The Piazza Del Sol, located at 8439 Sunset Blvd., is an office building that houses several smaller production companies and is probably most notable these days for it's tenant Katana Japanese Restaurant. Katana's prime Sunset Strip location and co-ownership by Ryan Seacrest and Tori Spelling once caused Newsweek magazine to announce that, "it's so hip, it hurts." I'm quite sure it is. And I'm quite sure it does. But let's concern ourselves with the buildings history a moment.
The Italian Renaissance beauty (all 54,000 square feet of it) was built in 1927 as the Hacienda Arms, a luxury apartment building. In short order it became the home of Marie Dressler, Loretta Young, child star Leon Janny and others.
But the property's real 'golden era' (as far as concerns those of us who like our history on the juicy side) was in the 1930's when it was known as The House of Francis, Hollywood's most elegant and exclusive bordello! If you're familiar with the E.J. Fleming book, "The Fixers: Eddie Mannix, Howard Strickling and the MGM Publicity Machine", it might just as well have been called The House of MGM. If not, here is your tutorial:
Starting somewhere in the early 30's and ending in 1940, the well established Los Angeles madam, Lee Francis ran her operation out of the Hacienda Arms. It's elegance, rich appointments and clubby atmosphere was unsurpassed. French champagne and Russian black caviar were the snacks of any given day (and night). And then, of course, there were the girls. All of them beautiful and skilled. They may have been frustrated that they hadn't made it as movie queens, but the $1000 per week, on average, that they were making with Lee at the height of the Depression certainly soothed the pain. It is said that MGM had an account at the house under a different name. Erroll Flynn, Spencer Tracy, Jean Harlow and Clark Gable were regulars. That's right, I said Jean Harlow. When Lee Francis got around to writing her autobiography (you just knew she would) "Ladies On Call", she explained that Harlow's frequent visits would always have one of two outcomes. Either she would selected a handsome man from the clientele lounging about (for which she always gave Francis $500 considering she was walking out with a paying customer) and take him home, or she would simply go upstairs with one of the girls for a round of fun and games.
Francis expained it this way: "I had several well known women who would come by my house. They would come in, hire the services of my girls, and take them upstairs with the same candor and obvious purpose as any man. One must not confuse the average society woman who takes on one of my girls with (lesbians). She is merely sex hungry and either afraid to risk entertaining a man because of the possible consequences or squeamish at the thought of sleeping with any man other than her husband. So, in the strict sense of the word, she is not a woman-lover." Oh, okay. In any case it was also noted that both the girls and the male customers often complained about Baby Jean's rough taste in sex.
The money (40% of her profits) that Francis paid the Vice Squad insured her certain courtesies. She was given an ample 'heads up' of any police raids, so she could clear everyone out and greet the cops with the 3 C's: champagne, caviar and cash. Everything was jake until a change of policy and heart on the part of the LAPD in 1940. Lee Francis was finally pinched and the party was over.
If you ask me, a classy set up like the House of Francis is a lot hipper than Jason Seacrest, Tori Spelling or any old Japanese joint any day!
Ok, I'll be the first one to admit that living in Hollywood is often...different than life in other places. I have examples of this:
Example A. One day, while driving down Santa Monica Blvd., approaching Highland Ave., ahead of me I spied what appeared to be road kill. Some poor squirrel, possum or cat had met an untimely fate. It wasn't until I was practically upon it that I was able to discern -- it was a wig.
Alright, maybe that wasn't a definitive example, but it was funny.
Example B. Until as recently as a couple of weeks ago when they were banned for unsavory behavior, it was a constant fixture here in Hollywood to see men and women dressed in character trolling the sidewalk in front of the Kodak and Chinese Theaters posing in photographs with tourists for the consideration of cash tips. Therefore, I was never surprised to see Charlie Chaplin or Captain Jack Sparrow or Wonder Woman strolling up Vine St. at around 9 am in the mornings, wearing their ipods and carrying their Starbucks coffee on their way to 'work'.
This brings us to Friday. In the morning I ran over to the historic Farmers Market to hang out with some friends over coffee and fresh danish. I needed to be back home by 11:30. My dear friend of nearly 30 years, George, is visiting from DC and I was taking him for a tour of The Sunset Gower Lot (the original Columbia studios). At the market, I asked my friend Travis if he would like to come over to the house and meet George and he said he'd love to. So in true LA fashion, by 11:15 there were three of us all headed to my house; in three separate cars. I arrived first to discover this parked in front of my house:
Just kidding. It was this:
Still kidding. It was this:
A 1911 Willys-Overland!
As I was going sightseeing, I had my camera in my bag and started snapping pictures.
By now, both George and Travis had arrived. I made a hasty and distracted introduction and soon they had there iphones out, taking pictures. People walking down the street had stopped and there was now a small crowd gathered, taking in the magnificence of this antique beauty. I ran to my next door neighbors house to tell him about it, and it turns out he had a visitor who was the owner of the car. It also turns out that this is one in a collection of 11 classic autos the man owns! It further turns out that he was nice enough to offer to take a picture of me sitting in the car!
Me, pretending to drive the 1911 Willys-Overland.
It was all very exciting and the three of us retired to the house for a much needed cup of coffee.
Now if you think that arriving home to find a 1911 Willys-Overland parked in front of my house is the conclusion of my example on how life in Hollywood is different than other places that I've lived, hang on Bosco the story's not done yet. Not...quite...yet. About 10 minutes into our coffee, George looked out the window and exclaimed, "Jesus Christ, it's Mary Poppins!" Cameras and iphones in hand, back outside we went. An attractive English woman in, what appeared to be, her early forties who lives around the corner was walking by and spied the car. Well knowing that she had just the outfit for the moment, and obviously not being a gal to turn down an opportunity, she ran home, changed clothes, grabbed a friend with a camera, came back, hunted down the cars owner and asked permission for an impromptu photo shoot, which was granted.
The rest of the day was spent with the usual, boring and mundane - looking at Harry Cohn's office and Rita Hayworth's dressing room...
** Post Title to be read to the tune of The Knack's "My Sharona"
While desperately trying to correct my severe caffeine deficiency this morning, I was leafing through the morning paper and saw that Rona Barrett is doing a one woman show tonight at the The Paley Center for Media in Beverly Hills! Well you can imagine my bleary eyed shock. My first thought was, 'is she still alive' (which was my same mental exclamation two weeks ago at the news of Art Linkletter's passing). My second thought was, 'christ, she must be a hundred years old.' Well guess what. She's only 73. So, does this mean I'm younger than I think, or older than I think?
Girl Groups of the 60's-"The Dahlinks" Rona, Zsa Zsa, Eva
The Pantages Theatre, from the drawing board of Architect B. Marcus Priteca, came to life on June 4, 1930, under the leadership of Alexander Pantages, and cost $1.25 million to build (excluding theatrical and projection equipment). Opened as part of the Fox theater chain, the Pantages Theatre was one of the first movie houses to be built after the advent of talking pictures and once boasted the most elaborate sound system in the world.
In 1949, Howard Hughes, through RKO Pictures, acquired the theater as part of his national chain of movie houses. It was renamed the RKO Pantages Theatre and seating capacity was increased to just over 2,800 patrons. From 1950-1959, the RKO Pantages Theatre received its highest profile assignment as it was used as the location for the Academy Awards ceremony.
Pacific Theatres, known at the time for its large inventory of California drive-ins, purchased the Pantages Theatre from RKO in December of 1967 (after leasing it for two years beginning in 1965) and operated the aging movie palace until it closed in January 1977.
Unable to fill its seats with motion pictures, Pacific teamed up with the Nederlander Organization and the theatre was restored to nearly its original seating capacity (almost 2700) for a new live theater run of "Man from La Mancha". Since 1977, the Pantages Theatre has been home to live theater. In fact, projection equipment is not currently installed and an apartment and offices on the second floor of the Pantages Theatre occupy those areas today.
The Nederlander Organization beautifully restored the theater in the late-1990's spending a reported $12 million to bring back all of its palatial opulence. The Pantages Theatre reopened, better than ever, in September 2000 for the west coast premiere of Disney's live production of "The Lion King" and remains a gem-like source of pride for the neighborhood. It is truly one of the most beautiful buildings I've ever been in.
A few years back, I sat through a miserable production of "The Producers" for the sole reason that a friend of a friend was working on the show and gave us a backstage tour afterward. Now that was a show.