Old Hollywood decor could be staid (booths and wood paneling at Musso & Frank Grill), or not staid (fake palm trees at the Cocoanut Grove). In the early days of Hollywood, film actors and the like were not always welcome at some nightspots and social clubs frequented by the cream of Los Angeles society. As a result, they had to establish hangouts where they would be welcome to party until dawn, mingle with other celebrities, and indulge in all kinds of illicit behavior without fear of being shunned or caught.
Beginning in the early 1920s, spots that catered to the Hollywood crowd started to spring up in places ranging from hotels to private mansions. From the aviary at the Mocambo to the secret underground tunnel that connected the Players Club to the extremely private Chateau Marmont on Sunset Boulevard, these spots often had decor or entertainment that was as eccentric and over-the-top as the patrons' behavior.
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Socialite Edie Goetz’s Estate Featured The First ‘Great Hollywood Screening Room’
For about three decades, A-list celebrities gathered at the Holmby Hills estate of William and Edie Goetz for lavish dinner parties or to preview the latest Hollywood film. Edie Goetz received the home, completed in 1938 and designed in a Georgian Revival style, as a gift from her father, film mogul Louis B. Mayer (co-founder of MGM). The room where celebrities saw films was considered the first great screening room of the era.
"The highest accolade for someone coming into this town was to be invited to the Goetzes," Hollywood director Billy Wilder once said. "The Goetzes had the best food, the best people, and the best things on the walls.”
William Goetz bought Universal Studios in 1946. To celebrate, the couple threw a party attended by Joan Crawford, Gary Cooper, Cary Grant, and others; Judy Garland even performed for the guests.
Although Goetz was famous for her parties, she went into seclusion after the passing of her husband in 1969, refusing to throw any more lavish parties.
In 2016, the estate went on the market. Located on 4.3 acres in one of the most expensive neighborhoods in LA County, the estate is split into two parcels that consist of (among other things) the main house (which has 11 bedrooms), three guest houses, two swimming pools, and a tennis court. One parcel, which includes the main house, sold for $40.8 million in May 2017.Would you party here?
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The Formosa Cafe Has A 1904 Salvaged Red Trolley Car Stuck Inside
When boxer Jimmy Bernstein opened the Formosa Cafe in 1925, it was housed in an actual 1904 red trolley car and called The Red Spot. After Bernstein tacked on the kitchen and main room, he changed the name to the Formosa. Located across from the United Artists (later the Warner Hollywood and "the lot") studio, it has long been a popular dining spot for actors who worked on the lot. In fact, the owners billed the cafe as the place "where the stars dine."
Signed photos of actors who have dined there line the cafe's walls. Frank Sinatra reportedly ate there the day after he won his Oscar for From Here to Eternity. Marilyn Monroe dined there while making Some Like It Hot. The cafe also has ties to gambling; Mickey Cohen hid his gambling winnings in a secret floor safe in the restaurant, while its "Star Dining Car" (made from a real railroad car) once was the headquarters of a bookie organization.
The Formosa Cafe has also been used as a location in several films, including L.A. Confidential (1997), where a detective mistakes the real Lana Turner for a sex worker "cut" to look like the actor. Interestingly, Turner was a regular diner at the Formosa Cafe in the 1950s.
In 1991, the cafe was threatened with demolition but saved when it was named a Hollywood landmark. After a huge public outcry in 2015 when the owners gutted the 1940s red-and-black interiors for a more modern but bland look, much of the original interior was rebuilt. In 2016, the cafe closed without warning, before reopening in June 2019 under a new owner.Would you party here?
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The Cocoanut Grove Was Made To Look Like An Arabian Oasis, Complete With Props From Hollywood Films
The Cocoanut Grove, known as "The Grove," opened in April 1921 inside the Ambassador Hotel on Wilshire Boulevard in Los Angeles. Club manager Johnny Manos heard from silent film star Rudolph Valentino (who lived at the Ambassador) that fake palm trees from the actor's movie The Sheik were available for less than $500. So, Manos bought the props and installed them in the club.
Over the years, actors like Errol Flynn, Gloria Swanson, and Marlene Dietrich had "regular tables" reserved for them. In the 1920s and '30s, Tuesday was the night for special events, such as Charleston contests. Special decorations included toy monkeys that men would pluck from the fake palm trees to give to their dates. One night, Lionel Barrymore released a cage of live monkeys, reportedly terrifying many of the guests. It's possible he did this to one-up his younger brother, John, who often brought his pet monkey, Clementine, with him to the club.
The Grove was also known for its floor shows, which included floats carrying showgirls. One time, famed costume designer Adrian put an undressed girl inside a gigantic ice cube; an electric coil inside the hollow cube kept her warm.
Bing Crosby routinely played at the Grove, and young starlets like Carole Lombard and Joan Crawford participated in the club's dance contests. "So many careers began... some even ended in this very room," Crawford recalled years later.
The Ambassador Hotel closed in 1989, and after preservation efforts failed, it was demolished in 2005.Would you party here?
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Ciro’s Was Known For Its Red Ceiling And Silk Sofas
Billy Wilkerson, publisher of The Hollywood Reporter, opened Ciro's on Sunset Boulevard in 1940. The property had previously housed a failed nightspot called Club Seville where patrons danced on a glass floor that covered a pool full of carp.
The baroque interior consisted of red ceilings, red silk sofas against the walls, and green silk draped pretty much everywhere. Wilkerson used his trade publication to publicize the club, telling readers, “My dear, everybody who’s anybody will be at Ciro’s.”
Many of the clubgoers' antics - real or imagined - ended up The Hollywood Reporter. One such rumored event involved actor Paulette Goddard and film director Anatole Litvak. The story goes that while they were dining at Ciro's, the strap of her dress broke and they somehow ended up making love under the table in full view of the other patrons.
In 1945, Wilkerson sold the club to Herman D. Hover, who remodeled the space, designing a small dance floor where non-celebrity patrons could literally rub shoulders with movie stars. He later added a second floor where the television talk show Table at Ciro's was filmed. On nights with a major event like the Academy Awards or a big film premiere, Ciro's set up bleachers outside so fans could see stars ushered inside.
Ciro's was the top nightspot in town for the better part of two decades. Gossip columnists Louella Parsons and Hedda Hopper, armed with private phones at their tables, recorded the actions of celebrities like Cary Grant, Katharine Hepburn, Clark Gable, Carole Lombard, Lucille Ball, and Desi Arnaz.
Future US president John F. Kennedy supposedly dined at Ciro's during his first visit to Hollywood in the late 1940s. One night, the actor Alan Young brought a live lion named Jackie into the club (reportedly the animal that had starred in Androcles and the Lion). Another night, Barbara Eden, who would go on to star in I Dream of Jeannie, was discovered in the chorus line by an executive at 20th Century Fox.
Television and the emergence of Las Vegas as an entertainment capital were among the reasons Ciro's and other nightspots struggled in the late 1950s. Hover closed Ciro's in 1957. The building is now the site of The Comedy Store.Would you party here?