Wednesday, February 25, 2009

The Sunset Strip

Here are more of my reflections growing up a teenage in the 60s in Southern California...

If you were going to drive into the city from Woodland Hills it meant you were “going over the hill”. Whether it be Hollywood or Westwood or even San Diego – it was “over the hill”. And you never went “over the hill” unless you had a real purpose. You’d think we were living on the Ponderosa and had to pack saddlebacks to ride into town for vittles.

But there was a new attraction that the kids were buzzing about. The Sunset Strip. In the 40s and 50s this stretch of Sunset Blvd. between Beverly Hills and Hollywood was nightclub row. Sinatra played there. Sammy played there. Dino even had his own club. These hot spots featured dance floors and palm trees and exotic names like the Macambo, the Trocadero, Casa Manana, and Ciro’s. I was never actually in one of these nightclubs but there were several Looney Tunes that spoofed them so I had a pretty good idea of what went on there thanks to Bugs Bunny.

Now the clubs were starting to cater to young people. Whisky A Go Go led the charge. Some say it was because of the location, others say popular singer Johnny Rivers was the big draw but I contend it was the hot girls in mini skirts dancing in suspended cages that attracted the crowds. Rock groups would stagger down from Laurel Canyon to perform. The Byrds, the Doors (in matching suits), the Seeds, Buffalo Springfield, Love, and even the great Captain Beefheart performed in clubs like Gazzari’s, London Fog, and Pandora’s Box. They weren’t content to just do cover versions of popular songs or pale imitations of current styles. No sir. They examined their roots, experimented, challenged themselves to become artists in the true sense of the word. Their music was new and exciting and groundbreaking. God, the women these assholes must’ve gotten.

There were also a few clubs that catered to teenagers. They didn’t serve alcohol so you didn’t have to be 21. The downside was forfeiting the lucrative bar income. The upside was there were ten million teenagers under the age of 21. And club owners could still charge two bucks for a Coke. The Trip and It’s Boss were the two top teen clubs.

My 17 year old cousin Craig was visiting from Louisville. So for two weeks I had a chauffeur. One night we cruised down the Sunset Strip. We must’ve looked like the Clampett family gawking at all the activity. We were lucky and found a parking space only a mile up the hill from the strip, so we headed down to “check out the scene”. Who’s hipper than a fifteen year-old who still draws comics and a kid from Kentucky?

People were just hanging out, standing around, and many of them were smoking. I didn’t know what but the smell was weird and unlike anything I had experienced. You never forget your first second-hand smoke reefer.

The clubs were so crowded with such long lines that we decided to just bag it. Too much of a hassle. I’d just wait until the Looney Tunes cartoon.

Pandora’s Box was a teen club the size of an outhouse perched on a triangular traffic island on the corner of Sunset and Crescent Heights. Crowds became too large and were snarling traffic at that large intersection. So cops tried to enforce a 10 p.m. curfew (good luck) and later just close the club. This resulted in a protest rally – a mob of mostly clean-cut teenagers and twentysomethings wearing pullover sweaters and miniskirts. Police broke it up, a riot resulted, and observer Stephen Stills wrote the song “For What It’s Worth” about the incident. A month later Sonny & Cher performed at Pandora’s Box but not without dire consequences. They were kicked off a Rose Parade float. It’s amazing Sonny Bono ever got elected to public office with that stain on his record.

I was not part of that riot. But I did buy the record.

35 comments:

cpo snarky said...

Hey Ken - I've always been confused about the configuration of Pandora's Box. This was the median between Schwabs and the Garden of Allah? (or was the bank there already?) That's a big intersection, but I've never been able to figure out how they wedged a building in there. And how can you reference the riots without mentioning the Chocolate Watchband?

P.S. How's that Arizona weather treating you?

D. McEwan said...

"cpo snarky said...
Hey Ken - I've always been confused about the configuration of Pandora's Box. This was the median between Schwabs and the Garden of Allah?"

Well if you're in Los Angeles, just go to Sunset & Crescent Heights and look, because the building that was Pandora's Box still sits there today, on the NW corner. It's a different color than the photo Ken posted, but is otherwise unmistakable. Schwab's (long gone) was on the SE corner, and The Garden of Allah (Gone before the 60s arrived) was the SW corner.

I spent one holy hell of a lot of time in CIRO'S, only by the time I was all but livng there, it had become The Comedy Store.

Dave said...

My Sunset Strip story.

In 1964, my father somehow snagged a bunch of tickets to the Beatles concert at the Hollywood Bowl; so many that my 14-year-old sister was able to take all her friends, and her 8-year-old brother (your obedient servant).

After the concert, the girls somehow got the "inside scoop" that the Lads were going to the Whisky, so they made my poor father -- who'd already spent, like, three hours in the car in the parking lot -- drive us all in our Ford station wagon to the Strip. (How a bunch of 13- and 14-year-olds expected to get in is attributable to the enthusiastic folly of youth, I guess.)

We were somehow able to park at the Shell station across the street, and my father and I waited in the car while all the girls scoped out the situation. After a while, they returned disappointed and informed us that the story was just a false rumor.

We drove back to La Mirada well after midnight, dropping off all the girls. We dropped off the last one and headed home, only to incur a blown-out tire. The three of us had to walk the last mile home.

We got home at 3 am. It was the latest I'd ever been up. I was thrilled.

And that is my Sunset Strip in the 60s story.

VW 1: jurroo - empaneled group in a kangaroo court.

VW2: shmel - the odor given off by a deli.

Bilge said...

You finally gained some hip street cred. by your Captain Beefheart recognition. I'm pleased.

Paul Duca said...

"New, on Reprise, it's LICK MY DECALS OFF, BABY!"--the tagline to the surrealistic TV commercial Captain Beefheart made for their 1970 album. It may not have been aired by any station, but it is in New York's Museum of Modern Art, as one of the most artistically important forerunners to the music video.

Mike Bell said...

Didn't the Pandora's building eventually become The Coconut Teaser?

Nathan said...

Wow! Just think of all that amazing music that you had helping to usher you into adulthood. I had Disco.

I knew there was something tragically wrong with my adolescence. (The only saving grace is that I'm only just now being introduced to the joys of Lipitor while you were among the test subjects. Hah!)

A. Buck Short said...

Don’t know ‘bout you, Willis, but although I never got to experience it personally, the nightspot that really wet my West Coast whistle a little over a decade later was the Condor Club in the North Beach section of SF. Not because of its famed topless dancer Carol Doda and her silicone injections (ouch), but because it was the location where assistant manager Jimmy “The Beard” Ferrozzo was found crushed to death, sandwiched between the club’s 12-ft. high ceiling and a naked, hysterical exotic dancer atop the baby grand piano that Doda traditionally descended on from above to open her act.

After closing, before they literally got plastered, the inebriated couple apparently decided to make love atop the Steinway, during which time, as Jimmy was busily engaged tickling her ivories, one of them inadvertently triggered the cable that slowly raised the instrument skyward. “The Beard” was found dead of asphyxiation, while the “cushion” of his body between his date and the ceiling saved the good woman from a similar fate, until she could be rescued by the SF Fire Dept. when the club opened the following morning.

I don’t know which leaves that image so vivid in my mind, that roughly the above account actually appeared in Variety, or that my cousin Herb suffered a similar ignominious musical demise involving a clarinet at a Brooklyn Turkish bath.

rms said...

Disco. Shudder. I remember and feel your pain, Nathan.

rms said...

I couldn't resist this WV: Conutc - What Pandora's Box became after The Coconut Teaser.

Barefoot Billy Aloha said...

One of the other geniuses at L.A. City College and I got turned away at Pandora's one night, but we met two chicks who took us to a house down the hill a few blocks away where we met some guys from a group called, "The Lost Souls." The lead singer wisely invested his record contact advance on a new GTO...and took us for a ride in this modified racer that had a separate electric system that provided power to, I swear to God, a pair of B-58 landing lights hidden behind the grill...and I'm positive, the grass I smoked that night for the first time did not affect my memory of the incident.

Anybody wanna eat a Twinkie and Bosco sandwich??

Anonymous said...

What about the fact that Dino's was the site of 77 SUNSET STRIP? To us teeners from outside LA, that was a big deal on the first drive down the boulevard. What about The Sea Witch? Ben Frank's?

The most surprising part of your story, though, is that you have a cousin in Kentucky. ???

(picky editor's note for the book: it's saddle bags, not saddle backs)

Anonymous said...

The picture of the Whiskey a GoGo is memory trip by itself. Guys dancing in jackets and ties? It seemed unbelievable until I remembered what A HARD DAY'S NIGHT looked like.

Word verification: astra--Nick and Nora Charles's dog in the
25th century

Brian Phillips said...

QUESTION FOR MR. LEVINE:

You named some of the legendary groups of the L.A. scene, were there any that you saw live that you thought were great that are not as well-remembered?


By the way, if anyone would like to hear a radio show that plays a lot of older music that you haven't heard or haven't heard for a while, click on my name above my post. It's called "The Electro-Phonic Sound of Brian Phillips"

First song, "Rosalyn" by the Pretty Things!

Anonymous said...

Damn! The furthest [farthest?} west I have ever been was Kansas.....and I didn't even get to see Toto.

Anonymous said...

Pandora's Box was orginally a nice resturant called Friscatti's, one of three in L.A. A lot of us media folk had many lunchs, and occassionally dinner there.

Tom Quigley said...

What I wouldn't have given to have seen the Byrds at Ciro's in 1965 when, as I understand it, their manager got them a deal that virtually made them the house band there that summer. When I finally moved to Los Angeles, finding out that Ciro's was now The Comedy Store was somewhat of a letdown (nothing against The Comedy Store, I just didn't know they were the same building until then)... Back east in the mid '60's, the only exposure we got to the L.A. music scene was what we saw on WHERE THE ACTION IS, Dick Clark's daily pop fluff music show, which appeared to be taped at different locations around L.A.; however, in order to see the artists you liked, you had to put up with the schmaltz acts that Dick couldn't help throwing in three or four times each program. For every appearance by a group like the Byrds, there were two Linda Scotts and a Steve Alaimo...

One artist who ended up on the west coast during that period (of whom I was also a big fan and whose life ended tragically too soon like his idol Buddy Holley) was Bobby Fuller ("I Fought The Law"). After a couple of years or so playing clubs in L.A. with his band, he ended up being found dead in his car in a parking lot on Sycamore Ave. between Hollywood and Franklin. Although his death was ruled a suicide, there were rumors that he was playing around with the girlfriend of a local crime boss who controlled a few of the clubs there at the time, and he was actually the victim of a mob hit.... So I guess The Strip could also offer a lot more peril than what might happen if you're just trying to get into a club and you're underage...

cpo snarky said...

Hey, D. McEwan - is the Coconut Teaser building? I spent a hell of a lot of time in there in the 80's, but didn't know it was Pandora's. I always thought Pandora's was actually in the middle of the median. Was the intersection configured differently back then?

D. McEwan said...

"cpo snarky said...
Hey, D. McEwan - is [that] the Coconut Teaser building?"

Yes. Look at the picture Ken posted, and then repaint it in your head. The building's exterior is mostly unchanged except for color. I didn't know of Pandora's Box, but I looked at that photo and instantly recognized the building.

It is possible that the intersection was configured diffrently back then. I do not remember after 40 years if that triangular traffic island on the SW quadrant was there then or not. I was living in Orange County, and very seldom got up to the strip back then.

WV: bonstiff, a French compliment on your erection.

Domenic Priore said...

Hi Ken, thanks for the neat (and accurate) recall of the '65/'66 Sunset Strip vibe. Jawbone Press of London has published my book on the subject "Riot on Sunset Strip: Rock 'n' Roll's Last Stand in Hollywood" (foreword by Arthur Lee of Love). The comments on this blog are great: stories of teenage fun... and mobster death (sometimes intertwined). The police reversed Bobby Fuller's "suicide" to "accidental death" a few days after it happened, but that didn't get in the papers. Coconut Teaser building was Frascati's during the '60s; Robert Benchley took a cab there from Garden of Allah (across the street)... before Garden of Allah was razed in 1959. The Lot became Lytton Savings during the '60s. Pandora's Box building was also razed, in 1967. "Riot" book readily available here in the States via amazon.com and is at most Barnes & Noble locations (or can be easily ordered there). About 250 photos, most of them previously unpublished. - domenic priore

D. McEwan said...

"Domenic Priore said...
"Pandora's Box building was also razed, in 1967."

For a building destroyed 41 years ago, the building in the photo Ken posted sure looked good the last time I saw it standing there, about a month ago.


Chico Marx: "Who ya gonna believe, me or your own eyes?"

My own eys.

Anonymous said...

"D. McEwan said...
My own eys."

Those would be the same eyes I used to proof-read that phrase.

D. McEwan said...

And the same eyes I used when clicking on "Anonymous" when I meant to click on "name/URL"

Maybe I live in San Francisco. I seem to be going blind.

TCinLA said...

Not quite a Sunset Strip story (but I did spend a lot of time on the Strip as a writer for the Freep, i.e., the Los Angeles Free Press, my first paid writing gig), but to me the story that encapsulates that time perfectly: the September 1967 Doors concert at Cal State Fullerton, in the gym, sponsored by Sigma Chi Fraternity.

Went down there to cover it for the Freep. We "hippies" got the evil eye from the Sigma Chi wannabe-stormtroopers in their blond buzzcuts, blue blazers, grey slacks and black loafers. We got seated in the rear rows of folding metal chairs there in the gym, while the Sweethearts of Sigma Chi, all blonde, all in their little black cocktail dresses with single strand of pearls, wer seated in the first two rows in front of a very small, very low stage. (Visually, think "American Bandstand 1957" meets "Monterey Pop" for the crowd)

The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band opened, and had trouble all getting on the stage. Then the Lizard King arrived. And at the end, as he sang "The End," he gets to the last line and as he sings "This... is... the... end..." he does a front flip over the mike stand and ends up right in front of the Sweethearts, who all go "Ahhhhhh!" and throw themselves backwards to get away.

You know how dominos look as they all fall? This was that. The last ended on the floor two rows in front of us.

To this day, that moment is my 60s metaphor for the culture clash going on then.

I'll bet I was one of the "hippies" sneering at the crewcut kid from Woodland Hills, Ken.

WV: kerthent - reminds me of the sound all those little Orange County orangutans made as they hit the floor there in the gym.

TCinLA said...

Dominic Priore said:

Coconut Teaser building was Frascati's during the '60s; Robert Benchley took a cab there from Garden of Allah (across the street)... before Garden of Allah was razed in 1959.

Actually, the last night of the Garden of Allah was in 1966. I was there. Joni Mitchell, who lived in the apartment building across the street three buildings down from Schwab's, wrote "Take Paradise and Put Up A Parking Lot" about the demise of the Garden of Allah. I remember meeting a teenager there named Jasckson Browne who managed to crash the party.

TCinLA said...

Jackson Browne

Old Fumble Fingers strikes again.

Domenic Priore said...

RE: Pandora's Box building was most definitely razed in 1967. There is an episode of Ralph Story's Los Angeles where he shows this happening... by doing a "profile" on the Cleveland Wrecking company, then following them to their "job" that day. They were met by protesters trying to stand in its way. Then they show the building razed. I also have a photo of the remnants. Pandora's Box sat on the traffic island across the street from the Frascati's/Coconut Teaser building, and should you need further confirmation of this, contact Len Fagen, who ran Coconut Teaser. Also, I have all kinds of pictures from that area in 1965/1966 that show Lytton Savings in the spot where Garden of Allah once stood. Check Sheilah Graham's book "The Garden of Allah" (Crown Publishers) out of the library. There is a legendary "final night" party picture in there from 1959. - domenic priore

Anonymous said...

RE: Pandora's Box

Chico Marx: "Who ya gonna believe, me or your own eyes?"

I believe my own eyes -I saw that Ralph Story (the man who invented Huell Howser)segment as well. It is documented on film.

Domenic Priore said...

O.k., here's the final words on this one (Pandora's Box not Coconut Teaser later on)... "A defiant little island at the top of the Strip with a picket fence around it and cops and ingenue freakos and lots of atmosphere, but tiny. Try sitting at Frascati's across the street and watching the heat surround the place while kids scramble for cover." - Frank Zappa, FREAK OUT Hot Spots! map, 1966. Further evidence: Pandora's Box was at 8118 Sunset Boulevard, Villa Frascati was at 8117 Sunset Boulevard. This can also be seen in great detail, in the Ed Ruscha art book "Every Building on Sunset Strip 1966"... your own eyes will see that Villa Frascati and Pandora's Box were similar buildings across the street from one another. It happens. Lots of folks also assumed that Viper Room was once The London Fog because Oliver Stone used Viper Room as a set for The London Fog in The Doors movie... or, other locals insist that what is now Dukes Restaurant (next to Whisky a Go Go? was The London Fog... and who is right? None of them; it was a few doors down from Whisky a Go Go at 8919 Sunset Boulevard, as seen in Rusha's book, and in the film "Mondo Bizzarro," which has a nice shot of both London Fog (with The Doors on the marquee) and Whisky a Go Go (with Love on the marquee)... the Dukes location then was Sneeky Pete's (8907 Sunset) and The Viper Room then was jazz joint The Melody Room (8852 Sunset). - domenic priore

Domenic Priore said...

just to add one more example of how this stuff gets confused, a few years ago The Doors and The Rock 'n' Roll Hall of Fame staged a big event at Whisky a Go Go, Book Soup and The Cat Club, where John Densmore signed the new Doors book, Ray and Robbie played as The Doors at Whisky a Go Go and there was some other kind of Doors book signing at The Cat Club... which, the Rock 'n 'Roll Hall of Fame dubbed "The London Fog"... that was an assumption, though, and I corrected the representative from the Rock Hall on the spot, who said "oops". The London Fog location is not Duke's, it is not The Viper Room nor is it The Cat Club... it is now a nail salon. For good measure, The Action (on Santa Monica Boulevard, where The Mothers played their first gig on the scene, and where Brian Jones jammed with house band The Joel Scott Hill III) is now Alper Cleaners. No romance there. - domenic priore

KEN LEVINE said...

Jesus, people. Larry Gelbart is nice enough to leave a comment and you take shots at him? Come on. Be a little gracious.

omegassociates said...

Mr. Levine et al.,

Thank you for the retrospective. I'm enjoying the original post and the comments here, found through a Google search on "Sea Witch California." Finally! A mention of the Sea Witch on Sunset, not the current one in my home state of Massachusetts. You know what? I was beginning to think the place was a figment of my aging imagination.

My sister and brother-in-law and I used to drive there while I was visiting them on (Old) Topanga Canyon, 1959-1960.
Peace out ...

Omegassociates

steve-o said...

Pandora's was on the SOUTH east corner. And across the street, before the Coconut Teazer, the place was called the Candy Store, a brothel.
What about The Ash Grove? That was the club the musicians hung out at.
One club that rarely is mentioned is The Kaleidoscope, later known as the Aquarius Theater, across the street from the Hollywood Palladium.

Anonymous said...

I'm not sure if The Candy Store was a brothel - it was a nightclub, for sure. And I do remember when that structure was called The Coconut Teaser, and before that, the Italian restaurant known as Frascati's; when I was a young girl of elementary school age, my parents and I ate there. And i remember the area across the street, which had been the site of Pandora's Box - I remember the gazeebo-type of structure on that southwest corner of Sunset and Crescent Heights, where Pandora's Box stood.

Marie said...

The Candy Store was a nightclub, not a brothel, since prostitution is not legal here - although a lot of prostitutes would go there. I remember this, as well as the fact this had also been the site for the Coconut Teaser, and before that, it was an Italian restaurant called Frascati's - my parents took me there when I was a little girl of elementary school age. I can remember the gazeebo-type of structure, with a dome on top, across the street - that had been the site for Pandora's box.