From the George Mann Archives: La Cienega Restaurant Row

In the first installment of our series on George Mann’s newly-discovered vintage Los Angeles restaurant photos, we introduced you to Mann’s custom 3-D photo viewer, which provided free entertainment to patrons as they waited to be seated in numerous L.A. restaurants, and to images of the Malibu restaurants that were displayed inside the viewers. In the second entry in the series, we toured the Bixby Knolls neighborhood of Long Beach, home of some gorgeous, long-demolished restaurants–and a surprising survivor.

Today, our travels with George take us along that famously upscale diner’s boulevard, La Cienega–known for more than half a century as Restaurant Row. While its luster is today rather dimmed, in the mid-1950s the establishments along La Cienega were the city’s most beautiful, and their kitchens turned out meals which, if not innovative, were certainly expensive and unabashedly Continental. In the absence of a dedicated foodie culture, Restaurant Row was where one went to eat high on the proverbial hog.


photo: George Mann

We begin a few blocks south of Santa Monica, where George recorded the fact that the Walter Gross Trio are appearing nightly at the Encore cocktail lounge and supper club. At first we wondered if the photo might have been taken in March 1953, when press clips show the band had an Encore booking.

tobacco road

photo: George Mann (detail)

But the poster on the phone pole, advertising John Carradine’s turn as Jeeter Lester in Tobacco Road at the Civic Playhouse dates the shot to early 1954, suggesting that the Encore’s clientele dug Walter Gross’ Trio quite a lot.

tobacco road 1954 ad

Pianist Gross is best known for his composition “Tenderly.” We’re partial to Nat Cole’s interpretation.

In 1946, the building at 806 N. La Cienega was home to Billy Gordon Originals, a custom fashion emporium, and by the late 1970s, it was the Jeffrey Horvitz art gallery. In years between, it was the Encore, a joint that was something of a magnet for trouble.


Left to Right: Remmer, Scribner, Whalen. Photo: L.A. Times

In December 1950, local cops swept up a rat king of drunken gamblers after an early morning brawl inside the Encore, resulting in the feds calling a pair of long-sought men to appear before the Kefauver Senate Crime Investigating Committee. Invited to Washington were Elmer “Bones” Remmer (San Francisco) and Thomas J. Whalen (East Saint Louis). With them in the Encore, and booked on charges of intoxication were Edmund M. Scribner (Bakersfield tavern keeper) and redheaded Miss Vici Raaf, actress.

vici raaf

Photo: L.A. Times

Whalen was also charged with robbery and carrying a concealed weapon after a search turned up a .25-caliber automatic hidden in the padding of his car, and $4600 cash. The cops arrested the quartet after Andy McIntyre, proprietor, called for help with some brawling football fans. Whalen was passed out on the floor when deputy sheriffs and Highway Patrolmen arrived, Miss Raaf, Whalen’s housemate above the Sunset Strip, bending over him.

encore ad 1953

Remmer, who Miss Raaf identified as the operator of the Cal-Neva Lodge — which he was supposed to have sold under duress in 1948 — cursed at and threatened officers and reporters. Sheriffs interrogated the men about the recent Samuel Rummel gang slaying in Laurel Canyon, and told them all to stay out of Los Angeles.

bobby troup thanksgiving ad

In May 1961, piano man Bobby Troup (aka Mr. Julie London), the regular headliner, was jumped in the parking lot, and punched so hard he lost three teeth. His assailant, coffee salesman Stan Massey, 35, was apparently incensed because the performer spoke with a woman in Massey’s party. Gary Shugart, parking lot attendant, said Massey called Troup out of his car, then started swinging while the other man was off guard. Massey countered that Troup pushed him first, and that he thought the clock (?!) in Troup’s hand could be used as a weapon. Massey was convicted of assault and fined $140. Troup sought $68,305 in civil damages, but if he prevailed, that didn’t make the papers. Troup played a mean “Tenderly,” too.

December 30, 1964 was a Wednesday night. Quiet. George E. Davidson, 50-year-old west side accountant, met his draftsman friend Jose G. Beltran, 29, at the Encore. A shoving match ensued over who was going to pay the bill, Davidson fell, struck his head, and died a few days later. Beltran was picked up at home in Monrovia and charged with murder, after which the sad story vanishes from the press.

But it wasn’t all fisticuffs. If you swung by the place on September 19, 1961, a dinner meeting of the Los Angeles Junior Advertising Club would include discussion on the theme “Entertainment in Advertising,” and far as we know, not one junior exec was left bloody.

Before we leave the Encore, please note that a couple doors north is another handsome neon sign in the exact same shades of green and yellow, advertising Talk o’ the Town Coiffeur. We suspect that George Mann, who loved stylish signage, snapped the Encore in the manner he did to include both signs in his composition.

talk of the town coiffure

photo: George Mann (detail)

Down the road at Melrose we find The Bantam Cock, which was the second Restaurant Row establishment of Shelton “Mac” McHenry, whose influential Tail o’ the Cock we’ll discuss at length when we near Wilshire Boulevard.

GM R-062

photo: George Mann

After the Bantam Cock opened in 1948, manager Jack Buchtel was sent off to Paris to study at the Cordon Bleu and gather recipes for the Bantam’s weekly special menu. The Bantam Cock was also among the first west coast restaurants to feature California wines alongside mid-range French imports.

bantam cock matchbook

You can’t have a prominent restaurant on the Row without making it into the crime beat, but it seems nothing too grim ever happened chez BC. There was that Sunday night after closing time in July 1952 when Buchtel was forced to open the safe for a pair of olive-skinned, gun-toting robbers, who got away with $3500–a pretty normal occurrence in this neighborhood in the gangster era.

Then in April 1954, actor Jack Webb, already famous as his Dragnet alter-ego, Sgt. Joe Friday, was enjoying a birthday dinner with the Dick Breens, when he was called to the phone. On the line, his frantic housekeeper Bertha Crigler, terrified that a prowler was pounding on the door screaming to be let into Webb’s home at 9102 Hazen Drive. “Come home, Mr. Webb!”

8x10_dorothy_mcguire and bertha crigler

Dorothy McGuire with housekeeper-to-the-stars Bertha Crigler, 1941

When Webb arrived, he found John Trindle Camplin, 49, explaining to police that he’d been watching the Bobo Olson-Kid Gavilan fight at a party in the neighborhood, had a few drinks, then started arguing with his wife and went out to get some air. He was walking aimlessly and angrily when he spied Webb’s house and decided he’d bust his way in and use the phone. Camplin was booked on a drunkenness charge, and we imagine suffered a mental jolt when he spied Sgt. Joe Friday getting the lowdown on his case. (As for the fight, world Middleweight champ Bobo Olson kept his title in a decision after 15 brutal rounds.)



Stylistically, the Bantam Cock was notable for a mid-50s Mondrian-inspired remodel by architects John Rex and Douglas Honnold and a signature brass rooster sculpture by Diamond Chair designer Harry Bertoia. Gebhard and Winter liked it enough to cite the place in an early edition of their L.A. architecture guide.

Bantam Cock postcard

In 1966, the Wednesday lunch special included a fashion show, with models strolling between the tables. Despite such appealing amenities, the restaurant closed in 1975.

GM R-024

photo: George Mann

Next on our circuit is Bruce Wong’s Ming Room, a classic piece of sign-heavy mid-century commercial architecture, photographed by George Mann in 1954.

One night in late 1952, Earl Wilson reported that Marilyn Monroe and Joe DiMaggio were canoodling over a bowl of something crispy when a guy a few tables over became hypnotized by Marilyn’s beauty, and sighed “Gee, isn’t she pretty?” His wife splashed hot soup in his face and ran off to the ladies room. The goof repeated his comment on her return and got a teapot smashed over his head. And Marilyn was still pretty.

Bruce Wong ad

For six months in 1965, the restaurant was Ron Waller’s Pro Room, a football-themed nightclub, which everyone involved had cause to regret.

While the Ming Room is long gone, it could almost be a twin of Club Tee Gee, which thrives along Glendale Boulevard in Atwater Village.

Sarnez R-015

photo: George Mann

Sarnez was a dinner and dance spot, with your hosts Harry Ringland and Lew Sailee. That partially obstructed neon sign reads “A Fine Name In Food.”

In 1955, Danny Kaye was dropping by to dig jazzbo Red Nichols and his Five Pennies, whose life story Kaye was bringing to the screen. But by the mid-1950s, mentions in the society pages tapered off, and soon Sarnez was gone.

George Mann was on the same late Vaudeville bill with Red Nichols in Dallas in 1937, and shot a pair of handsome portraits.

red nichols 2

Photo: George Mann

red nichols 1

Photo: George Mann

Next door was Richlor’s, opened in 1941 and famed for its planked
hamburger steaks, billed as “a veritable symphony of flavor on an oak
plank!” (Believe it or not, gourmet burgers are not a 21st century innovation.)

richlors sign detail

photo: George Mann (detail)

richlors hamberger headline

Image: LAPL menu collection

Also on the menu were an umami-rich house salad of anchovies, bleu cheese and hardboiled egg, a selection of cold seafood salads (June Lockhart was a fan), sourdough toast topped with Lawry’s garlic spread (recipe furnished on request), French fried onions, fresh pies, hot coffee and unusually good mashed potatoes–a side dish the Richlor’s folk took so seriously, they assigned one chef to do nothing but see to those spuds, then festoon them around each burger on its wooden serving plank.

In 1960, Richlor’s released a startling, perhaps apocryphal statistic: since opening their seafood bar in 1942, more than 21 million shrimp had been served.

It’s said that Richlor’s was the favorite west coast haunt of J. Edgar Hoover, and we must admit, few things sound more appetizing than a planked burger and a chance to rub elbows in the gents with Washington’s toughest customer. (He was also partial to peach ice cream from the Farmer’s Market.)

As it happens, George Mann photographed the FBI’s main main twice, though not, to our grave disappointment, in the men’s room at Richlor’s. Below, on stage during a cameo appearance in Hellzapoppin, the enduring Broadway comedy in which George was featured with his dancing partner Dewey Barto…

j edgar 1

Photo: George Mann

j edgar 2

Photo: George Mann

…and above, in the audience yucking it up with longtime companion Clyde Tolson.

richlors the feature is hamburger

Image: LAPL menu collection

In case the Lawry’s garlic spread didn’t tip you off, Richlor’s was an offshoot of that legendary Restaurant Row establishment, it’s name a portmanteau of owner Lawrence Frank’s childrens’ names: Richard + Lorraine. In 1961, the Wayne McAllister-designed building was remodeled by decorator Robert Hanley as Lawry’s Mediterrania (home of the musical wine cart), and was later Ed Debevic’s, a retro diner. By that time, Richlor’s namesake Richard Lawrence was quite a macher along the boulevard.

GM R-042

photo: George Mann

Lawry’s itself isn’t far. The original restaurant opened in 1938, one of the first upscale eateries along what would become restaurant row. We see it here in its second incarnation, in the Wayne McAllister-designed monochromatic slab style, a building as simple and brown as the bill of fare within.

A partnership between Lawrence Frank and his brother-in-law Walter Van de Kamp, its wheeled carts have long dished out prime rib dinners and uncounted gallons of horseradish sauce to grads, grandmas and all between. And it’s remarkable as the only La Cienega restaurant photographed by George Mann to have survived into the 21st century.

GM R-059

photo: George Mann

In July 1939, Shelton “Mac” McHenry’s 50-seat Tail O’ the Cock opened across the way, expanding and gaining a British makeover after the war. In 1959, restaurant critic Cordell Hicks noted “lots of businessmen–lots of men, period–go here. Substantial food.” A second branch opened on Ventura Boulevard near Coldwater in 1948.

tail cock opens valley ad

Mac and wife Bernice were popular hosts, always ready to advise on European travel or throw a wingding for a football game, and their restaurants thrummed with live music and the comfortable rattling of ice for many decades. So welcoming did customers find the Tail O’ the Cock that some got their mail sent there.

shelton mchenry

Mac McHenry started out on the nascent Restaurant Row as assistant manager at the Somerset House, a private club for film and society folk opened in 1936 (Bing Crosby, Norma Talmadge and Carole Lombard were members). He was put into the position by someone who had a financial interest in the Somerset and wanted a man on the inside. Mac fell in love with the restaurant business, found a backer, and with John Hadley opened Tail O’ the Cock–the fourth restaurant on La Cienega after Lawry’s, Somerset House and Murphy’s.

Fun fact #1: When time came to put in a wine cellar, the tar that gives La Cienega its name proved too gooey, so a climate controlled attic was built instead.

tailothecock pc

In 1958, McHenry reminisced to Gene Sherman of the L.A. Times, “We wanted a warm decor and decided on the English tavern motif, now known as early La Cienega. We decided to employ Negro waiters because they have such an innate graciousness and eagerness to serve. We’ve been copied a lot there, too. When we opened, you could buy a lot on La Cienega for $2500 and today property is selling for $1500 a front foot. Why, I had to pay $167,000 for a parking lot across from the Bantam Cock, which is our smaller, more continental restaurant up the street. Today there are some 36 restaurants on the row and I’d guess the total investment in them runs close to $20,000,000. We figure 15,000 people a night dine along the row, with the average check maybe $7 or $8 a person.” (For comparison, rent for a one-bedroom apartment in the Wilshire district was about $100 in 1958.)

Fun fact #2: Legend has it that the Margarita cocktail was invented by Tail o’ the Cock head bartender Johnny Durlesser, and named after a customer called Margaret. This could even be true.

When Bernice McHenry died of cancer in 1983, the solicitous Mac asked the newspapers not to print her age. The McHenrys had already sold the restaurant to an investment group, but Mac stayed on, paying a high rent for the privilege of finishing out his career as a host. Lingering illness–a broken hip and a stroke– compelled Mac to shut the original Tail o’ the Cock on February 28, 1985; key staff were transferred to the Ventura Boulevard branch. The plan was to tear down the La Cienega building and replace it with a high rise Holiday Inn, but the project festered.

In 1986, Mac retired, and with little notice shuttered the valley restaurant, issuing a statement that he wanted this property to be redeveloped as a high end, Beverly Hills-style shopping center, and not left sitting empty as had been the case on La Cienega. But developer Herbert W. Piken’s ambitious plans for the site went unrealized as furious neighbors protested, and employees of many decades were cast to the winds, an ignominious end to a long tradition of service.

Mac McHenry died in July 1987. He was 77, and left no survivors save the Tail o’ the Pup hot dog stand (not a blood relative).

GM R-032

photo: George Mann

Our final stop on George Mann’s tour of grand eateries past is Fairchild’s, and while the photo is one of the least exciting in the series, researching it has taken us down some very dark and unexpected paths, revealing an incredible and rather horrifying story that will forever change the way we think about Restaurant Row. Consider yourself warned.

LAPL menu rb03541-01

LA Public Library menu collection

Behind this modest Hollywood Regency exterior was Peter Fairchild’s pretentious domain, a restaurant that boasted a separate parking attendant to handle Rolls Royces and other high end vehicles, and an air-conditioned kennel with individual dog houses where kept women could park their poodles during multi-martini meals.

LAPL menu rb03541-04

LA Public Library menu collection

Fairchild, also known as a painter of celebrity portraits — Ava Gardner, Judy Garland, Joan Blondell, Lana Turner, Mickey Rooney, Gloria Vanderbilt and President Eisenhower were among his subjects — was backed by Wilshire Oil heiress Bessie Machris and her daughter Katherine in the establishment of his namesake restaurant and corporation, Restaurant Row Inc.

fairchild art show 1942

A 1961 review called this newest iteration of Fairchild’s (the restaurant was first opened in Spring 1953 in the old Cherio Room space) “frankly elegant” with red-coated waiters serving up tossed salads, snails and caviar amidst gilded banquettes. The specialty of the house was Langoustines Commanders, with other popular dishes including Coq au Vin and a trio of tenderloins (beef, veal and pork). For dessert, naturellement, cherries jubilee, chocolate mousse or a selection from the pastry tray.

In summer 1963, the Culinary Workers Union took advantage of a downturn in business to string a picket line in front of Fairchild’s. Staff abandoned ship, and the house musicians refused to cross the line. Fairchild brought in scabs to serve patrons, and made some noise about knocking down the restaurant to build an eight-story highrise with a skyroom lounge atop. But before any major structural changes could be embarked on, an early morning two-alarm fire swept through the inconvenient restaurant, destroying it.

But enough about Fairchild’s, so tasteful, so refined, and — save the unmistakeable possibility of it having been torched for the insurance money — so very, very boring. Let’s dig into the fascinating drama unfolding behind the scenes. For there would be no Fairchild’s without the Machris family. And the Machris family has tsuris.

On July 27, 1952 shortly after take off from Rio De Janeiro on a flight to Montevideo, the door of a four-engine Pan-Am stratocruiser aircraft blew off, and Mrs. Marie Elizabeth Machris Westbrook, 38, was sucked out of her window seat and cast into the Atlantic Ocean 12,000 feet below.

marie press photo

Seated beside her was the man who claimed to be her newlywed husband, Emilio Capellaro, a Roman banker. According to news reports, her mother Bessie Machris was aware that Marie, formerly divorced from U.S. Air Force Col. Robert B. Westbrook (a fighter pilot shot down over the Macassar Straight in 1944, his body never found) intended to marry Capellaro, but as of their last phone conversation just one day before the incident, thought that no such ceremony had taken place.

Capellaro said that he had been smoking when the door blew open with a loud explosive sound, and neither he nor any of the other 19 passengers or 7 crew members saw Marie, who had been taking photographs out the window just in front of the door, disappear. It was, supposedly, several minutes before anyone, including Capellaro, realized that she was gone. The plane returned to Rio, and despite a lengthy search by the Brazilian Air Force and the distribution of thousands of fliers by Machris family attorney Robert F. Tyler, no sign of the missing woman was ever found. Marie’s plan at the time of her death had been to fly back to Los Angeles, pick up her young son, then return with him to South America for an extended vacation.

In September 1952, Superior Judge Newcomb Condee declared Marie legally dead, and admitted her will to probate. It was reported that no evidence had been found to prove that Emilio Capellaro had been married to Marie at the time of her death. Her 1951 holograph will left the entirety of her $157,000 estate to her son Robert Machris Westbrook, then 12. In June 1953, Bessie accepted a $19,500 wrongful death settlement from Pan American Airways. As a condition of the settlement, Emilio Capellaro supplied a signed statement attesting that he had been engaged to Marie, but that they were not married.

robert westbrook and aunt katherine machris


Photo: L.A. Times

After several years engagement, Peter Fairchild married Katherine Machris in August 1954, and moved into the Machris home on Kings Road with Bessie and Katherine. Robert, Marie’s orphaned son, lived at boarding school in Palos Verdes. Bessie died in April 1955, leaving her estate in trust to Katherine and Robert. Bessie had been Robert’s legal guardian, so her death left the 15-year-old unmoored. Her will stated that in her absence, she wanted family attorney George W. Nix to be his guardian in tandem with Citizens National Trust & Savings Bank. Robert’s paternal grandparents also sought custody, claiming that they had been for some time denied the companionship of their grandson.

In August the interested parties appeared in Superior Judge Richards’ courtroom to plead their cases. Robert said that he had never known his father’s parents nor did he wish to know them, that his aunt Katherine was like a mother to him, and that he wanted her to be his guardian. Attorney Nix withdrew his petition for guardianship out of respect for the young man’s wishes. The judge determined that Katherine would be Robert’s personal guardian, while his grandfather acted as co-guardian with a bank over the youth’s then $7,500,000 estate.

In the early 1960s, Robert reached his majority and began receiving the principal of his significant inheritance. His 21st birthday party, at Romanoff’s, hosted by Peter Fairchild and aunt Katherine was capped by the arrival of a bank official, who presented the youth with a check for $1,000,000–the first installment of what was said to be a $50,0000,000 fortune. He had to borrow ten bucks from a party guest before the night was done.


Rich, handsome and of age, Robert sought love, and was briefly married to redheaded Judi Meredith, called by one tabloid “the sexiest starlet in Hollywood” for her supposed effect on Frank Sinatra. She rejected the label, insisting that she was freckled, flat-chested and talented, and that she was going to stop dating actors in hopes of avoiding further tabloid attention. She was no happier with an oil heir.

Robert sued to annul the marriage, claiming he had believed Miss Meredith to be a virtuous woman saving herself for the man she loved, that he had since learned otherwise, and that they separated on December 11, 1960, the day of their Las Vegas marriage. Miss Meredith countered that they had been together through January 25, and that “outside influences” were conspiring to break up their happy home. She added that Robert beat her, but that she wanted him back. She asked L.A.’s Superior Court for help.

A March 1961 court order directed Robert’s aunt Katherine and her husband Peter Fairchild, apparently the “outside influences” to which Miss Meredith alluded, to attend a reconciliation hearing. It didn’t take. The marriage was annulled on grounds of non-consummation, and Miss Meredith received a settlement of $35,000, a car and a suite of bedroom furniture. She wept outside the courtroom when talking with news reporters, then worked through her grief by playing a sexy witch in the 1962 fantasy “Jack the Giant Killer.”

judi meredith in jack the giant killer

Robert meanwhile returned to the bosom of his family, then went to Europe to research Continental cuisine innovations to bring back to Fairchild’s, in which he now had an ownership stake.

Robert was subsequently engaged to Alana Ladd, daughter of Alan Ladd and Sue Carol, but they never married. Their engagement was marked with drama: Alana saw Robert gored by a bull in Spain, and her mother was injured on Sunset Boulevard, when a street racer drove head first into Robert’s car, totaling it. Alana would marry British radio personality Michael Jackson, both remaining friendly with Robert.

alana_bobwestbrook from michael jackson website


Relations between Robert Westbrook and Peter Fairchild would sour over the decades, and in a 1986 Superior Court lawsuit, Westbrook sought control of 40 acres of Palm Springs land held by Fairchild, alleging that Fairchild had been like a father to him, as well as his financial advisor, and that he had failed in both roles.

In 1970, they went into a partnership to acquire The Santa Barbara Inn, with Westbrook contributing all the cash, Fairchild receiving 50% interest in the property. Fairchild took substantial loans on the building, and after it was sold Westbrook contended that Fairchild’s significant profit should erase any previous financial agreements between the two. The trigger for the suit was Fairchild’s refusal to make good on his promise to make a will leaving everything to Westbrook. Westbrook tried to take control of the still-living Fairchild’s assets, but was unsuccessful. He did, however, win punitive damages in the amount of $200,000 and compensatory damages of $500,000. The court battle dragged on for years, and Peter Fairchild died in 1997 in Palm Springs, aged 83.

Robert Westbrook, whose childhood reads like a tragic fairytale, grew up and lost the fortune which had brought so many problems into his life. He told friends that he’d been swindled by his “uncle” Peter. And once all the money was gone, he found he had the blues–not depression, but a deep connection with the American musical vernacular. He played guitar and sang his way across the Los Angeles indie folk scene, and when he died in 2007, the occasion was marked with a beautiful eulogy. And Restaurant Row, a concept realized in part through the Wilshire Oil millions that were his inheritance, shines on.

GM R-007a

photo: George Mann

Finally, let’s veer away from the toxic glamour of Restaurant Row and settle in for a comforting bowl of something rich and sweet at the wacky old Wan-Q Chinese restaurant on Pico at Wooster, which survives today, stripped of its tiki splendor, but still dishing up egg rolls and fried rice and gracious service, under the name Fu’s Palace.

benny eng and wife 1969

Photo: L.A. Times

The visionary behind Wan-Q’s Polynesian pop decor was restaurateur Benny Eng, who opened his restaurant in 1958, and circa 1960–around the time he claimed to have served his millionth customer, a achievement that seems to be a physical impossibility– transformed the squat, single-story brick building first with subtle Chinese patterned screens, and then into a fantastic piece of roadside exoticism, its modest corner entry enlivened with a striking, double-height thatched A-frame hung with fishing floats, batik wall treatments, ship’s wheels, bamboo faux “structural” elements and a massive leering tiki head sign with a stylized bone through its cheeks.

wan q pre tiki matchbook

Above the doorway crouched a human-sized tiki blowing a raspberry and sporting an unmistakeable metal phallic protrusion. This figure may have proved too “interesting” for public consumption, as it doesn’t appear in renderings of the redesigned building on period matchbooks and menus.

GM R-007a tiki

photo: George Mann (detail)

Inside, generations of West LA families stopped “at the sign of the two torches” to enjoy Benny Eng’s celebrated hospitality, “Tropicocktails” in the waterfall-splashed Mauna Loa Room and “Chicago-style” Cantonese recipes rumored to have been passed down for thousands of years. The frequent redecoration schemes–five as of 1967– were a selling point, always promoted with the promise that despite the expense, meal prices remained affordable and ample parking free.

In February 1967, Wan-Q promoted a special Chinese New Year celebration, three days of feasting aimed at the Anglo families of cops, firemen, restaurant workers, cabbies, telephone operators and others who had to work through the Western New Years Eve.

1974 LAT ad benny eng pic crop

Benny Eng apparently retired or fired his publicist in 1974, spelling an end to his entertaining mentions in the local press (Benny Eng loves pancakes! Benny Eng loves cheeseburgers! Benny Eng rescued members of his extended family from Red China–then served them cheeseburgers!). In 1982, one of the last LA Times clippings about the restaurant strangely promotes its “Beijing-style” cuisine, and before long, Wan-Q hung up its woks.

Briefly the Kon Tiki, by 1987, Wan-Q was known as the Sugar Shack aka Jack’s Sugar Shack, a Caribbean restaurant, tiki bar and roots music venue. When Jack’s relocated to Vine Street, they took many of the Polynesian fixtures with them, leaving a much diminished structure that is neither fish, nor fowl, nor tofu either. But if you’re stuck on the west side with a hankering for old school Americanized Chinese food, Fu’s Palace won’t disappoint.

Thus ends today’s adventure in lost L.A. eateries. Stay tuned to On Bunker Hill for our next trip in the footsteps of photographer George Mann, when we’ll be featuring the glamorous dining options along the Sunset Strip, including what just might be the greatest forgotten large-scale figural neon sign in L.A. history.

From the George Mann Archives: W.C. Fields in “The Mormon’s Prayer” (1928)

Today On Bunker Hill is proud to present another little something special from the archives of George Mann, an artifact that predates his astonishing color photographs of Bunker Hill by about thirty years.

Before he came up to the hill to take pictures, George was half of the comedic vaudeville dance team Barto & Mann. In 1928, he filmed his friend W.C. Fields in that comic performer’s headlining role in the Earl Carroll Vanities, at Carroll’s 7th Avenue Manhattan theater. Barto & Mann were also on the bill.

“The Mormon’s Prayer” was an opportunity to highlight the famously stunning Carroll showgirls (choreographed by Busby Berkeley) while giving the urban audience a chance to snicker at the erotic excesses of backwoods believers. We’re truly thrilled to present to you this lost moment of American theater history, as a follow-up to the newly discovered color George Mann footage of the Three Stooges at Atlantic City.

Fields was paid $5200 a week for his several appearances during the show, which culminated in an outrageous routine, “Episode at the Dentist’s” (later expanded and filmed) in which flying teeth and whirring drills terrorized and delighted the packed house. Among Dr. Pain’s (Fields) “victims” was the gorgeous, half-naked and dumb-as-a-post star of the Vanities, Dorothy Knapp (“The Most Beautiful Girl in the World”). We will refrain from any crass remarks about wishing to “drill” her.

Dorothy Knapp, Earl Carroll showgirl

From the George Mann Archives: Cruising the Coast Highway

George Mann Archives

If you’re a modern person who is passionate about the lost downtown Los Angeles neighborhood of Bunker Hill, you’re guaranteed more than your fair share of heartbreak. After all, the place you love was completely destroyed after the largest eminent domain land seizure in American history, and replaced with an asparagus patch of bland skyscrapers.
BH105 The Melrose, Bunker Hill, Los Angeles - Late 1950s. This copyrighted photograph was taken by George Mann of the comedy dance team, Barto & Mann.jpg
photo: George Mann

But sweet things come out loving Bunker Hill, too, and few of them sweeter than the rediscovery of George Mann’s 3-D color scenes of the hill’s doomed mansions and hotels. These marvelous photographs were taken as part of the ex-Vaudevillian’s late-life enterprise, the distribution of a device known as the Free 3-D Photo Gallery of Interesting Places and Things, aka Stereo Theatre.
GM R-069a
photo: George Mann

This compact, freestanding viewing device was invented and manufactured by Mann, and could be found in the entries of numerous L.A. restaurants in the 1950s and 1960s. And should you return two weeks later, you’d find a different set of original 3-D images inside. No charge to the customer; the restaurants bore the cost.
001.Heart of the City

George Mann Archives

Among the thematic selections: scenes of Chinatown, Catalina, Big Sur, Las Vegas, San Pedro, Death Valley, UCLA, the Salton Sea and a great many more.

George Mann Archives

You might be surprised to discover that a popular subject was the signage and exteriors of other Southern California restaurants and nightclubs. In addition to such celebrated and oft-photographed establishments as Ciro’s, The Brown Derby and Lawry’s The Prime Rib, Mann documented dozens of attractive establishments that have been otherwise lost to the ages.

Thanks to the dedication of George Mann’s son Brad Smith and daughter-in-law Dianne Woods, this photographic archive is being scanned and catalogued (and prints sold!).

And readers of this blog can benefit, starting right now, with this first in a series of blog posts focused on George Mann’s 3-D restaurant photography of the years 1954-1962.

Today’s episode: Cruising the Coast Highway.

Sometimes, you’ve just got to climb into that old wagon, put pedal to the metal and simply drive. There’s no better vague destination than Santa Monica to Malibu via the Pacific Coast Highway, and Angelenoes have been making this drive in droves since the 1920s. How about if we take a virtual, George Mann-hosted tour of some interesting watering holes along the way?
GM 0-13

photo: George Mann

Down at the end of Pier Avenue on the Ocean Park Pier you’ll find Jack’s at the Beach, the venerable restaurant run by Jack Compselides. (Stay tuned, as in a later post we’ll be showing off the amazing figural neon sign from Jack’s 1950s-era Sunset Strip burger joint.)

Born in Greece circa 1892, by 1907 the teenaged Jack Compselides was learning the hospitality ropes as a busboy in San Francisco’s elegant Palace Hotel. He opened his own “small fish shack” in Venice in 1917 (or maybe 1922), then moved it to Santa Monica in the 1940s. Jack-the-man died in 1957, but Jack’s-the-place lived on under the ownership of the Hecht family. In 1975, Jack’s moved inland to 2700 Wilshire Boulevard. The restaurant was sold to the Pacific Dining Car in 1990, and today is the Western outpost of that very old Los Angeles chain, whose Eggs Sardou we adore.
GM R-050

photo: George Mann

Out on the Santa Monica Pier, we’ll drop in on the Santa Monica Sea Food Co. for a couple of oysters and and to kick the tires of the brand new Mercury Monterey on view outside. Still in business and in the same family, SMSFC was the vision of Italian-born Jack Deluca, a commercial fisherman turned wholesale seafood dealer, who partnered with his brother Frank in the ambitious wholesale/retail enterprise. Read more about it here.
GM R-027

photo: George Mann

Our next stop is Malibu proper, and the Las Flores Cafe–or as it later became, the Sea Lion.
Chris Polos purchased the then-modest beach shack around 1944, expanding it and adding the wraparound windows that made it the perfect, cozy spot for viewing the sunset, and they practically had to drag him kicking and screaming off the premises as he neared the century mark. At his side throughout, his wife and partner Helen.
GM R-027a

photo: George Mann

Funny thing, the vintage neon sign as seen in this 1954 photograph doesn’t say anything about those loud, smelly and somewhat scary sea lions. Seals are so much more cuddly, what with balls on the noses, the big wet eyes, the cute little honking noises and so forth. But it was a single sea lion named Josephine who was the first pinniped on the premises, soon joined in her pool by a variety of injured creatures who ended up on the rocks below and were cared for as they recuperated by the Polos family.

In 1983, Chris Polos told his story to Dave Larsen of the Los Angeles Times. Born in Greece, Chris emigrated in 1900, aged 13, the first of his siblings to join their father in Chicago; his mother never made the trip. Feeling the call of the west, Chris hopped freight trains and did odd jobs, finally reaching California at 18. He survived the San Francisco earthquake, and briefly joined the legions camping in Golden Gate Park, then went up to Portland where he ran a laundry.

Chris travelled the coast, working mainly in restaurants and the candy business, and saving money. He started an avocado and lemon ranch in Escondido, invested in a Long Beach apartment building, then bought the little hamburger shack at the foot of Las Flores Canyon for what he later described as “a sack of peanuts.” Somewhere along the way, the Las Flores Cafe became the Sea Lion, and Chris Polos became a millionaire. He built his house on the property, where he read the history and philosophy that fascinated this self-educated gentleman. Over the decades, he and Helen probably made half of Southern California feel at home. He sold the restaurant to the Hungry Tiger chain in 1984, but continued living in the apartment upstairs and bellyaching about how the joint was being run. Chris Polos died in 1986, aged 99.

Today, the old place is called Duke’s Malibu, part of the T S Restaurants Pacific rim chain. Their blunt mission statement: “Have Fun, Make Money, With Aloha.”

Memo to the All Mighty: if you’re considering extending eternal life to any class of mortals, please consider shining that light over the very few, very special inn keepers who truly care about their work and providing a lively place where travelers can feel like family. Nothing against Duke’s Malibu in particular– though recent reviews from regulars bemoan rising prices and decreasing fish quality–but it’s really never the same when a corporation is making decisions in the back of the house.
GM R-027b
photo: George Mann

GM R-053
photo: George Mann

The Albatross was a small hotel/restaurant just west of Chris Polos’ place. The elegant dining room has a cameo in the 1960 Kim Novak / Kirk Douglas infidelity vehicle Strangers When We Meet.

Albatross Strangers When We Meet screen grab 1960
Albatross interior Novak and Douglass standing Strangers When We Meet screen grab 1960

The hotel had only eight rooms, and the restaurant 6,000 square feet. In 1975, the owner sought to expand the dining room, and received a permit to do so if more parking was added and a public sidewalk be built over Las Flores Creek. When these were not done, the permit was revoked and the Albatross shuttered. In 1993, the devastating Old Topanga fire destroyed the building on its path to the sea.

In 2008, the Albatross property was rezoned from commercial to multifamily residential, but various drainage hurdles continue to stand in the way of anything being built on the site. It is today just the fenced-off ruins of a narrow structure which once hugged the shore, tucked between parking lots.
GM R-061

photo: George MannMalibu Inn 1940s PC
The next stop on our coastal jaunt is the old Malibu Inn, opened circa 1920 and run by pioneering Malibu real estate man Art Jones. Its slogan, Where the Hollywood Stars Meet the Sea, reminds us that the original Malibu Colony was a playground for the cinema set.
malibu inn menu slogan where the stars meet the sea maybe circa 1930s
But times change, and tastes do, too, and by the spring of 1965 nobody thought anything of the Malibu Federated Republican Women’s club gathering at the Malibu Inn for a screening and discussion of the film Perversion for Profit, Charles Keating’s notorious anti-smut documentary.

The Malibu Inn moved east in 1950, but we don’t know if the mortal remains of the brave German Shepard Jerry, a beloved community fixture through the 1930s, made the move as well. According to his 1938 obituary in the L.A. Times, the homeless hero pup rescued two daughters of an unnamed Hollywood star from the surf in 1936, and in 1937 restrained with his teeth a rabid chow-chow that was threatening some children. On his death, he was buried with ceremony behind the old Malibu Inn, where he used to cadge meals.

We also don’t know if the ghost of John Jensen, Oxnard farmworker, followed the Inn to its new building. Jensen was killed nearby on October 24, 1930, when a telegraph wire stretched across the old Roosevelt Highway caught him as he stood up in back of a truckload of hay being brought into town. He fell head first onto the road and died instantly.
malibu inn 1963 postcard

By 1975, the restaurant was known as the Crazy Horse Saloon, which is rumored to have been run by Neil Young. To anyone who knows anything about Neil Young’s career, the idea of him running a restaurant circa Zuma evokes an alternate reality Fawlty Towers — and maybe we’ll just take this notion and run with it. Anyway, perhaps Young was an investor, but the actual proprietors were Harold Fatt and Tom Blake.

The Malibu Inn name was revived in the ‘oughts under the management of Mitchell Stewart and wife Nurit Petri. Stewart died in 2008, and the restaurant was sold in a foreclosure auction. The current owners have rebranded the Inn as a rock and roll-themed restaurant and performance venue.
GM R-028

photo: George Mann

For our final stop along the coast, what say we grab a cocktail at The Point? The Point has been the Chart House for a long, long time. Before that, it was the Tides Cafe, destroyed by fire in September 1941. We miss its artist’s palate sign, and its unpretentious nautical architecture. If you’re not watching the sunset at Las Flores Cafe, this will do just fine.
the point malibu pc
GM R-065

photo: George Mann

Eventually, of course, you’ve got to turn the car around and head back into town. And if you’ve enjoyed yourself a little too thoroughly along the way, when entering Santa Monica you might see something like the above.

In which case, please pull over. The Penguin, not yet repurposed into its 21st century life as a dental office, is still a popular diner serving breakfast all night long, and the strong, hot coffee you need right now.

Thus ends our first virtual drive following in the footsteps of photographer George Mann. Tune in next time, when we’ll flip a coin to determine our destination. Heads, we’re bound for the Sunset Strip and Restaurant Row. Tails? Santa Monica. And if the coin rolls under the davenport, we’ll simply go to Long Beach. Till then…

From the George Mann Archives: Bixby Knolls Restaurant Row

In the first installment of our series on George Mann’s newly-discovered vintage Los Angeles restaurant photos, we introduced you to Mann’s custom 3-D photo viewer, which provided free entertainment to patrons as they waited to be seated in numerous L.A. restaurants, and to images of the Malibu restaurants that were displayed inside the viewers.

In mapping the restaurant exteriors that George selected to feature in his viewers, we discover he traveled widely throughout Southern California, and that when he found a subject that appealed to him, he’d explore the area looking for other sites worth photographing.

Today, let’s tag along as George immortalizes the 1950s-era dining options of the tony Bixby Knolls neighborhood of Long Beach, in a short but colorful cruise down Atlantic Boulevard.

GM R-043

photo: George Mann

Our first stop is Grisinger’s Drive In Coffee Shop, a classic of the Googie style designed circa 1953 by the great Wayne McAllister, and a popular stop on the teenage automotive cruising circuit of its day.

Somewhat miraculously, the elliptical stucco, brick and redwood restaurant survives as George’s ’50s Diner–but with a weird paint job and its dazzling neon script replaced by a cheesy backlit plastic car hop. The building became a Long Beach historic landmark in 2004, and perhaps one day will get the sympathetic restoration it deserves. For now, if you’ve got a hankering for biscuits and gravy and can stomach dining amidst stylized paintings of Marilyn Monroe and ledges lined with tiny pink Cadillacs, George’s kitschy counter awaits.

Grisingers Google Street View April 2011

photo: Google street view

Diagonally across Atlantic from Grisinger’s was the famous Welch‘s, which billed itself as Southern California’s Most Beautiful Restaurant (not to be confused with The World’s Most Beautiful Restaurant, which was the slogan of The Chandelier, just one block south.

GM R-044

photo: George Mann

George first photographed Welch’s from the sidewalk in front of Grisinger’s (note the palm fronds), before creeping closer to immortalize the jazzy lobster-up-a-tree neon on the barrel-shaped facade–a sign we really wish he’d hung around until nightfall to capture in its illuminated glory.

GM R-045

photo: George Mann

welchs port cochere detail

photo: George Mann (detail)

And wow, what a gorgeous building! We’re struck by the overhanging walkway with its circular window onto the parking lot, a detail which leaves us wanting to see more. Happily, that hunger is partly satisfied by Maynard L. Parker’s fantastic black and white photographs of the building, in the Huntington’s collections.

Parker’s undated photographs, commissioned by architect Larry Saunders soon after completion, reveal how the barrel formed the semi-circular well of the Japanese-style cocktail bar, the meandering interior water feature dotted with aquatic flowers and, mysteriously, an apparently unbroken roof line leading out to the parking lot, while George’s undated photo shows a clear break with the sections at different heights and possibly shortened, apparently a later remodel.

welchs parker detail

photo: Maynard L. Parker, Huntington Library, Photo Archives (detail)

GM R-040

photo: George Mann

One block south on Atlantic, Bob Lemon’s Ricarts Restaurant proudly hangs the Lion’s Club medallion on its beige massing, and the standup on the sidewalk promises buffet service from 11:30 to 2. Some sort of live entertainment is on hand to aid in your digestion.

In the background, a young palm shades some buffet-skimming Lion’s Caddy, the black and gold Richfield gas station hums with activity, a handsome two-tone bus makes an awkward turn into traffic, and the Towne Theater’s proud vertical sign beams down from among the clouds.

ricarts match book

San Berdoo-born, Long Beach-bred Bob Lemon was a right-handed pitcher in the Major Leagues, playing for the Cleveland Indians from 1941-1958. Ted Williams rated Bob as a fantastic pitcher, and after he retired from playing ball, Bob had a successful coaching career. In the off-season, we imagine he spent a lot of time in his namesake restaurant, entertaining the regulars with tales of his time on the mound. Bob Lemon died in Long Beach in 2000.

Bob Lemon baseball card

Towne Box Office Magazine 1946

Towne Theater, 1946, Box Office Magazine. Now playing: The Big Sleep
The Towne Theater opened in September 1946, a 1308-seat venue owned by the Cabart Theatres Corporation and designed in the modern style by local architect Hugh Gibbs, whose firm survives.

The Towne was distinguished by its front-of-the-house soda fountain, walled on three sides with glass, and providing views of its social scene to passing automobiles, and to arriving patrons, whose waits were shortened by the novel two-cashier ticket booth.

towne lobby

Towne Theater lobby, 1946, Box Office Magazine.

In keeping with the modern philosophy, the design of the screen was treated minimally, with no fussy decorative elements, just a simple curtain skimming a carpeted rise.

The Towne Theater served its suburban clientele well for three decades, and was demolished in the 1970s.

GM R-023

photo: George Mann

Two blocks south, and our next stop is Ernie Glaser’s Chandelier, which was billed as The World’s Most Beautiful Restaurant and featured “food on the flaming sword” — torched tableside by waiters in evening dress bearing custom-forged weapons equipped with special hilt-cups filled with volatile liquors.

You’d be forgiven for thinking “how cute, they put a restaurant in one of those 1930s storybook cottages” — but, in fact, The Chandelier was purpose-built for Ernie Glaser in 1955 by architects Francis Osmond Merchant and J. Richard Shelley, at a reported cost of more than $100,000. (Merchant and Shelley would soon build the 12-story modernist co-op Royal Palms Apartments, near the shore in Long Beach.)

chandelier ad

Now what was so darned beautiful about The Chandelier? Certainly the three namesake light fixtures, each with a dazzling Old World back story, glittered attractively. And who doesn’t dig fairy tale architecture? Or a French buffet luncheon? Or Parisian torch singers strolling among the diners? Mais oui!

But we suspect the aesthetic highlight of any meal might well have been interacting with the two lovely hostesses decked out in their microscopic French maid costumes. Meet blonde Vicky Dyer, who with brunette Kathy Burns was on hand to escort diners to their tables and ensure that no guest felt unappreciated as the theatrical experience that was an Ernie Glaser meal began.

chandelier hostess charicature

German-born Ernie Glaser was a popular host, always dreaming up something spectacular to leave his guests bedazzled. Ernie was good with a nickname, too: who wouldn’t want to dine at a restaurant run by the “caterer to kings”? (Italy, Greece and Albania if you’re keeping count, and if you’re thinking Italy doesn’t have a king, think again.)

And energetic: at the time he was overseeing the building of The Chandelier, he was managing the Cellar Club at Long Beach’s landmark Wilton Hotel, where he’d opened Conrad Hilton’s Sky Room lounge in 1938, and working for the civil defense program as a survival training chief.

Heidi Glaser

Glaser also had a Swiss-Bavarian restaurant on Ocean Boulevard, Heidi’s (named for his wife, its hostess), featuring one wall decorated as a miniature Alpine village with wee chalets and real waterfalls, and membership cards proclaiming regular customers citizens of the imaginary nation of Swissany.

ernie glaser flaming sword

After a few years, Ernie and Heidi moved out to Palm Springs with their teenaged daughters. In 1959, Heidi was driving with her daughters near Murrieta Hot Springs when her car hit a boulder in the road and overturned. Heidi was killed and her children badly hurt.

In later years, Ernie remarried and had two more children, managed a luxury restaurant chain in Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands and hotels in St. Louis, returned to the Wilton Hotel as catering manager, was GM of the El Caballero Country Club in Tarzana, and launched a gourmet popcorn company offering bleu cheese, bacon, enchilada and chili-flavored varieties.

The Chandelier continued on under owners who lacked Ernie’s flair. It was Puccini’s for some years, then the Chalet, then the Chandelier again. Don’t go looking for this Norman charmer, formerly found at 4205 Atlantic Boulevard; today the site holds a mini mall anchored by a Trader Joe’s market.

GM R-004c

Photo: George Mann

We’ve struggled to identify the location of this charming little drive-in, all the cuter for its placement against a threatening sky. The Clock in Bellflower was famously a stop along the 1950s teenaged automotive cruising circuit, but seldom if ever photographed, so we can’t say with certainty if this is that most famous Clock.

A foreclosure auction listing from April 1961 lists no fewer than 14 Clock drive-ins scattered across the Southern Californian landscape”¦ and on the list was one Clock located smack dab along George Mann’s short photographic route down Atlantic Boulevard.

Since we know George would have passed the location, and in the absence of evidence to the contrary*, we’re provisionally placing this restaurant at the intersection of Atlantic and Carson. Signs on the front instruct visitors that the few parking spots are reserved for car service customers, which on this gloomy day consists entirely of the couple in the white and green Chevy Bel-Air or Impala (1959 model). Here’s hoping they enjoy their meal and have a safe trip home.

*evidence has emerged! Thanks to the good folks on the “born and raised in long beach”group who did the digging to identify the Clock Drive-In pictured as one located three miles to the north in Long Beach at Atlantic and Artesia.

GM R-049

Photo: George Mann

Our final stop on this time travel trip to Bixby Knolls is to a restaurant that we could have visited quite recently. Sadly, in May 2010, after 59 years of service, Arnold’s Town House Family Restaurant lost its lease and was shuttered.

A cafeteria until the bitter end, Arnold’s was the urban flipside to restaurateur Miles Arnold’s popular Arnold’s Farm House in Buena Park, home of the giant neon windmill (demolished for redevelopment). In later years, Arnold’s was owned and operated by Ray Johnson, then by his son Mike.

We can live vicariously through the Yelp reviews, and learn that unlike some old school joints that trade on their reputations, Arnold’s was making folks (mostly older ones) happy with unpretentious comfort food and gracious service until the doors the locked for the very last time. Also in the Yelp comments, the troubling suggestion that Arnold’s was another victim of the ongoing mortgage crisis.
This sad note concludes our guided tour of Bixby Knolls as it was. We’ve traveled half a mile and fifty years, only to end up right back here in 2012, in a sometimes too-modern world where restaurants are “concepts” launched by investment consortiums, where signage is approved by committee and manufactured without artistry, but where the people are still hungry for well-prepared food, attractive surroundings, and for a place they can feel welcome. Here’s to the memory of great restaurants lost, and to the fantastic joints of today that our grandchildren will feel nostalgic for in decades to come.

Stay tuned to On Bunker Hill for our next trip in the footsteps of photographer George Mann, when we’ll be featuring the glamourous dining options along Restaurant Row, Hollywood, and a few surprises.

From the George Mann Archives: W.C. Fields in “Home Movies” (1928)

Today On Bunker Hill is proud to present another little something special from the archives of George Mann, an artifact that predates his astonishing color photographs of Bunker Hill by about thirty years.

If you enjoyed the recent posting of George’s silent footage of W.C. Fields on stage as a worried Mormon husband about to hop into the sack with a bevy of Earl Carroll showgirls, you’ll thrill to see the lively home movie footage of Fields yucking it up with a tennis racket, filmed when both performers were appearing in the Earl Carroll Vanities.

You met him here first, but our pal George Mann is becoming quite the internet sensation. Critic Leonard Maltin dedicated much of a recent blog post to Mann’s rediscovered silent film footage of Fields and the Three Stooges.

Keeping watching this space, as there more amazing short films coming from the George Mann Archives, starring some incredible entertainers. And for now… more Bill Fields!

A Drive Through Bunker Hill and Downtown Los Angeles, ca. 1940s

An amazing discovery from the good folks at the Internet Archive. Visit the Off Bunker Hill list, where LA historians and former Bunker Hill residents have been identifying structures and dating vehicles. One person even thinks they’ve spotted their father leaning on a lampost!

Meet George Mann

Bunker Hill is a lost Los Angeles neighborhood, and On Bunker Hill is a memorial website that was born over the course of a year’s collaboration. The contributors followed their own particular obsessions down the historical rabbit hole, coming up with aspects of the community’s lore that were placed on a virtual map, so interested visitors could explore at their leisure.

Although On Bunker Hill is no longer being updated, people continue to discover the site and contribute their own insights and memories through the comment section. But occasionally, someone comes along who has something more to offer than a comment or a link, and so we bring the On Bunker Hill blog back to life for a brief moment, so this someone can take their rightful place among the ghosts.

Enter George Mann.

Born in Santa Monica in 1905, by his early 20s he was a vaudeville star as the hilariously taller half of the comedy dance team Barto & Mann. Dewey Barto [real name Dewey Smoyer and the pop of comedienne Nancy Walker] and George debuted their act on the west coast circuit in 1926 and by March 1927 were featured on the other Broadway, at New York’s celebrated Palace Theatre.

Of their east coast debut, Zit’s Theatrical Newspaper raved “Ten minutes before they went on at the Palace last Monday afternoon nobody thought very much about Barto & Mann; ten minutes after they came off stage, the whole Broadway world was talking about them… Acts like these only come along once in a while.”

Appearing at L.A.’s Orpheum in March 1928, they were praised in the L.A. Times as “a knockout team,” though their set at the Hillstreet the following month discomfited one reviewer: “The act presented by Barto & Mann was one of those hectic affairs in which the participants did everything from a climb up the proscenium arch to a near-back-flip into the orchestra pit. The excellence of the dancing and clowning in the early portions of the act led one to expect a much more worthwhile finale than the one offered, which, unfortunately, bordered plainly on vulgarity.”

One man’s vulgarity is another’s hilarity: scope out this rare filmed appearance, from the 1933 Texas Guinan vehicle “Broadway Through A Keyhole,” and decide for yourself!

As Vaudeville faded, Barto & Mann joined the Broadway cast of Olson and Johnson’s Hellzapoppin’ (though they’re not in the 1941 film), with featured billing from 1938 through 1942. The team split up in December 1943.

Around this time, George Mann married Powers Agency model Barbara Bradford and shot a series of film noir-inspired images of his young bride.

In his post-performance life, George Mann turned his imagination to entrepreneurial enterprise and professional photography, which brought him to Bunker Hill. In the late 1950s, when the neighborhood’s days were known to be numbered, he arrived atop the peak with his camera to document some representative scenes, returning in November 1962 for additional shots.

These never-before-published color images of old Bunker Hill were originally displayed in 3-D viewers of Mann’s own design, which were leased to various Los Angeles businesses, including Hody’s Drive-Ins, and other restaurants, bars and doctor’s offices. Mann would swap out the photo selection regularly, so if these evocative scenes of Bunker Hill weren’t available, one might peep at Calico Ghost Town, Catalina Island, Descanso Gardens, Disneyland, Knott’s Berry Farm, Pacific Ocean Park, Watts Towers or Palm Springs.

In his 3-Dimensional Bunker Hill set, created to distract anxious patients and hungry tourists, George Mann captured a seldom seen side of this lost Los Angeles neighborhood: the gracious avenues and genteel decay, the old people, their cats and their gardens, abandoned newspapers, vacant lots, the shadows and the sunlight. We are in his debt.

George Mann died in 1977, and his extraordinary photographic archives are currently being organized, scanned and made available for licensing. We trust you will enjoy these rediscovered images from old Bunker Hill from the George Mann Archives.

Note: a few more George Mann Bunker Hill photos have been discovered since this entry was first written! See this blog post by Jim Dawson and this one and this other one by Nathan Marsak for more.

Thanks to George Mann’s son Brad Smith, and daughter-in-law Dianne Woods, for allowing us to reprint these copyrighted photographs and tell George’s story. To see George’s photos of theater marquees, visit

For a representative selection of photographs from his archive, or to license images for reproduction or other use, see

InSROLand, an LA Time Travel Blog, wants you

Greetings, history geek:

Are you fascinated by the forgotten social history of Los Angeles, from low life to high society? Do old buildings make you swoon? Are you a good writer and a careful researcher, able to cite sources and bring old tales to life? Do you have or wish to develop a specialized knowledge of some neglected aspect of Los Angeles lore (for example: Vaudeville performers, streetcar routes, obsolete restaurants, political scandals)? Is time travel your dream date?

If the answer to most of these questions is yes, then you are a good candidate to be part of an ambitious new blog called In SRO Land, and we would like to hear from you. Read on for more information, and instructions on how you can apply to join the blog team.

The newest time travel blog project from the social historians behind 1947project, On Bunker Hill and Esotouric bus adventures, In SRO Land explores the forgotten history of Downtown Los Angeles, up the grand entertainment boulevard of Broadway (where SRO means "Standing Room Only") and down the mean streets of Main (where SRO stands for "Single Room Occupancy," shorthand for a rented room with a sink in the corner, shared toilet down the hall). Between these two poles, modern Los Angeles was born. (And yes, Spring Street stories will also be featured, for those who dig banking history.)

InSROLand, the blog, you’ll find the real stories behind legendary theaters, hotels and shopping destinations, from the developers and visionaries who built them, to the celebrities and ordinary citizens who enjoyed them. You’ll also meet the long-dead lowlife elements whose misuse of public space is as fascinating to contemporary readers as it was offensive in its time.

InSROLand is home to cops and killers, stars and fans, architects and decorators, dancers nude and clothed, freak shows, classic Vaudeville, street preachers and blues shouters, dreamers and schemers, shoplifters, slumming millionaires, pulp writers, bar keepers, finger men and B-girls, the innocent and the profane. It is, we hope, home also to you.

To contribute to In SRO Land, you’ll be expected to write at least 12 posts during the yearlong project, although of course you would be welcome to write more often. Photographic and map-based contributions would be welcome, as would musical compositions, drawings, theater handbills, vintage menus, anything that increases our understanding of the city of Los Angeles. As a contributor, you are welcome to promote your other projects in your online bio, and to announce your special, appropriate events on the site.

The format will be the same as the blog’s predecessor, On Bunker Hill, so please have a look at that site, at

To apply, please email toursATesotouricDOTcom with 200-400 words telling us why you would like to be a part of in SRO Land, what sort of material you would like to cover, and how often you can contribute. Please also tell us about yourself in a bio of 200-400 words.

The site launched in June 2009 and will run for at least a year. Contributors can join soon after launch, or come aboard at a later date. Interested in being part of this? Drop us a line and let us know where you fit.

best regards,
In SRO Land