History of the Sunset Strip
In the first installment of our series on George Mann’s newly-discovered vintage Los Angeles restaurant photos, we introduced you to Mann’s custom 3-D photo viewer, which provided free entertainment to patrons as they waited to be seated in numerous L.A. restaurants, and to images of the Malibu restaurants that were displayed inside the viewers. In the second entry in the series, we toured the Bixby Knolls neighborhood of Long Beach, home of some gorgeous, long-demolished restaurants–and a surprising survivor. And last time we got together, we took a trip to the dark side of life along the celebrated Restaurant Row, La Cienega Boulevard.
Today, our travels with George take us to the top of La Cienega and then deep into the Sunset Strip, to see what’s cooking along that fabulous boulevard, which for close to a century has been the preferred promenade for movie stars, gangsters, star makers and the normal folks who love to look at them. Let’s see which Sunset Strip establishments caught George Mann’s discerning eye.
We begin at the Marquis Restaurant, at the intersection of Sunset and Roxbury. The space is perhaps best remembered as the Mexican club/restaurant Carlos & Charlie’s, which in its final years had a reputation for rowdiness. Later it was Dublin’s Irish Pub, and it’s presently something called Sunset Beach that looks like a bunch of tipsy white sails unfurling around popsicle sticks.
But from the mid-1940s through the early 1970s, this was The Marquis, sometimes known as Paul Verlengia’s Marquis, after its opera-singing host.
George Mann’s photo captures the restaurant soon after its 1953 remodel, a low-slung brick and half-timbered structure with the look of a country house converted to trade.
The interior was similarly homey and understated, and must have been a welcome respite from the self-consciously modernist glamour of so many Sunset Strip establishments. But while the Marquis looked sleepy, dinner was still served until the wee hours, with Chef Pietro Giordano whipping out platters of his famous Zucchini Florentine (“better than that at Alfredo’s in Rome!” – Louella Parsons), a sort of crustless quiche, on demand.
It was in this pleasant space that comic George Gobel not only dined with his mama on Mother’s Day 1955, but advertised the fact, in advance, in the Los Angeles Times. Now why don’t TV stars do that sort of thing any more?
It was here, too, that actor Gig Young and his bride Elizabeth Montgomery strapped on their bibs and shared a piping dish of Shrimps Marquis in 1959. A few years later, Gig might have taken his new wife Elaine Young up to the Oak Barrel Bar to dig the swinging sounds of the Sam Ray Trio, or enjoyed strolling musicians in The White and Marquesa Rooms.
In spring 1960, Paul Verlengia opened another restaurant just four blocks east, the Four Trees. He took Louella Parsons’ quote with him.
The Marquis sailed on sans Verlengia, and into a tragedy. On February 8, 1963, the restaurant’s corporation president George Dolenz (dad of future Monkee Mickey and himself star of TV’s Count of Monte Christo), climbed onto the roof of the Marquis to inspect recent construction. He suffered a heart attack, was brought down by firemen, and was declared dead on arrival at Citizens Emergency Hospital. Since 1951, Dolenz’ main focus had been the restaurant. He was just 55.
In 1965, owner Tom Seward started keeping lunch hours, and coined the gracious if not too memorable slogan “A good place for business or pleasure. Our surroundings take the busy out of business.”
When local restaurant owners from the Sunset Strip Association met in November 1966 to voice their concerns about ongoing teenage protests of new curfews on the boulevard, they chose the Marquis for their press conference. Fred Rosenberg, president of the association, blamed police and newspapers for exacerbating the problem. Outside, teens protested, perhaps confusing this relatively liberal business group with the far crankier Sunset Plaza Association headquartered some blocks west.
By 1970, the Marquis was reinvented as the Martoni Marquis, under the management of famed restaurateur Mario Marino. Sonny Bono was goo goo for his clams. And sometime in the mid-1970s, the Marquis quietly faded away.