put women in mini-skirts and short white boots in cages around the club. Johnny River's was the live act when it first opened, and Jim Morrison and the Doors became the house band in 1966. The Who, the Kinks, the Byrds, Led Zeppelin, AC/DC, and Jimi Hendrix all also played at the Whisky.
- Hugh Hefner opened his Playboy Club at 8560 Sunset Blvd. in the mid-1960s on the Strip. The club took up the first 4 floors of the ten story building and was known to have a line around the corner on several nights of the week. Hefner lived on the top floor in true James Bond style with a round bed and moving wall that revealed a fully stocked bar. Mario Maglieri came out from Chicago in 1964 to help launch the Playboy Club, but he soon left to become a partner at the nightclub Whisky A Go-Go.
- There used to be a small rock club called Pandora’s Box on the southwest corner of Sunset and Crescent Heights. In 1966, it was the scene of many confrontations and protests between teens and police when authorities imposed a 10 p.m. curfew for those under 18. The goal was to help deter the growing crowds of youngsters from spilling out of the club and into the Strip’s traffic. Los Angeles officials bulldozed Pandora's Box when the problems continued, which led to the 1967 release of a teen-exploitation movie Riot on the Strip.
- Jim Morrison of the Doors balanced on a railing on top of the tallest building on the Strip, 9000 Sunset, while filming a scene for the movie HWY (1969).
- Dukes Coffee Shop is located at what used to be a small nightclub called London Fog where the Doors played nightly in the mid-60s before they became the house band for the Whisky a Go Go.
- The Rainbow Bar & Grill has been full of rock n roll history since Bob Gibson opened it in 1972. Frequent rocker guests were the Who, Led Zeppelin, Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, Alice Cooper, Guns n Roses, and Roman Polanski. John Lennon's psychedelic Rolls Royce was commonly seen outside the Rainbow as well. John Belushi ate his last meal of Lentil Soup at the Rainbow Bar & Grill before he went back to his Chateau Marmont bungalow and overdosed.
- The Comedy Store was founded in 1972 by Mitzi Shore, who still owns the club today. Many famous comedians got their start here at amateur night, such as Jim Carrey, Michael Keaton, Ed Begley Jr., Howie Mandel, and David Letterman (who was also the emcee for three years after his debut). Richard Pryor staged his 1972 comeback here and recorded three live albums at the Store.
- The Roxy has been on Sunset since 1973. Bruce Springsteen gave a breakthrough concert here in 1975. Other major performances at the Roxy have included David Bowie, Neil Young, and Prince. In 1974, The Roxy became home to the Rocky Horror Picture Show and its popularity prompted owner Lou Adler to turn the successful play into the movie.
- Le Dome was founded by Elton John in 1977. The restaurant was usually packed with Hollywood agents, producers and music-industry names like David Geffen, Danny Elfman and Berry Gordy. The restaurant was completely made over in 2003 but closed in 2005.
- Tower Records has been on the Strip for over 35 years, and is known for its unbeatable selection and near-daily in-store celebrity sightings. The space was formerly occupied by The Classic Cat Burlesque, a once famous Hollywood strip club owned by actor Alan Wells. Tower Records closed its doors December 2006.
- The Mondrian was converted from a 1950s apartment complex to a hotel in 1984, which was styled as an homage to the Dutch painter Piet Mondrian with its black lacquer, chrome and glass exterior. The hotel attracted rock stars like Keith Richards and Elvis Costello, who practically lived at the hotel bar. Ian Schrager known for running the 70s disco, Studio 54, and a number of hip Manhattan boutique hotels, bought the Mondrian in 1995 for $17.5 million He partnered with designer Phillipe Stark to create the dreamy Californian hotel that towers today.
- In 1993, Johnny Depp transformed Central into the hip and famous Viper Room, which he named after a group of pot-smoking musicians who called themselves Vipers. Actor River Phoenix died of a drug overdose outside of the Viper on Halloween night in 1993.
- Hustler Hollywood on the corner of Hilldale and Sunset is run by Larry Flynt’s daughter and is the largest erotica store in the country.
- Book Soup, near Sunset and Fountain, used to be the site of a mortuary, but is now one of the most popular book stores for celebrity book signings and sightings. Some of the stars who have signed their works at the store include, Howard Stern, Mia Farrow, Mark Wahlberg, Loni Anderson, and Johnny Carson's sidekick, Ed McMahon. Other stars like Madonna, Drew Barrymore, Thora Birch, David Bowie, Alec Baldwin, Joan Collins and Jackie Collins have been spotted browsing there on numerous occasions.
- After the 1981 publication of his first cookbook, Modern French Cooking for the American Kitchen, Wolfgang Puck opened Spago on the Sunset Strip. It was an instant success, putting Wolfgang, Spago, and Los Angeles on the culinary map.
- The Sky Bar, owned by Randy Gerber who is married to Cindy Crawford, has attracted the rock and roll crowd for a long time, including members from the Smashing Pumpkins, Guns N Roses, Public Enemy, Hole (with Courtney Love), The Who, Poison, the Cranberries, Gypsy Kings and others.
- The Tower Bar, which recently opened in the newly renovated Sunset Tower hotel, used to be Bugsy Siegel's 1930s apartment. Page Cavanaugh, who played in a 1940s trio that accompanied Frank Sinatra, Doris Day and Nat King Cole, plays the baby grand live in the Tower Bar to this day. Jane Russell still visits the bar in the hotel on occasion.