Back in the late sixties/early seventies, it wasn’t that difficult to leave your boring hometown and move to Los Angeles. All you had to do was toss your clothes, stereo, and favorite LPs into the trunk of your car and head west. The weather was gorgeous, rents were reasonable, jobs were plentiful and the possibilities were endless, so why not give it a try?
That was the spirit with which I left Montgomery, Alabama, bound for SoCal in August of 1971. My mom came along to help with driving and would fly back after a couple of weeks. It was a hot, dry Friday the 13th when we pulled into the parking lot of my new home at 8462 Sunset Blvd. in the heart of the Strip. Back then, this property was called the Park Sunset and charged me $125 per month for a corner bachelor unit with a spectacular view of the LA basin.
This was the perfect location for a new girl in town, within walking distance of clubs, restaurants, hip boutiques, and my new job at Schwab’s Pharmacy a few blocks down Sunset. On nice days I would walk to work, enjoying the scenery and local businesses.
Directly across the street from my new home was a used-car lot with a John Lennon billboard looming overhead. Just to the east was the Continental Hyatt Hotel, better known as the Riot House because of its popularity with visiting rock groups who entertained groupies while riding motorcycles in the hallways or tossing TVs out the windows onto the valet parking lot.
Across Olive Drive, on the current site of the Pendry Hotel and previously the House of Blues, was a sandwich shop called Tramonster. Their subs were heavy on sprouts and other veggies, in tune with the hippie ethic of the time. Farther east was a 1920s-era Art Deco building that at that time was known as the Sunset Tower and later the St. James Club. After being vacant for years and threatened with demolition, this impressive hostelry found a new life as a hip hangout for a new generation of celebs.
On the next block was, of all things, an old folks’ home that would later become The Standard Hotel. On the north side of the street was the old Hollywood hot spot called Ciro’s which had gone through several incarnations as hip teen hangouts before returning to its roots as Ciro’s once again. For the last several decades, this building has housed The Comedy Store, where many of today’s most famous comics got their start.
On the corner of Havenhurst were the remains of a hot dog stand called the Plush Pup which had been a popular hangout for bikers. Soon Dudley Do-Right’s Emporium opened on this spot, complete with a statue of Bullwinkle and Rocky that has recently been refurbished and now stands on a traffic island at the intersection of Sunset and Holloway.
Next was the Lytton bank that had been erected on the land where the legendary Garden of Allah had taken up most of the block. This hotel had been the place where celebs of Hollywood’s Golden Era had gone to be bad without getting caught. I’ve always wished I could have made it to L.A. before the Garden was razed, at least for a night or two, but it had closed while I was still in grade school. Now the block is the site of construction that will eventually yield a mammoth mixed-use building sure to clog traffic for blocks around.
In the center of the intersection of Sunset and Crescent Heights was a small traffic island that had replaced sixties teen hot spot Pandora’s Box, the epicenter of the Sunset Strip riots of 1966. This uprising pitted the younger generation against shop owners who much preferred the Rat Pack days and its well-heeled adult customers. Alas, the club was razed to widen the street at this increasingly busy corner.
On the east side of this intersection is a modern mall with the usual assortment of shops, but in 1971 an eclectic mix of businesses occupied the sloping street including Harry’s Open Pit BBQ and Baskin Robbins ice cream. Schwab’s, my employer at the time, dominated the block with the Cosmo Sardo beauty salon and a shoeshine stand filling the rest. The glass front of Schwab’s took up most of the block fronting on Sunset, the result of an extensive makeover that enlarged and updated the store by combining the original pharmacy with a meat market next door. The Schwab’s where I worked in 1971 looked nothing like the legendary drugstore immortalized by “Sunset Blvd.”
If I took a left turn out of the Park Sunset and headed west on Sunset, I crossed La Cienega Blvd. Occupying the spot beyond the intersection was North Beach Leather, a shop that crafted custom apparel for stars of the day including Elvis and his lady at the time, Linda Thompson. I lusted after their designs every time I walked or drove by but unfortunately couldn’t afford to shop there on my salary at Schwab’s.
A bit farther west was Dino’s Lodge, which my mom and I had to check out because both of us had been huge fans of “77 Sunset Strip.” While there were no offices for hot private eyes next door, the restaurant’s driveway did deliver a panoramic view of the L.A basin. The food wasn’t bad, either.
These days, the same building stands at 8462 Sunset but it’s now a luxury “boutique” hotel called the Grafton and charges about $200 a night for a room like the one where I began my LA journey. With gas prices rising all the time, it’s not so easy for a young adult bored with their hometown to pack up and move to LA, which is sad since they may be missing a lifetime of interesting experiences.