It might be hard to believe, but the 1.5-long stretch on Sunset Boulevard in West Hollywood has some of the craziest, wildest stories. The remarkable, rich history of the Sunset Strip covers a range of businesses from nightclubs and speakeasies to restaurants and hotels and beyond. What started as virtually nothing in the 1920s evolved into a must-go spot for movie stars before drawing in musicians and bands during the 1960s, eventually turning into the area that it is today.
The History of the Sunset Strip
The reason the Strip earned such a crazy reputation so early was that it, along with West Hollywood, was considered an unincorporated area. This meant it was outside of the Los Angeles boundary and therefore wasn’t under the LAPD jurisdiction. For the first 60 years, the Sunset Strip saw a lot of illegal activity.
The Strip began in the 1920s as farmland and ranches surrounded by poinsettias and avocados. Due to the lack of law enforcement (especially in regards to Prohibition), clubs, casinos and speakeasies popped up all over the place; gambling and drinking took place everywhere. Actors and actresses flooded to the area, along with gangsters and mobsters.
Gangster-owned gambling den the Clover Club opened its doors. Café La Boehme, an LGBTQ-friendly club, opened in 1927 by former opera star Joseph Borgia. Sunset Plaza, the first commercial development along the strip, began in 1924 and soon had real estate developers, insurance offices, a gift shop and the Russian Eagle restaurant (which burned down in 1928).
The 1930s to the 1950s
Once Prohibition was repealed in 1933, things really took off at the Strip. Restaurants and nightclubs opened at rapid speed; the famous trio of nightclubs was Ciro’s (now the Comedy Store), the Mocambo and the Trocadero. Ciro’s hosted Ava Gardner, Cary Grant, Frank Sinatra, Humphrey Bogart, Mae West, Marilyn Monroe and others.
Café Trocadero opened in 1934, but instead of movie stars, gangsters flocked to this French-themed nightclub, including Bugsy Siegel, Mickey Cohen (who was involved in two shootings at the Strip) and Johnny Roselli.
Another hot spot was Schwab’s Drug Store, where Charlie Chaplin, Harold Lloyd and F. Scott Fitzgerald were often seen there.
To house all of these stars, the Garden of Allah apartments opened; Fitzgerald, Clark Gable and Orson Welles were frequent guests to the private bungalows. The Argyle (now the Sunset Tower Hotel) opened in 1931. Meanwhile, Sunset Plaza continued to expand.
The Music Takeover
By the 1960s, the Strip started to lose some of its popularity with movie stars, but that didn’t mean the end; instead, it evolved into a mecca for musicians that exists to this day.
The Byrds, the Doors, Frank Zappa, Led Zeppelin, Nirvana and countless more played at clubs like the Whisky a Go Go, the Roxy, Pandora’s Box and the London Fog. Whisky a Go Go is also credited for starting go-go dancing.
Restaurants, bars and nightclubs continued to open and entertain, but they now had a focus on musicians and bands. The Hyatt West Hollywood (now the Andaz West Hollywood Hotel) became a popular hotel. Hugh Hefner opened his Playboy Club in the mid-1960s.
Most notably, though, was the Sunset Strip curfew riots that took place around this time. Clubs like the Whisky a Go Go were targeted for noise complaints, and a 10 p.m. curfew was put into place. In November 1966, tensions came to a head, and a protest broke out; actors Jack Nicholson and Peter Fonda attended. The unrest continued into December, and Pandora’s Box was eventually demolished in August 1967.
The 1970s to 1990s
The 1970s music scene focused on punk rock and new wave music. David Bowie brought about the glam rock movement.
Metal bands such as Motley Crue took over in the 1980s. However, up-and-coming bands started to stop performing at the Strip due to “pay to play” policies, which charged the band before playing.
In 1984, West Hollywood became incorporated into Los Angeles County. Schwab’s Drug Store closed two years later.
The grunge movement made its way through the Strip in the 1990s, most notably at the Viper Room, which was purchased by Johnny Depp in 1993.
The 2000s to now
100 years later, the history of the Sunset Strip continues to write itself. The 21st century saw continued evolution for the area. With the Strip being considered the epicenter for music and entertainment in Los Angeles, businesses continued to open, mainly to benefit the entertainment industry that is thriving there.
New musicians still flood to the nightclubs, and comedians keep cracking jokes at the Comedy Store and Laugh Factory, all for a chance at fame. Sunset Plaza has grown to include over 50 stores, restaurants, salons and more at the idealistic shopping complex that has almost a century of experience and functionality in mind for its visitors.