Did you know that a family amusement park once stood where the Beverly Center is? Or that the gigantic CAA "Death Star" on the Avenue of the Stars was once the home of the ABC Entertainment Center, where "Star Wars" premiered?
Younglings or new transplants might have trouble picturing quaint community hangouts or mid-century architecture where contemporary behemoths now stand. That's exactly why Alison Martino started Vintage L.A., a Facebook group celebrating Los Angeles' forgotten history and sumptuous Old Hollywood culture. Her vast collection of restaurant memorabilia, photographs, postcards, and decades-old b-roll is what anchors the 7,000-plus Facebook community. Martino says the best part about running the site is community participation, noting, "the comments are better than the pictures."
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Chasen's was a hangout for entertainment luminaries, located at 9039 Beverly Boulevard near Beverly Hills. This is where you would spot Frank Sinatra, Elizabeth Taylor, or Clint Eastwood. They were known for their famous chili and red booths. It was "rat pack" swank. It closed in 1995. I happen to have been there on closing night with my parents. It was a night I will never forget. I received an original menu that night that hangs proudly in my kitchen. The original building, except the facing wall on Beverly Blvd., was demolished and a Bristol Farms grocery store was built in its place. Photo courtesy of Vintage L.A.
The Cock'n Bull was a mock British tavern favored by notables ranging from artists like Ed Ruscha and actor Richard Burton to rock singer Rod Stewart and his entire soccer team. I remember sawdust on the floor and a blasting fireplace, and my father entertaining his industry friends. There is no restaurant in Los Angeles that has left more of an imprint in my mind. The Cock 'n Bull became an automobile dealership in 1987 on the corner of Sunset and Cory Road in West Hollywood . There is a plaque above the entrance in honor of this institution. It remains a car dealership. Photo courtesy of Vintage L.A.
Dino's Lodge was on the Sunset Strip located at 8524 Sunset Boulevard (it was the backdrop of that great TV show "77 Sunset Strip." The lodge and buildings no longer exist but if you look in front of the doorway you will see a plaque confirming that the series was filmed here between 1958 to 1964. This is one place I wish I could have seen - especially that giant Dean Martin neon head in front. Photo courtesy of Vintage L.A.
As a child there was nothing more exhilarating then walking through the enormous doors that were in the shape of a whale's mouth made out of blue tile. Inside you would eat fish and chips in a marine life setting. The Fish Shanty left a permanent imprint in my brain forever. I miss driving by it at the corner of La Cienega and Burton Way. It closed in the 80's to become a car dealership. Photo courtesy of Vintage L.A.
If I were to tell someone who just moved here that there used to be an amusement park where the Beverly Center is, no one would believe me. It had a a Ferris wheel, trains, and even a haunted house. My earliest memories as a child are going on the rides. And for one dollar you were able to ride the ponies around the track 7 times. I celebrated my 3rd birthday here. These were some of my happiest times in my childhood. For more information, check out this video and article. Photo courtesy of Vintage L.A.
La Cienega Lanes was a bowling alley on the corner of La Cienega and Santa Monica built in the 1940s. It's better known today as Flippers Roller Rink. In the early 80s La Cienega Lanes transformed into the greatest roller disco in the world. I had multiple birthday parties here. I remember the music, the lights and the blisters from the rental skates. It's now a CVS. Photo courtesy of Vintage L.A.
This was a favorite spot of my parents. I was fortunate enough to go with them. I remember it being very elegant with paneled woods, copper and brass fixtures, and bright red chairs. It was the kind of place Don Draper would take a client for a martini. The mid-century modern building still sits empty today on the corner of Sunset and Doheny. Someone needs to revive this into something swanky. Photo courtesy of Vintage L.A.
Ships was a googie style coffee shop that was extremely popular for their boomerang style architecture. They were also famous for having toasters on each table. For some reason that was made everyone really happy. They had three locations: La Cienega and Olympic, Westwood and Culver City. They closed in the 90s and are extremely missed. Ships was epitome of 1950's style diners. Photo courtesy of Vintage L.A.
Tail of the Pup was a small hot dog stand that was in the shape of a hotdog. It was located near the Beverly Center and moved around a few times and was unable to find a permanent home. I know it's sitting in storage somewhere and I wish they could find a place to re-open. Photo courtesy of Vintage L.A.
The ABC Vine theater was a studio located on Vine just south of Sunset. The exterior had a googie style, mid-century modern marquee. Shows like "The Newlywed Game" and "The Joey Bishop Show" were shot here in the 1960s. My father was a sidekick on the Joey Bishop show and I was lucky to inherit the piano from the set when the show ended. But I wasn't lucky enough to have ever seen a taping. I believe it was demolished in the 80s. Photo courtesy of Vintage L.A.
Going to the Islander was like dying and going to Polynesian Tiki Heaven. I wish I could have dined here, especially to see the spectacular torch-flanked entrance and bridge at night! This should never have been torn down. Acapulco got a hold of it and turned it into an 80's monstrosity. The transformation of the building to what it is today is both shocking and disturbing to me. Photo courtesy of Vintage L.A.
POP stood for Pacific Ocean Park. It was another amusement park located just south of the Santa Monica Pier. Unfortunately It burned down before I was born. If I ever did make that time machine, I would go right to POP. The 28-acre park was decorated throughout in a sea-green and white art moderne look. Its entrance was set amidst fountains, sculptures and a large sea horse and clam shell. The ticket booth in Neptune's Courtyard was set under a six legged concrete starfish canopy. Plastic bubbles and sea horses adorned its top. It's hard to imagine anything cooler then Pacific Ocean Park. For more, check out this video. Photo courtesy of Vintage L.A.
This was "the" record store in Hollywood. It was the premier music store in Southern California for decades. It was a special store and a place to go for tickets, sheet music, LP's and 45's. They also sold TVs and musical instruments. It was the first music store to seal record albums in cellophane and put them in display racks for customers along with private listening booths to hear the records before you bought them. Wallich also started Capitol records. I used to go here in the 70s with my parents after my father finished a recording session up the street at Capitol records. I have vivid memories of the entrance and the window display. It was completely demolished in the early 80's. My dad said, "It was the end of an era." Photo courtesy of Vintage L.A.
Her parents, singer Al Martino (he appeared in "The Godfather") and Judi Martino, a superglam airline stewardess, took Alison everywhere they went when she was growing up. Martino recalls fondly, "they didn't believe in babysitters." Luckily for her, that meant evenings with the Rat Pack at Chasen's restaurant or music industry types at Cock'n Bull. Martino remembers, "I just knew something was special about those times... I wanted to savor the moment all the time."
Running Vintage LA has become more than a side project to Martino. Right now she's playing coy about whether a book or television deal is in the works. She has promised to keep us updated on any showbiz developments as they come, but for now, here are some quick hits from the interview:
The ABC Entertainment center in Century City was a colossal disaster to me. We lost a beautiful theater. We lost a mid-century marvel of architecture. They demolished it to put up the CAA, and everybody was pretty upset about that.
The Ambassador Hotel. I cannot drive down the street. I know it went to a good cause, and that’s not what bothers me. I just can’t bear to see it not there.
The Friar’s Club, Beverly Hills. It’s just a sitting empty lot –- there are no plans to do anything with it.
Empty hotspots worthy of renovation:
The old Scandia restaurant on the corner of Doheny and Sunset.
The original Spago location, which is up on the hill overlooking Sunset Strip.
The Tiffany Theater
The old Miyagi's, which is the original player’s club. It’s all empty, and in original condition.
Favorite old restaurants:
The Fish Shanty and The Cock'n Bull.
If this generation learned a little more about the history, what those places were, and the energy that was in there for years and years and years, there’s no reason why they can’t be revived.