Feb. 6, 1935: Frankie Masters and his orchestra at the Clover Club – with Alice Faye!
After the decline of Agua Caliente and before the rise of Las Vegas, Hollywood celebrities and rich Angelenos could find their gambling fix right in Los Angeles. Besides ships stationed off the coast, residents could also visit illegal gambling dens hidden in houses in the hills as well as clubs throughout the city. West Hollywood contained many of these speakeasies, thanks to its location outside Los Angeles proper in what was considered Los Angeles County.
One of the swankiest and most popular nightspots among the Hollywood in-crowd was the Clover Club (formerly the Sphinx Club), located at 8477 Sunset Blvd. at the top of La Cienega Blvd. The book “Siren City” called the club one of the “citadels of leisure, luxury, and self-indulgence.” The club opened Oct. 10, 1931, and stated that it was strictly for members only, which meant customers were either famous or rich. Its ambiance fit its clientele; it was sleek and sumptuous.
With the end of Prohibition, Hollywoodites were ready to party. The Nov. 27, 1933, Los Angeles Times noted “the natural outburst of good spirits,” the Depression, and a wave of liberality sweeping the nation led to a mushrooming of illegal clubs hidden by steel doors. These modern speakeasies offered music, dining, spirits and gambling in almost every form.
The Clover Club was very popular with Hollywood; gossip columns in The Times and trade papers mentioned all the stars entertaining and dining there, even though it cost $7.50 or $10 each, depending on which room patrons chose to eat in. Drinks also cost 50 cents. Entertainment was first rate; singer Gene Austin regularly performed there. People like producer David O. Selznick and his brother, agent Myron Selznick, were regulars, constantly losing money to gambling. The Times claimed an unnamed female movie syndicate writer received money from the house with which to gamble, which she then in return gave free advertising by plugs in her articles. Even a Jan. 9, 1934 pearl ad joked about wearing pearls in a raid at the Club.
Howard Hawks regularly attended as well. The Clover Club was considered one of his favorite gambling/drinking haunts, and supposedly the basis for Eddie Mar’s nightclub in “The Big Sleep.”
Feb. 4, 1937: Sheriff’s deputies raid the Clover Club.
To help prevent trouble, manager Guy McAfee, a former Los Angeles police vice captain, installed one-way mirrors and secret panels to give the club extra time in trying to hide their gambling paraphernalia. Unfortunately, the club was constantly raided, but no stars seemed to get swept up in the mess. After one raid in the late 1930s, it was claimed that over $120,000 had changed hands through gambling that night. When employees and managers ended up in court, they played dumb or refused to testify, probably because gangsters Mickey Cohen and Bugsy Siegel were investors.
From time to time the Clover Club closed because of the loss of its liquor license or because of gambling problems, but it would usually reopen in about a month. Club officials denied that they paid off local or Northern California politicians to stay open, and politicians denied they took or demanded bribes in exchange for licenses. The Federation of Protestant Churches of Los Angeles even hoped that the liquor license would be canceled in 1937, since the club permitted gambling. The Clover Club closed permanently in October 1938, barely seven years after opening, as gangsters were moving their gambling front to Las Vegas, where gambling was legal.
After a brief reopening fling in the early 1940s, the Clover Club became an officers club during World War II, and then the Hollywood Friars’ clubhouse. It went up in flames on Jan. 29, 1952.