Looking Backward: Depopulating Pershing Square, 2012-1954

In 1905, when George Santayana wrote, "Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it," we can be quite certain that he was not sitting in an east-facing room of the Biltmore Hotel, looking out over Pershing Square. That’s because the hotel didn’t exist yet, and L.A.’s old public square was still called Central Park. 

But the philosophers’ words seem very apt as we reflect on the oddly familiar reports coming out of Pershing Square, City Hall and the press this week.

If you want to know what’s happening in 2012, it’s easy enough to follow that trail”¦ bearing in mind that business groups that are able to pay lobbyists and publicists and who donate to politicians always have an edge when it comes to getting their perspectives heard. (An alternative view is here.)

police bombs rout 1931

Los Angeles Times, October 31, 1931

Here On Bunker Hill, we’d rather cast an eye backwards, in hopes that by reminding the players in our modern comedy of the old roles they are inhabiting, that their performances will be more thoughtful and humane.

Behold, Pershing Square in the middle 1950s! This north-facing photograph, shot in 3-D Technicolor by the celebrated vaudeville dancer (and chronicler of Bunker Hill) George Mann, has not been seen in nearly fifty years. It is one of four vintage images of the park just discovered in Mann’s archive, and scanned especially for inclusion in this blog post by Dianne Woods.


PS 001c 150dpi

photo: George Mann

Here we see the plain and grassy park as it was remade, following the controversial construction of an underground parking lot and civil defense shelter. Gone are the beloved walkways and mature tree cover that were for decades the symbols of the place, and cause for concern by moralists who raved that the bushes were filled with libertines and the shady spots with loudmouthed loons. Fine old trees have been replaced by fast-growing bamboo and a few anemic rose bushes.  

Compared to the old Pershing Square, this park is a dump.  

pershing square aerial view postcard

Pershing Square as it was

And yet, along the semi-shaded benches that line the lawn, many dozens of people have gathered in the heat of the day–so many that some must stand, or venture out onto the lawn to sit on low walls in full sun. 

in the sun

photo: George Mann (detail)]

Although the park’s designers sought through the redesign to make the space less hospitable for loitering, the urge of the people to come together in the commons proved stronger than the grim psychological landscape.  

We see that it is a multi-racial crowd, mainly men, nearly all middle-aged or elderly. Among them must be a number of the 9000 denizens of single rooms up on Bunker Hill, the voiceless many who will in just a few years be cast to the winds after the largest eminent domain action in US history.  

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photo: George Mann

Over in the northeast corner, a young black man in a natty brown sport coat seems to be taking advantage of the crowd’s idle attentions to practice his oration. Just behind, elevated on a box, a fellow all in white gestures meaningfully to a man who looks interested, if perhaps a little bit afraid. 

speakers corner detail

photo: George Mann (detail)

speech is free and noisy 1953

This area was our speaker’s corner, much like the famous one in Hyde Park, London, a loud, strange, loathed and beloved zone of free expression (and gleeful heckling) that was over the decades subject to repeated suppression attempts by business groups and politicians. The names of these powerful entities may be different, but their complaints and tactics have scarcely changed in six decades. 

our hyde park crop

letter to the editor, Los Angeles Times, March 18, 1953 

The problem then as now, of course, was that after being instructed crack down on "undesirable" behavior within the park’s borders, the unsubtle mind of a beat cop was pressed to its limits by the appearance of such unusual public activity as the impromptu June 1955 attempt by fifteen young classical musicians to perform Handel’s "Water Music" beside the park’s fountain. 

It was weird, it was different–of course it must be against the rules.

"Not on my beat! No permit, no music!" exclaimed Patrolman Bill Shirley, headless of the cries from the people of the park to just let the kids play. Once the Young Artists Chamber Orchestra had been shooed away, a reporter watched as a group of Bunker Hill regulars sang along to a hymn played on guitar and concertina. Officer Shirley had no complaint, for this was a daily feature of park life.

no place to play headline 

Similarly, in August 2012 when a group of chalk artists came from Oakland, at their own expense, to create a sidewalk mural during the Downtown Art Walk, they were harassed by police and private security guards, the media and blogosphere fretted that they might be planning violence, and one of the artists was arrested. 

But let’s get back to Pershing Square history. Like September 1963,when  a colorful group of about forty Pershing Square habitués including one "Stoolpigeon Mary" protested plans by the Rec and Parks Department to further diminish the already compromised layout of the park, removing the few trees and benches and narrowing the pathways. 

This $100,000 proposal, financed by parking revenues, was loudly denounced as an attack of the "rich against the poor." The ragged citizens marched together to City Hall to decry these actions of the wealthy, those lucky ones who had air-conditioned offices, luxurious homes and private clubs at their disposal, and yet seemed so intent on taking away the one place where the poor of downtown could escape their hot single rooms and enjoy each others’ company in a natural setting.

stoolpigeon mary

Photo: Los Angeles Times

And indeed, the main proponents of the 1963 "beautification" plan–one misstep of many towards the hideous concrete hell that is today’s Pershing Square–were the Downtown Business Men’s Association (known now as the Central City Association) and Mayor Sam Yorty, who would later be voted among the worst three big city leaders in American history. Mayor Yorty expressed concern in particular that the park had become a haven for "undesirables" who frightened females.

The truth was that there were unafraid women to be found in Pershing Square, but never so many as the men. But we know of them from accounts of how they preached or sang the gospel, or cared for the birds like the much-loved retired telephone operator Pigeon Goldie Osgood (whose 1964 murder in the Cecil Hotel was never solved). George Mann’s newly rediscovered photograph suggests that the ladies preferred the shady, less crowded corners of the square. 

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photo: George Mann

The last Pershing Square photo in the set shows the scene looking west towards the Biltmore Hotel from near the corner of Sixth and Hill, not far from where the Occupy LA protest group holds its thrice-weekly general assemblies today.  

PS 005b 150 dpi

photo: George Mann

The path is shady, and an old man bends to drink from the water fountain. A woman, perhaps holding a petition, has engaged a seated man in earnest conversation.  


photo: George Mann (detail)

Beside the tall statue of the doughboy on his plinth, we see a man whose body language evokes the classical portrayal of melancholy.   


photo: George Mann (detail)

There’s something beautiful in his solitary desperation, a formal elegance in the body’s compact lines–and also a sense of hope because, as lonesome and pained as this individual appears, he still was able to take his place in the lively public park with all the other souls of the city, not shooed or hidden away as an undesirable, but there on the wall as a member of a community. The park was there to accept all comers, to give them a safe place to rest, cool water, human company and a breeze off the fountain. 

Bunker Hill Box 150dpi

Such are the vibrant scenes that emerge from a box tucked away many decades ago by a tall, funny man who went out into his native city looking for images that would resonate as uniquely of Los Angeles. He went, of course, to Pershing Square, and to Bunker Hill, and to the Plaza and Olvera Street. Of the three, Bunker Hill is gone forever, the Plaza is a tourist attraction and still a place for the people to gather, and Pershing  Square is in terrible peril. 

Pershing Square is today far, far worse than the 1950s redesign, or the 1960s one, or the 1980s one. With each change, the park has become less accessible, more restrictive, less green, less vibrant. This is a place where it takes longer to read the rules of what is not allowed than to walk right into the park and out again.

Pershing Square signage

If "Stoolpigeon Mary" and her friends could see what’s been done to Pershing Square since they marched to City Hall in 1963, they would be horrified–but probably not surprised. For the current iteration of the park–a sprawling hardscape broken up by confusing walls and a rarely-functioning, nearly-waterless fountain, historic figures relegated to a Sculpture Ghetto that doubles as a dog run, the small patch of grass roped off, the benches deliberately divided to deter anyone from even thinking about lying down–is a space designed by the wrong people for the wrong reasons.

Richard Schave with tour guests in Pershing Square

Esotouric tour guide Richard Schave explains the problems

So why is Pershing Square so awful?  

Fear and money
, two powerful forces that don’t belong anywhere near a public park. Money came to the park in the form of the city-owned underground parking lot, for which the old trees and paths and fountain were ripped up in 1951, in the first assault upon its heart. 

Fear came to the park in the form of a civil defense shelter, hidden away within the garage, and later in attempts to legislate and design away the park’s appeal to undesirable Angelenos: communists, homosexuals, the poor, the mad, the homeless, the old, the revolutionary, the anti-social, the voiceless. 

Fear and money are good for politicians, but very bad for public policy and public space. Try to imagine any one of the great parks of the world, forced to bend to these two incompatible motivations. Imagine the lawns of Central Park, roped off so nobody can rest on them. Or the Serpentine pond in London, drained down to the rocks. Or Griffith Park, its paths covered over in concrete, its trees cut back to eliminate the shade. 

Fear is no way to design a city. 

It is not too late for Pershing Square to again be a great public space, but it’s going to require great courage by our civic leaders to reject false and alarming narratives of "decadent" misbehavior and harm to phantom businesses, and to stand up for the precepts on which America was founded. And it will require that our people involve themselves is a space that defies involvement, and demand something better for themselves and for people not at all like them. 

Let these beautiful and powerful images, sent across the decades from the eye of the great George Mann, give us all a star to steer by. Let’s not be afraid of one another or of how our fellow citizens might behave. Let us instead make a fine place in which to be fine people, and see what surprises await us there.


If you would like to be involved in the development of a more humane and inspiring Pershing Square, please join the Pershing Square People Improvement District

Kim Cooper, editrix, On Bunker Hill 


Two New Mann Images – Final Days of the Flight!

Hillzapoppin‘ in the OBH!  A couple swanky new color images emerged from the greater Mann grotto and the good people at the archives wanted to share them with you.  Ain’t they the best?


This image is later than the other Manns (Menn?) we’ve seen.  (Given the specific progress made on the Union Bank tower, I’d peg this photo at September 1966).  By comparison, here’s one of late-50s vintage you’ve seen before:


The Community Redevelopment Agency got their wreckers and worked from top to bottom; started with the Elks in the autum of 1962, then hit the Hulburt (middle) and finished the Ferguson on Hill in ’63.

With Angels Flight’s Western Wall removed, you then see these two characters in images of the Flight, but they were chewed up pretty quickly.


But back to our original Mann photo up top.  To the east of the flight on the other side of the tunnel, the Royal Liquor’s still there, and so’s the McCoy house above.

Royal Liquor–AKA St. Helena Sanitarium–always amuses because before Los Angeles became last refuge for the hunted and the tortured, it was just a sunny place to go for salubrious living:


Now let’s cross the intersection, down Hill a bit…


…turn to see that Olivet and Sinai have passed each other.  The Hill Crest and the Sunshine, of whom we’ve spoken quite a bit recently, gone, again, the CRA working down from Olive to Clay, the HillCrest lost in the autumn of 1961 and the Sunshine goes ca. 1965.  There’s the McCoy House and St. Helena, although now the latter, known as My Hotel for some time, became the Vista Hotel between 1942 and ’47 (and the actual full name of its corner booze boutique, despite what the neon read, was Royal Gold Liquors).  Vaguely visible looming behind in the mist, the Belmont.

The former front door of the Ferguson Café apparently a swell place to park your faded yellow jalopy.  In September of 1966.  Now, not so much.


Hey, at least the light pole and fireplug are still there.

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 http://www.flickr.com/photos/brad_smith

For a representative selection of photographs from his archive, or to license images for reproduction or other use, see http://www.akg-images.co.uk/_customer/london/mailout/1004/georgemann/

St. Helena/Vegetarian Café, USC Digital Archives; Ems & Casa Alta, personal collection

From the George Mann Archives: Lost gems of the Sunset Strip

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. And last time we got together, we took a trip to the dark side of life along the celebrated Restaurant Row, La Cienega Boulevard.

Today, our travels with George take us to the top of La Cienega and then deep into the Sunset Strip, to see what’s cooking along that fabulous boulevard, which for close to a century has been the preferred promenade for movie stars, gangsters, star makers and the normal folks who love to look at them. Let’s see which Sunset Strip establishments caught George Mann’s discerning eye.

GM R-020

photo: George Mann

We begin at the Marquis Restaurant, at the intersection of Sunset and Roxbury. The space is perhaps best remembered as the Mexican club/restaurant Carlos & Charlie’s, which in its final years had a reputation for rowdiness. Later it was Dublin’s Irish Pub, and it’s presently something called Sunset Beach that looks like a bunch of tipsy white sails unfurling around popsicle sticks.

GM R-019

photo: George Mann
But from the mid-1940s through the early 1970s, this was The Marquis, sometimes known as Paul Verlengia’s Marquis, after its opera-singing host.

verlengia matchbook split for viewing
George Mann’s photo captures the restaurant soon after its 1953 remodel, a low-slung brick and half-timbered structure with the look of a country house converted to trade.

1953 remodel

The interior was similarly homey and understated, and must have been a welcome respite from the self-consciously modernist glamour of so many Sunset Strip establishments. But while the Marquis looked sleepy, dinner was still served until the wee hours, with Chef Pietro Giordano whipping out platters of his famous Zucchini Florentine (“better than that at Alfredo’s in Rome!” – Louella Parsons), a sort of crustless quiche, on demand.

postcard interior Marquis Restaurant at 8240 Sunset Strip in Hollywood, California.

It was in this pleasant space that comic George Gobel not only dined with his mama on Mother’s Day 1955, but advertised the fact, in advance, in the Los Angeles Times. Now why don’t TV stars do that sort of thing any more?

gobel mother 1955
It was here, too, that actor Gig Young and his bride Elizabeth Montgomery strapped on their bibs and shared a piping dish of Shrimps Marquis in 1959. A few years later, Gig might have taken his new wife Elaine Young up to the Oak Barrel Bar to dig the swinging sounds of the Sam Ray Trio, or enjoyed strolling musicians in The White and Marquesa Rooms.

gig young and wife eat shrimp 1959 LAT

photo: Los Angeles Times

In spring 1960, Paul Verlengia opened another restaurant just four blocks east, the Four Trees. He took Louella Parsons’ quote with him.

verlengia portrait four trees ad 1965
The Marquis sailed on sans Verlengia, and into a tragedy. On February 8, 1963, the restaurant’s corporation president George Dolenz (dad of future Monkee Mickey and himself star of TV’s Count of Monte Christo), climbed onto the roof of the Marquis to inspect recent construction. He suffered a heart attack, was brought down by firemen, and was declared dead on arrival at Citizens Emergency Hospital. Since 1951, Dolenz’ main focus had been the restaurant. He was just 55.

George Dolenz in Vendetta
In 1965, owner Tom Seward started keeping lunch hours, and coined the gracious if not too memorable slogan “A good place for business or pleasure. Our surroundings take the busy out of business.”

1960 ad no verlengia

When local restaurant owners from the Sunset Strip Association met in November 1966 to voice their concerns about ongoing teenage protests of new curfews on the boulevard, they chose the Marquis for their press conference. Fred Rosenberg, president of the association, blamed police and newspapers for exacerbating the problem. Outside, teens protested, perhaps confusing this relatively liberal business group with the far crankier Sunset Plaza Association headquartered some blocks west.

By 1970, the Marquis was reinvented as the Martoni Marquis, under the management of famed restaurateur Mario Marino. Sonny Bono was goo goo for his clams. And sometime in the mid-1970s, the Marquis quietly faded away.

GM R-063

photo: George Mann
Heading west into the Strip proper, we come to Ciro’s, which lives on today as the Comedy Store. In the mid-1960s, the nightclub played host to rousing sets by folk-rock crossover act The Byrds, whose fame was cemented when Bob Dylan dropped by to whale on the harmonica. But this 1950s-era night time shot shows a pre-pop Ciro’s, and a more interesting use of the building than has been made in decades.

LAPL 00007091 Comedy Store 1991

photo: Los Angeles Public Library
The biggest difference between George Mann’s photo and the current design is how the entire building is used to imaginatively sell the venue and its performers. Today it’s simply a black box covered with faux celebrity signatures, but the place was designed to tell a more complicated and attractive story.

Just look at how much is going on, without any sense of clutter. There’s an understated neon CIRO’S script on the roof, a rosy spot-lit CIRO’S script on the street-facing curtain wall, a bright neon CIRO’S looking onto the driveway, a spot-lit banner advertising CIRO’S FUN FESTIVAL on the small projecting second story cube–all framing a row of soft lights welcoming celebrants into the exciting zone within.

And that, friends, is the difference between signage designed by an architect and signage designed by the guy who paints the sign.

GM R-064

photo: George Mann
George couldn’t have picked a more iconic night to shoot Herman Hover’s Ciro’s than one when the marquee welcomed the Will Mastin Trio starring Sammy Davis, Jr.

For Ciro’s on the Strip is where the 25-year-old Sammy became a star in March 1951, and forever eclipsed his father and “uncle” Mastin–not to mention the venue’s nominal headliner, Janis Paige, who graciously, and wisely, insisted on taking the opening slot for the remainder of the booking after seeing what Sammy was capable of.

But Sammy never forgot his roots, and despite his solo fame, he often performed with his old partners. The three men are buried in adjacent plots in Forest Lawn – Glendale.

Sammy at Ciro's Billboard May 5, 1951
But Sammy played Ciro’s with the Mastin Trio several times. So when was this photo taken? It’s not just the kid’s name on the marquee that tells us this photo wasn’t taken during Sammy’s star-making debut engagement. On the opposite side of the strip we see a trio of ground-mounted billboards flanking a double globe street light. These sit on the piece of land now occupied by the Mondrian Hotel.

ciros billboard detail

photo: George Mann (detail)
The billboards advertise, from left to right: Ballantine Ale, the Bob Hope film “Here Come The Girls,” and Goebel 22 beer. The Technicolor-drenched “Here Come The Girls” was released in late October 1953. And sure enough, just in time for Christmas 1953:

Will Mastin Trio at Ciros Los Angeles Times Dec 16, 1953
So what could the SRO, celebrity-packed Ciro’s audience expect from the Will Mastin Trio with Sammy Davis, Jr.? While we weren’t able to find reviews of the 1953 performance, we did find a Billboard notice of the group’s August 1955 appearance at the club.

In it, Joel Friedman raves: “In the idiom of the trade, [Davis] gassed ’em”¦ Davis devoted the lion’s share of his hour and a half turn to his relatively new career as a pop singer”¦ He could have continued for another hour and still had the audience cheering for him. Tho such uninhibited thunder is generally reserved for the ballpark, Davis had it at Ciro’s opening night.” Friedman also praised Davis’ musical impressions of Nat “King” Cole, Mel Torme, Tony Bennett and Frankie Laine, his comic ripostes to famous audience members, and naturally his dancing.

This clip from the Milton Berle show gives an idea of the trio’s Sammy-centered variety act of the mid-’50s.

But to see the kind of electrifying dance action that made Sammy Davis, Jr. the unbridled sensation of the Sunset Strip, just clear your mind of all distractions, click below, and don’t forget to breathe:

As for Ciro’s, its smoothly moderne exterior (1940) was the work of architect George Vernon Russell, later hired by club founder Billy Wilkerson to craft the look of the Flamingo Casino (1945). The interior decoration, early Hollywood Regency heavy on the swag curtains and gilded putti, was by Tom Douglas.

Today, the club grinds along as The Comedy Store, successful at what it does, but with far less architectural panache. We’re hopeful that one day it will be restored to its original luster. If the owners want some inspiration, they need only consult George’s lovely 1953 photographs.

GM R-029

photo: George Mann
Continuing west along the boulevard, we come to Charlie Morrison’s Mocambo club, that legendary hotbed of musical race mixing. George Mann liked it so much, he photographed it on two occasions. This moody shot seems to capture the scene just as dusk falls. The neon and bulb signs are already flashing, awaiting the coming of darkness and the music-hungry hoards.

Jet Dec 3, 1953 Eartha Kitt

photo: Jet Magazine, November 26, 1953
In late November 1953, our marquee star Eartha Kitt made her first appearance on the Sunset Strip in an extended, sold-out Mocambo booking backed by the Paul Herbert Orchestra. Thanks to Billboard’s thoroughness, we know that the gig had a $2 cover, 230 person capacity, and shows at 10:30pm and 12:30am, with a third show added due to the huge demand.

Miss Kitt was riding high on her first wave of suggestive hits, “Santa Baby,” “C’est Si Bon” and “I Want To Be Evil.” After just two nights, Billboard predicted a smash for the girl “who sings like Marilyn Monroe walks.” Before the engagement was up, she was booked to play the Sahara Casino in Las Vegas at four times her Mocambo salary.

Jet Nov 26, 1953 Eartha Kitt

photo: Jet Magazine, December 3, 1953
A star-making booking, to be sure. Still, Los Angeles Mayor Poulson is said to have flipped his wig over Kitt’s “too sexy” performance before the King and Queen of Greece. Reached in Texas, Her Highness said she found the show “lovely” — but what can you expect from foreigners?

Of her 1953 appearance at the Mocambo, Billboard‘s Bob Spielman cooed: “The theme of Miss Kitt is sex, and you don’t have to spell it backwards for people over 35 to know what it is. Endowed with beautiful features, excellent figure and good voice, Miss Kitt conjures a sort of psychoanalytic vision on the stage, something that every man wants but can’t have because you know it isn’t real”¦ In the final analysis, tho, as she hisses about the stage, one isn’t quite sure whether the hiss is that of a cobra poised to strike, or merely steam escaping from an overheated radiator.”

GM R-052

photo: George Mann
George seems to have returned to the Mocambo to get a proper shot of the neon at night. Dancer Billy Daniel and Lita Baron (Mrs. Rory Calhoun) played several engagements at the club in the early ’50s, but we’re guessing George visited in January 1954, having decided his daylight view from late ’53 didn’t quite capture the scene.

rory calhoun and lita baron chesterfield ad 1955
Daniel and Baron didn’t quite capture the scene, either: their song and dance routines paled in comparison to the departed sensation that was Miss Kitt, with Billboard opining they were “dull, altho eye-appealing.” At the Mocambo just a few months pre-Kitt they’d been heralded as “the outstanding new terp-song act of the year.” Ouch. A few months later, Lita Baron left the act. Marriage (a rocky one) to a movie star seems to have required her full attention.

We appreciate the details captured in George’s rare daylight shot. Note the signature logo planters flanking the entryway.

mocambo planters

photo: George Mann (detail)
Note, too, that the famed nightclub shared its premises with a forgotten colleague, the namesake restaurant and cocktail bar of KFWB DJ / record exec / audio tape entrepreneur / anti-trust activist (he took on “octopus” talent agency MCA and won in 1945) / marketing whiz Larry Finley.
Larry Finley Billboard Nov 2, 1968

photo: Billboard Magazine, 1968
Finley (“the voice with a smile”) broadcast his popular radio show from the restaurant. The venue was sometimes called Larry Finley’s M.O.P. (for My Own Place) and stayed open until 4am–which just happened to be when the six-hour Larry Finley Time show signed off the air.

Larry Finley with Sammy and Bob Hope Billboard Jun 25, 1966

photo: Billboard Magazine, 1966
Larry Finley–and if you’re wondering where an Irish kid found all that chutzpah and energy, you won’t be surprised to know he was born Lawrence Finkelstein–died in 2000, aged 87.

Larry Finley two years old Billboard Oct 28, 1967

photo: Billboard Magazine, October 28, 1967
Continuing westward, we come to a forgotten cocktail bar sporting a rather jazzy neon font, Adam’s Rib.

GM R-057

photo: George Mann
While the address of this place eludes us, the identifiable neon in the distance situates the bar somewhere in the vicinity of Sunset and Sherbourne.

detail from adam's rib

photo: George Mann (detail)
Adam’s Rib is a truly remarkable place: a Sunset Strip nightspot that never made it into the papers. It must have been truly wild to slip so far under the radar.

But about those hints of neon in the distance. Look closer. Could that possibly be a blonde carhop in a tiny skirt, bending over as she delivers her tray?

A hitherto unknown figural neon sign of astonishing erotic and artistic accomplishment?

It’s true. And this photo just may represent the most incredible discovery to come out of this series of rediscovered restaurant photos of the 1950s and 1960s.

Meet Miss Jackburger. Isn’t she lovely?

photo: George Mann

The long, narrow site which for many years was home to Tower Records has had other tenants, each one symbolising the vanguard of California culture. In 1944 it was one of several Dolores’ Drive-Ins in the Southland. By 1952, it was Jack’s Drive-Ins [the plural is sic], home of the “Big” Jackburger, and this remarkable polyglot sign comprised of sculpted backlit plastic, sinuous neon tubing and incandescent lights.

jackburger detail

photo: George Mann (detail)
Despite the awesome signage, Jack’s on the Strip didn’t last long; by the early 1960s, the site was home to an Earl “Madman” Muntz Stereo-Pak shop installing early car stereos, and by 1970 it was Tower Records. In 2006, Tower’s bankruptcy spelled the end of this pop landmark and the start of an ongoing preservation crisis.

The signature Jack’s is similar enough to Jack’s at the Beach (see our Malibu post) for us to wonder about a business relationship with Jack Compselides’ beachside establishment, yet different enough for us to think “well, there aren’t THAT many ways to spell JACK’S in neon.”

jacks at the beach detail

photo: George Mann (detail)
We’d almost suspect the whole thing was a figment of our (admittedly fevered) imagination if it weren’t for one brief 1952 mention in the L.A. Times, proving that Jack’s actually existed.

jacks robbed

So essentially, Jack’s Drive-Ins is a mystery, and aside from George Mann, nobody seems to have photographed its incredibly sexy sign. We owe him an enormous debt for having done so. Here’s to you, Mr. Mann!

GM R-009

photo: George Mann
And finally, down towards the end of the Strip, we come to The Plymouth House, which was previously The Deauville, which the Times described as a “pink-walled retreat for stay-up-laters.” The Plymouth House opened in February 1953, featuring an English tavern style interior and Continental/Italian cuisine.

George and Gracie Burns celebrated their 37th anniversary with a dinner in February 1963, and in August 1962 the William Powells hosted a party for guests from San Antonio. Then there was one guest who dropped in a little unexpectedly.

USC EXM-N-12364-009~1

photo: USC Digital Library
In later years the site was home to Gazarri’s, which became ground zero for hair metal culture in the 1980s, and it is presently The Key Club, and our final stop in George Mann’s Sunset Strip tour.

Stay tuned to On Bunker Hill for our next trip in the footsteps of photographer George Mann, when we’ll be featuring the forgotten steakhouses, sports bars and pancake houses of West Los Angeles. Till then!

From the George Mann Archives: Josephine Baker live in Paris, 1931

Today On Bunker Hill is proud to present a bombshell from the archives of George Mann: never-before-seen footage of the legendary American dancer Josephine Baker on stage in Paris in 1931. This too-brief glimpse at the athletic and erotic antics of Miss Baker and company predate Mann’s astonishing color photographs of Bunker Hill by about thirty years.

Like Miss Baker, George Mann was headlining in Paris in spring 1931, as one half of the dance team Barto & Mann. His good friend Bob Vernon was a lead dancer in Miss Baker’s revue at the Casino de Paris, and it was this close association that allowed George Mann to set his movie camera up just on the edge of the stage and capture a scene that is sure to captivate. It seems Miss Baker was a bit captivated, too, if the name “Mann” in quotes on her autographed photograph is anything to go by.

Josephine Baker photograph autographed to George Mann

George Mann’s Lost Bunker Hill photos on view in Downtown Los Angeles

On July 12, 2012, please join On Bunker Hill bloggers Richard Schave, Kim Cooper and Nathan Marsak and Bunker Hill native son Gordon Pattison at Gary Leonard’s Take My Picture Gallery in downtown Los Angeles, for the debut exhibition of George Mann’s astonishing color photographs of Bunker Hill, and a presentation on the history of the neighborhood and Mann’s work.

And on July 14, the gallery hosts a book signing for Jim Dawson’s Los Angeles’s Bunker Hill: Pulp Fiction’s Mean Streets and Film Noir’s Ground Zero! On Bunker Hill bloggers and Gordon Pattison will be there, as will George Mann’s archivist/daughter-in-law Dianne Woods. So save the dates!

From the George Mann Archives: The Tom Davies Trio perform the Wall of Death at Los Angeles’ Orpheum Theatre* (1928)

*[Update to this post: after reviewing other newly digitzed footage shot on the same day as the Wall of Death discussed below, George Mann’s son Brad Smith now believes that this footage was actually shot at the Oakland Orpheum Theatre, sometime between March 31-April 6, 1928. The act and the players were identical to what was seen in March 1928 in Los Angeles.]

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.

In March 1928, the comedic dance team of Barto & Mann were billed on the vaudeville stage of Los Angeles’ Orpheum Theatre with a slew of acts who are today mostly forgotten, but who had reached the top of a very competitive entertainment industry. It was during this run that the very-small-and-awful-tall Barto & Mann were praised by the L.A. Times as “a knockout team.”

A not-yet-39 Jack Benny was on the bill, as was the magician Cardini (still billed as “The Gay Deceiver;” later on, he became “Suave”). Charlotte Greenwood appeared “in her morning bath” — a bit in which the dancer-comedienne was forever stopped from disrobing by the inopportune arrival of a range of visitors. Also appearing were the pratfalling comic Lupino Lane (Ida’s uncle), Harland Tucker and Carl McCullough singing “When I Was a Dandy and You Were a Belle.”

Then there was the Tom Davies Trio–up at the top of the bill, but something of a mystery until the film snippet below was digitized by George Mann’s son Brad Smith, some 84 years after his father captured this astonishing scene.

Friends, we bring you the celebrated and terrifying Wall of Death, live on the Orpheum stage! And in July 2012, you can see the first exhibition anywhere of George Mann’s Bunker Hill photographs, just steps away from the Orpheum at the Take My Picture gallery.

From the George Mann Archives: Laurel & Hardy on location, and kinky fun with a pre-fan Sally Rand

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

George Mann’s son Brad Smith writes: “Long tucked away in closets, attics, garages and basements as I”™ve moved from the west coast to the east coast and 30 years ago back again to live in Berkeley, California are three storage containers with about 50 reels of film, each about 400”™ long. They were taken by my biological father, George Mann, a vaudeville headliner and half of the somewhat risqué comedic dance team of Barto and Mann. Many of the shots were of his fellow vaudevillians, most long forgotten, but some names are still known today.

One such act was The Three Stooges. The following never-before-seen, two-minute clip of The Three Stooges, taken in 1938 when they were on the same bill at the Steel Pier in Atlantic City, includes George and my mother. It”™s quite a smile for me to master the steps involved to digitize, edit and post this clip. I hope watching it makes you smile too.

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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).

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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

Photo: MichaelJacksonTalkRadio.com

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.

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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.

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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.
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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?
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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photo: George Mann

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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.
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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.
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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
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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…