Something Happening Here: Memories of the Sunset Strip

When I was growing up, I thought the Sunset Strip must be the most glamorous place ever. I watched every episode of “77 Sunset Strip” and later shows like “Shindig” and “Hollywood Palace” that showed all the latest music acts and newest dance steps. I bought all of Johnny Rivers’s “Live at the Whiskey a-go-go” albums and wished I could see him perform at the club and be there for all the excitement. 

I read about the Sunset Strip riots and later saw the schlocky movie made about them. I couldn’t wait to get out of my boring hometown, which might get a Dick Clark package show a couple of times a year but that was about it. I wanted to be able to catch current acts nearby any night.

When I finally grew up and moved here in 1971, the Strip did not disappoint. The Whiskey had to be my first stop, where I saw the pioneering all-girl group Fanny and my longtime favorite Little Richard, who was staging a comeback at the time after a religious-inspired hiatus. I quickly discovered the Troubadour, where I saw Linda Ronstadt shortly before she became the top female pop star of the seventies. Soon the burlesque joint Chuck Landis Largo was remodeled into the Roxy, which hosted superstar acts debuting their newest material for the L.A. music press. There was no shortage of great shows to catch just a few minutes away from my crib. 

In addition to the clubs, there were restaurants like The Source and the Old World, which were guaranteed to deliver celebrity sightings. The offices of rock royalty Dick Clark and Phil Spector stood on the same block within walking distance of the clubs. Chic boutiques like North Beach Leather and the Pleasure Dome displayed the most fabulous rockstar fashions while the Optique Boutique was the go-to shop for unique eyewear. Tower Records had opened just a few months before I moved here and was a mecca for fans of all genres of music.

The Rainbow Bar and Grill opened in 1972 and its upstairs private room quickly became the preferred hang for local and visiting musicians. Right next door, On the Rox was another exclusive hot spot for actors and rockers to continue drinking after a show at the Roxy downstairs.

Touring acts looking for a place to stay in L.A. had a few choices on the Strip including the Continental Hyatt (also known as the “Riot House”) and the Chateau Marmont, a favorite for celebs who were attempting to stay under the radar of the press and fans.

Alas, this paradise for music fans was too good to last and one by one, the locations that made the Strip legendary disappeared. The clubs took advantage of struggling groups with pay-to-play, which required the acts to sell tickets to their friends in order to get a booking. The restaurants famous for their celebrity clientele closed, as did the trendy shops. The businesses remaining like the Whiskey, Rainbow, and Roxy are family-owned and resisting offers to sell out.

The rest seems to be up for grabs by wealthy real estate developers who are destroying the character of the Strip to build monolithic hotels, condos, and retail space that is likely to be occupied by national chains that can afford the rent. 

Maybe I missed seeing the Chocolate Watchband at Pandora’s Box or the Doors at the London Fog but I’m happy to have been able to see so many great shows and meet kindred spirits along the way.  I know you can’t stop progress but I’m glad that I got here in time to have fond memories of the Sunset Strip when it was worth visiting, even if you weren’t rich or famous.

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About Linda Cauthen
Linda F. Cauthen moved to West Hollywood from Montgomery, Alabama, fifty years ago in search of adventure. What she found was a long career in journalism including gigs with Larry Flynt Publishing, The Hollywood Reporter, and many more. After the bottom fell out of print magazines, she made the move to online media where she produced content on a variety of subjects including beauty, consumer technology, and showbiz gossip. Her interests include Hollywood history, classic country music, and old movies. She is one of WeHo’s top authorities on what used to stand at any given location in the distant past.

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Davedi
Davedi
19 days ago

I get here a little after you but I’ve seen enough of my favs disappear like Tiny Naylors, Ships, The Copper Penny, The Cock and Bull…and most recently, The Hamburger Hamlet. If I had to leave today there isn’t much I would miss.

Tim
Tim
1 month ago

The marker for 77 Sunset Strip is covered by outdoor dining at Tesse. They really shouldn’t be able to obstruct a landmark. I was trying to help some tourists find it and realized the restaurant just commandeered the space.

Peter B
Peter B
1 month ago

Come on, enough with this writers on-and-on-and-on nostalgia. West Hollywood is a strong, dynamic changing city. That’s why people love it, still move here and invest in its changes. And yes, Sunset is a boring dump. Always was too far up the hill to walk to.

Last edited 1 month ago by Peter B
Joe Bologna
Joe Bologna
1 month ago
Reply to  Peter B

Thank you for not making it up to Sunset. That’s why it is so much fun, because it’s the polar opposite of Santa Monica Blvd.

Glorified Stretch
Glorified Stretch
1 month ago

The Sunset Strip was a dump then and a glorified dump now resulting from the gaudy new buildings and cheesy digital world of billboards. People may go through West Hollywood on their way to Beverly Hills and beyond but is a narrow, expensive cave like stretch. There are a few islands in the morass however but also are sinking downhill.

Snarkygal
Snarkygal
1 month ago

Why do you keep publishing these not-very-interesting memory pieces from this writer? Big deal, she moved here 50 yrs ago. I grew up here. My family moved to LA in 1958 and we lived where the Peterson Museum parking lot is now. We moved further and further north on Fairfax as the years went by. My first apt., in 1973 was in WeHo. My parents moved here in 1976. I found the apt. I’m still residing in 1978.

Tom Smart
Tom Smart
1 month ago
Reply to  Snarkygal

Why do you have to be so nasty? Don’t like it, don’t read it. I love her memories and hang on to every word. Wish I could have been here during that time.

Joe Bologna
Joe Bologna
1 month ago
Reply to  Snarkygal

Meh. This writer’s story was more interesting than that. But good lead in.

Scott Sigman
Scott Sigman
1 month ago

Omg—not an interesting perspective

Steve Martin
Steve Martin
1 month ago

I remember Fanny; they were a hard rocking girl trio who had a hit “Charity Ball”. Little Richard lived at the old Hyatt on Sunset and his coming and going was as much a tourist attraction as the changing of the guards in front of Buckingham Palace. Keep up the good work!

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