at the Rainbow Bar & Grill on a Friday night, the young man in the
U.S.A. shirt has the look of uptown punk about him.
His fists punch savagely at nothing and his face is fixed in a
fearsome sneer as he and his dance partner move to the music on the
tiny disco floor.
The Ramones are singing "I Want to Be Sedated."
At a corner table, Llana Lloyd shuts out the bedlam of the moment
and returns to telling how the Rainbow isn't what it used to be.
She's only here tonight because she was feeling nostalgic, she says.
Back in 1974, everything was different. Those were the days
of glitter rock, when David Bowie and Robert Plant and Iggy Pop were
regulars at the Rainbow.
The Sunset Strip was a blaze of brilliance then.
She was a dancer on the Real Don Steele Show on Channel 9, and
one of the Rainbow's original glitter girls. Maybe some people
thought the Strip had already seen its better days, but they weren't
part of the '70s like she was.
"It was the musical extravaganza wherein every rock 'n' roller
thought they were 'star star,' " she says. "It was the
original Hollywood avant-garde glitter rock raunch narcissistic exhibitional
probably had to have been there, though.
On the wall above Lloyd's head is a plaque that serves as a sort
of historical marker. It proclaims the Rainbow to be the Lair
of the Hollywood Vampires.
That was a club some of the rock stars who hung out there decided
to form. Alice Cooper was the president, Keith Moon was vice-president
and John Lennon and Ringo Starr were among the members.
One night, Lloyd got to sit at Lennon's table. There'd be
a line of women going up to the table, she recalls. They'd open
their blouses for him and he would pinch them and then tell them to
go away, she says.
Now look at the scene.
"This ain't rock 'n' roll," she says. "This
is genocide. These people are vegged out. I think the era
Some people go back further than Llana Lloyd, and they think the
Sunset Strip saw its best days long before the glitter girls came along.
The Strip, in fact, had been all but officially pronounced as dead by
As early as 1964, it looked like the last of the old days had
ended, to columnist Paul Coates of The Times.
"Sun has set on the Sunset Strip," the headline read.
Coates recalled how in earlier years he could remember Humphrey
Bogart and all the other glamorous movie stars living it up in places
like Ciro's. When Bogart would bring his chauffeur into Ciro's
with him and take his usual corner booth, that meant he was planning
to do some "serious" drinking.
On the stage at Ciro's in the old days, wrote Coates, he had seen
performers like Joe E. Lewis, Sophie Tucker and Pearl Bailey.
What he found in 1964, however, was "a gaunt little lass
doing a frantic Watusi or whatever it is they're doing currently."
That was too much for him. "It used to be a glittering
boulevard in the silly old days," he wrote. "Now it
is just a rather seamy street."
As far as a lot of people were concerned, however, it just kept
getting worse in the next few years.
Rock 'n' roll changed things, most folks agree. Instead
of the old movie stars and gangsters, the Strip was covered with teenage
of the old supper clubs and restaurants suffered serious losses because
their old customers didn't want to be on the same street with the new
The mere sight of them was almost more than Bruno Petroletti,
one of the owners of the elegant Strip restaurant known as LaRue, could
stand. "It's not a pleasant thing to see them walking around,"
he said in early 1968.
Responding to the menace, the sheriff's department started cracking
down on the invading teenagers, arresting them by the truckload for
curfew violations, but they just kept returning.
On Nov. 12, 1966, near a rock club called Pandora's Box at what
was then the corner of Sunset and Crescent Heights, about 1,000 demonstrators
protested the tight enforcement of the curfew laws.
Not Much Respect
threw rocks, others chased all the passengers off one bus and tried
to set fire to another, and most of them didn't seem to have much respect
for there elders. In retrospect, this may have been the low point
in relations between teenagers and adults in Los Angeles.
While it wasn't much compared to what happened in Watts the previous
year, it was generally described as a riot.
There were demands in the City Council for an investigation into
the "Major uncontrolled rebellion" and a tough stand from
County Supervisor Ernest E. Debs, who represented the area.
"Whatever it takes is going to be done," said Debs.
"We're going to be tough. We're not going to surrender that
area or any other area to beatniks or wild-eyed kids."
If they couldn't keep them off the Strip, they could at least
stop them from dancing. That was the strategy worked out by Debs
and Sheriff Peter Pitchess, who had vowed that his department wasn't
going to be "reduced to a baby-sitting organization."
They appealed to the County Public Welfare Commission to take
away the dance permits of the Strip's most popular rock clubs, among
them, the Whisky A Go Go and Gazzarri’s.
Even in the climate of the times, however, that idea was rejected.
Instead, they 86'd Sonny and Cher, who had sided with the teenagers,
from a ride in the Rose Bowl Parade that year.
They also demolished Pandora's Box.
Where Pandora's Box once stood, an access lane of Sunset now curves
into Crescent Heights.
Lt. James Cook, operations supervisor for the West Hollywood station
of the Sheriff's Department, still marvels at the job of road expansion
that was done. "They bulldozed that sucker and paved it over,"
The violence inspired a movie called "Riot on Sunset Strip",
which starred Aldo Ray and Mimzi Farmer, and led the Times to a glum
assessment of the Strip's possible future.
"It is a sorry ending for the boulevard that once was Hollywood's
most dazzling area," an editorial declared. "The boulevard
may never regain its past glory.........."
But not everybody thinks the '60s were so bad, and you can even
find some people who think they were the Strip's best years.
- - - -
addition to being glamorous, the Strip always had a reputation for being
It was that way long before rock 'n' roll.
Fred Otash, now the manager of the Palladium in Hollywood, was
a Los Angeles vice-squad officer in the '40s and early '50s.
"Every door on the Strip must have been kicked down 100 times
a month," he says.
You never saw any street prostitutes in those days. They
were a notch or two above that.
There were some mobsters, though. Otash made life rough
on them. He especially didn't like Johnny Stompanato, one of Mickey
"I recall the time my partner and I took Stompanato up to
the Hollywood Hills and beat him," Otash says. "Then
we stripped him and left him there after we put out a call there was
a naked man running around."
Another time they drove by Stompanato's car on the Strip, pointed
a shotgun at him and scared him so much that he almost drove off the
'The Greatest Town'
later was a private detective, and his cases involved people like Judy
Garland, Frank Sinatra and Lana Turner. His office was at Dino's
"This was the greatest town in the world for nightclubs,"
he says, "but look at the Strip today. I don't know what's
happening to it."
The nightclubs sure were something. There's not much doubt
One of the best things about them were the fights. People
were fighting all the time on the Sunset Strip in the old days, but
usually nobody was hurt too bad.
A typical fight was when a film agent named William Burnside punched
"Prince" Mike Romanoff one night in 1941 at the Mocambo.
"I wish they had let me go just for a minute and I would have annihilated
him," Romanoff said afterward.
Frank Sinatra was in a couple of fights in later years, retiring
Sometimes no punches were even thrown. Franchot Tone was
arrested one night at Ciro's for spitting in the face of Hollywood columnist
Florabelle Muir, which was probably even worse than hitting her.
The most famous fight on the Sunset Strip, however, was in Tommy
Dorsey's apartment about 4:30 one morning in 1944. Actor Jon Hall,
who played a lot of swashbuckler roles, almost had his nose cut off
in that one.
Exactly what took place never was too clear, but Hall's later
account was that Dorsey had started it by hitting him with a bottle
because he didn't like the way he was acting around Dorsey's wife, actress
At some point, Hall said, Mrs. Dorsey started slashing him with
a knife. When Eddie Norris, another actor, came to Hall's aide,
the Dorsey's called in reinforcements from next door, and Allen Smiley,
a neighbor who was described as also being a friend of Bugsy Siegel,
promptly knocked Norris cold and joined the Dorsey's assault on Hall.
This became known as "The Battle of the Balcony," because
at one point Dorsey was trying to throw Hall off the balcony and Hall
was holding onto Dorsey's head, yelling, "If I go, you are going
At first, Hall wanted to drop the matter as being just one of
those nights when you wind up with 16 stitches in your nose, another
32 stitches in the back of the head, and a stab wound or two in the
'That's His Business'
Jon Hall wants to get his nose cut off and his features marred without
making a complaint, that's his business," District Attorney Fred
The Dorsey's and Smiley later were indicted by a grand jury on
charges of felonious assault, but there was so much confusing testimony
that the case finally was dismissed for lack of evidence.
For a long time after that, Hall went around with a plastic covering
over his nose. Dorsey, known as the sentimental gentleman of swing,
was back in action a few years later, punching out Benny Goodman in
Only a few months ago, there was another incident where a man
actually lost most of his nose on the Sunset Strip. But that was
when a pimp hit him in the face with a 2X4 for not showing sufficient
interest in a prostitute, and nobody made much of it.
Even getting your nose sliced was a lot more glamorous in the
- - - - -
roll with the punches," says Chuck Landis.
As the Strip changed over the years, Landis changed with it.
From 1943 to 1949, he was owner of the Trocadero.
In the '50s he was partners with Gene Norman in a jazz club called
Then he turned Hazan's Food Market into a "high-class"
strip joint called the Largo. In 1972, the Largo became the Roxy.
"I enjoyed it in the '40s and '50s," he says.
"It was a coat-and-tie sort of thing, very formal."
"In the '60s, the hippies turned the Strip around,"
he adds. "It was almost impossible to travel from Crescent
Heights to Doheny. Business dropped overnight."
It might have been the growth of Las Vegas that killed the Strip,
however, Vegas paid more money to the top entertainment acts than the
Strip nightclubs could afford.
"If you weren't on the Strip, you weren't in the business,
in the old days," Landis says, "but not anymore."
Premier Jazz Clubs
still has some involvement with the Roxy, but his interests have shifted
now to the Valley, where he owns the Country Club in Reseda. "I
don't think the Strip is as important as it was," he says.
Gene Norman still has an office on the Strip, but he's strictly
in the record business now.
From 1954 to 1963, Norman presided over both the Crescendo and
the Interlude, the premier Jazz clubs on the Strip. The Crescendo
was upstairs and the Interlude was downstairs in the same building now
part of the parking lot for the Playboy Building.
One night, at the Crescendo alone, there was Count Basie, the
George Shearing Quintet, Mort Saul and Lambert, Hendricks and Ross.
Lenny Bruce was "totally unknown" before he started
working there, Norman says.
"It was very exciting," he adds. "Half the
world's movie stars and political figures came to the Crescendo."
But rock 'n' roll was soon to end the jazz age on the Strip.
The same year that the Crescendo closed, the Whisky A Go Go opened.
Norman's son, Neil, who now records science fiction music and
futuristic themes for his father's GNP Crescendo label, was around by
then to see the changes.
saw Led Zeppelin and Alice Cooper on the same bill at the Whisky once,"
he says. "It was a pretty fast change once it started."
They started writing the obituaries on the Strip about then, but
not everybody saw the '60s as cause for mourning.
"I'd like to see the '60s happening again," says Rodney
Bingenheimer, a local disc jockey who's called the Mayor of the Sunset
Strip. He was around in the days when you might see Joan Baez
and Bob Dylan at the Fred C. Dobbs coffeehouse, now the office of Kay
At Ciro's, which became a rock club called It's Boss for a brief
time before ultimately becoming the Comedy Store, there was a night
when Dylan joined the Byrds for a jam session. Bingenheimer can
remember him playing "Mr. Tambourine Man" on the harmonica,
which is a different memory of Ciro's than most people have.
"The real hard-core hippie and heavy drug scene killed the
Strip," he says. "That's when Charles Manson was hanging
"To me there were no '70s," he adds. "Nothing
was happening. Maybe the '80s will be more like the '60s."
gangsters may have been more visible in the old days, but the Strip's
crime problems are bigger now. The area around the Strip had the
fastest-growing crime rate in the county last year, according to Lt.
James Cook of the West Hollywood station of the Sheriff's Department.
He blames street prostitution for part of it. There were
never any street prostitutes on the Strip until about three years ago,
he says. Now it's a constant battle keeping them away. "It's
almost like a march to the sea down Sunset," says Cook.
What ultimately will become of the Strip is one of those questions
that usually gets little more than a shrug of the shoulders.
"I look at the Sunset Strip to eventually develop into trendy
hotels and good restaurants," says developer Joseph Noble, now
converting the old Sunset Tower apartment building into condo units.
think it's been getting strong for several years," he adds.
"Eventually we're going to see the rock 'n' roll joints forced
over to Santa Monica Boulevard. I'm not saying that period's over
but no area can survive on rock 'n' roll."
Maybe not, but others said they'd be surprised to see the Roxy
or the Whisky vanish in the foreseeable future. They are almost
institutions now, like Ciro's and the Trocadero before them.
"I don't see anything dramatic," says Don Ferris, a
leading salesman of commercial properties along the Strip, who even
has his own billboard looking down on the street. "I'd say
it will be gradual."
The future has been pretty much determined by new county planning
guidelines that came out this year, Ferris adds. Anything over
five stories isn't likely to be approved, so better restaurants and
quality shops seems to be the most likely hope.
For some, the battle's over anyway. Whatever happens to
the Strip, it can never be the same.
"We lost the class," says Leon Schwab, one of the brothers
whose drugstore near Crescent Heights has marked the approximate start
of the Strip since it was opened in 1932. "Hollywood lost
But maybe it's still out there somewhere under one of the billboards
on the Strip. These days, nobody has much time to get a search
party started, so you can never really say for sure.