The interior of Crossroads of the World, courtesy of Mary Mallory.
Long before the Grove or Americana on Brand, the Crossroads of the World existed as a retail center replicating simpler times and more glamorous surroundings. It sprang from tragedy to become an architectural and cultural highlight for more than 77 years. Intended to be an exotic shopping destination, it instead functions as eclectic office suites for independent businesses.
In the early 1930s, 6665 Sunset Blvd. was the location of Charles H. Crawford’s business office. Crawford, a former saloonkeeper and political boss, called the “Underworld Czar” and “Wolf of Spring Street” in a 1986 Los Angeles Times article, possessed gangland connections. On May 20, 1931, he and former police reporter and editor Herbert Spencer were shot and killed in his office by former Deputy Dist. Atty. David Clark, who claimed self-defense.
Mary Mallory’s “Hollywoodland: Tales Lost and Found” is available for the Kindle.
An overview of Crossroads of the World, Courtesy of Mary Mallory.
Clark was arrested a few days later by police after they discovered that he had registered at a Santa Monica hotel under an assumed name the night he killed the men, and then registered at a downtown hotel under another name the next night, during which time he hid the murder weapon. Police later found the gun on their own and discovered that Clark had disappeared for a couple of days before the killings. In 1932, Clark went free after a jury could not reach a verdict in Spencer’s killing, and later he was found not guilty by self-defense in a second trial. Clark was convicted of second-degree murder in 1954 however, after shooting and killing the wife of his former law partner.
Crawford’s widow, Ella Crawford, could find no one to move into the building, so she demolished the structure and announced her intentions in May 1936 to build a $12,000 office and store complex on the lot. She hired architect Robert Derrah, designer of the Streamline Moderne Coca-Cola building near downtown, to create the structure. By Sept. 1, 1936, a Los Angeles Times story stated that it had been “planned as an “Olvera Street” for shops of many nations.
The concept evolved from a simple affair into something much more elaborate, what the Oct. 29, 1936, Los Angeles Times called “a permanent world’s fair” with a cosmopolitan atmosphere. “Just as the wares on display come from all the nations of the Earth, so the buildings are patterned after the architecture of foreign countries.” Taking as its name, the Crossroads of the World, the retail center would function as an international bazaar of shops and restaurants intended to lure more sophisticated shoppers.
Construction costs rose to more than $500,000, with the Oct. 18 Times reporting that it would include more than 100 shops, including “importers of foods, a Swedish cafe, an English tea room, Oriental bazaar, an importer of linens and lingerie and a Chinese art and gift shop.”
Crossroads of the World in the opening credits of “L.A. Confidential.”
Derrah once again employed a ship’s design for the gorgeous flagship building of the complex, adding portholes and decks to the structure to resemble an Art Deco cruise ship visiting exotic ports of call. Like a ship’s mast, a large tower soared into the air holding a revolving world globe. Surrounding it were buildings modeled after structures in France, Spain, England, Italy, Cape Cod, as well as a lighthouse, sheltering ports for those visiting.
The opening celebration for what was now 6671 Sunset Blvd. on Oct. 29, 1936, included a world salute as international as the buildings. Universal stars from many nations acted as hosts. Cesar Romero represented Cuba, Binnie Barnes, Wendy Barrie, and Boris Karloff represented England, Tala Birell represented Austria, Henry Armetta represented Italy and Mischa Auer represented Russia.
At 7:30 that evening, the stars welcomed visiting guests. Entertainment included a French Chorus under the direction of Raymond Ricet, a Czechoslovakian dance troupe, “Arabian” singer Robert Travefian, Alpine Troubadours Orchestra, Japanese dancers, and a Balalaika orchestra. The Continental Cafe opened for those looking for European style.
Other businesses included a dipped chocolates store, DuLaine-Bennati fabrics, a French perfume store, Fashion Fold Manufacturing, a Bit of Sweden restaurant, The Cheerful Philosopher, Don’s Beauty Salon and the like. Businesses operated under the address Crossroads of the World, rather than a street address. Stars seemed to enjoy the cafes and restaurants, at least for a short while.
Screen Snapshots, Series 16, number 12 came calling a year later, when it premiered a newsreel focusing on a fan’s view of Hollywood. One shot featured the guest driving down Hollywood Boulevard, lunching at the Brown Derby and visiting the Crossroads of the World, “the famous shopping center for the cinema capital,” per the Oct. 28, 1937, Film Daily.
Crossroads of the World in “Nuestro Pueblo” by Charles Owens and Joe Seewerker.
The Women’s Community Service Auxiliary of the Los Angeles Chamber of Commerce threw an art exhibit/fund raiser outside in 1937, in what supposedly was the beginning of constructing art studios and a theatre in the complex, which never came to fruition.
The international touch quickly faded away, and entertainment-related businesses moved in. Neely Dickson, a pioneer in commercial theater, opened an office there in 1939. The Commercial Radio Equipment Co. opened a branch office. World Pictures Inc. established an office in 1940. Adverti-Films announced they would make commercial and industrial films out of their office, with advertising, radio, casting, and talent agencies soon opening as well. The Screen Directors Guild, British War Relief, and Screen Children’s Guild operated here during the 1940s, as did the Progressive Citizens of America.
As companies came and went, more office space remained vacant and the structure became somewhat dilapidated and dirty. When the building came up for sale in 1965, many feared it would be torn down and replaced by a high-rise structure. They were deeply reassured when the new owner promised to maintain it.
Unfortunately the building was auctioned off on June 18, 1974, with ads promoting, “suitable for high-rise construction.” Historians quickly went to work and gained it a place as No. 134 on Los Angeles’ Historic Cultural Monuments list. Demolition was thankfully once again averted.
The lovely building still proudly sails the bumpy seas of Sunset Boulevard as office rental space today. While seeming appropriate as a filming location, the site has only been featured in a few TV shows like “Matt Houston” and “Remington Steele,” commercials, and movies “L. A. Confidential” and “Indecent Proposal.”
Hopefully it will some day finally get its close-up and become an international sales bazaar, as it was always intended to be.