Club Indigo matchbook courtesy of Mary Mallory.
While some proprietorships remain in business for decades at one address, most often, occupancy at the site frequently changes due to economic and cultural cycles. Following owners usually continue in the same vein or type of business, but occasionally something totally different fills the site. Over the decades, most businesses occupying 4269 Lankershim Blvd., North Hollywood, have continued along the same lines, providing food and entertainment to thousands of San Fernando Valley residents.
Little can be found regarding this address prior to 1938, when it shows up in newspaper advertisements as the Cafe Indigo. The matchbook reveals the establishment served American and Chinese food, as well as selling liquor and wine. Per the inside of the matchbook, intimate entertainment was also offered nightly.
Century West BWM in the 4200 block of Lankershim Boulevard, via Google Street View.
Proprietors Sid and Clodie Brown opened the business sometime in 1938, as that is the first time it appears as their choice of work in the Los Angeles Phone Directory. At the same time, the couple lived at 10802 Bluffside Drive. They had lived in Los Angeles since at least 1920, and on January 15, 1928, Clodie was found guilty of practicing some type of medicine without a license. In 1936 and 1937, her place of business is listed as Bridge Cancer Remedy in the phone book.
The Browns’ affiliation with Cafe Indigo appears to conclude around 1941, as the couple is not listed in the 1942 phone book. The restaurant continued operating until at least 1953, a magnet for violence, destruction, and labor problems. The October 25, 1950 reported that 24-year-old police officer Paul Albert Parrish Jr. was followed by a gang of six from the club after having words with one man inside. Parrish and his father-in-law were approached by three men inside, and they took off running. The two men were attacked, with Parrish hit by a board, leaving his face badly bruised and cut. The gang stole his pistol and kicked him in the head before leaving.
In 1951, a vandal destroyed the interior of the club. The January 29, 1951 Los Angeles Times stated that a vandal broke into the club sometime between 2 and 4 am, passed by the cash register, and “broke all the plate glass mirrors, kicked in the orchestra drums, broke the juke box and cigarette machine, upset tables and chairs, and then left with a case of whiskey.” To gain entry to the closed club, the vandal kicked in the glass on the front door.
On March 3, 1952, cowboy actor Fred Carson went berserk inside the club. He tried to crawl over the bar, dived into a plate glass window, beat up on people, stumbled out of the club and fainted in the bushes, woke up, tried to get away from police, and attacked an ambulance worker. Four officers and several bystanders were finally able to subdue him.
The December 3, 1953 Van Nuys News states that the Ringside Lounge was celebrating its opening with wrestler Don “Ivan the Terrible” Lee and Gordon “Mr. Combo” Clark hosting. Television and sports stars would attend the 7 pm press party at which Lee would entertain, followed at 9 pm with the opening to the general public. Starting on December 4, the club would remain open from 5 pm to 2 am daily, with Clark providing his “romantic one-man combo” music. Newspaper ads noted the club had been redecorated and stated, “Dinners will include thick steaks and giant-sized baked potatoes at popular prices.” The club also featured late night snacks and cocktails.
The Ringside Lounge, Van Nuys Valley News, Dec. 3, 1953.
By 1954, Club Sirocco opened at the same location, the “Valley’s Favorite Dancing Spot,” per the November 19, 1954 Van Nuys Valley News. Patrons could enjoy dining and entertainment by making reservations. The club featured up and coming performers as well as known names to entertain guests. Once again, problems plagued the location, this time from owner Charles Boyd unfairly paying guests and attitude toward performers. Step-in Fetchit presented a claim to the California State Labor Commission in March 1956 for $152.86 he was owned for five days’ work, but owner Boyd testified that he had paid him for two days’ work March 14, 1956. The newspaper does not indicate how the issue was resolved.
Performer Roy Porter states in his biography “There and Back,” which records his days working in bands, “Chuck Boyd was such a racist that he had the audacity to tell Joe (Liggins) that the band had to come in through the kitchen in the back.” Liggins told him what he could do with such a request, and then his band set the house on fire, bringing in such revenue that Boyd cancelled the order.
Donte’s, Van Nuys Valley News, May 26, 1967.
For a time in the 1960s, the location operated under the name Buddha Club, but I could find no information in the papers or phone book concerning this business. By 1965, this building hosted Direct Line No. 2, modeled after a similar club in Hollywood which featured telephones on every table connected to all the tables in the club. Owned by Hal Glicksman, the club featured Etta James January 25, 1965 during its first month of operation.
The February 25, 1965 Los Angeles Times reported that John Tony Cagle, 21, and Rex Richard Shryrock, 24, were arrested and cited for five violations of operating a night club without permits, opening and running the club since mid-January when the permit was filed, though they had not officially received one. The police described entertainment at Direct Line as “woman doing burlesque-type Watusi dances which end with her in “a costume that leaves little to the imagination.” John M. Frazis and Leonard Glickman were also issued citations. By July 27, charges against Shryrock were dismissed due insufficient evidence, but were ongoing against Cagle. No followup ran in the paper however.
On June 22, 1966, a jazz piano bar named Donte’s opened in the same location, with Hampton Hawes performing on piano and Red Mitchell on bass. A luncheon and supper club open from 11 am to 2 am daily, the establishment originally featured up and coming performers before it hit with both entertainers and audiences. Early performers included musicians like Dave Grusin. Owner Carey Leverette, a former dancer and choreographer at MGM, recalled in an April 1988 interview how he and partner John Riccella renovated the empty building into a piano bar. Sunny and Bill McKay bought out Ricella in October, with Bill managing the kitchen, Sunny the staff, and Leverette booking acts, handling publicity, and managing the bar. On Persian holidays, Sunny served Iranian dishes to patrons.
The club featured all types of jazz, from scat singing to Bossa Nova to instrumentals. Donte’s booked Chet Baker for a late Sunday matinee on May 7, 1967. Benny Carter and band played a stand in December 1967. Comedian Mort Sahl entertained on November 11-12, 1969, drawing in big crowds and becoming a semi-regular performer at the club. Phil Wright in his November 28, 1969 Van Nuys Valley News review stated that performer Stan Kenton believed that “the jazz club is Sahl’s church.” Wright found his humor dark, though pulled from daily headlines, topical and right on the money.
Ursula Prince at the Direct Line No. 2, Feb. 22, 1965, Van Nuys Valley News.
Other performers over the next several years included Stan Kenton, Anita O’Day, Chuck Mangione, Buddy Rich, Count Basie and his band, Woody Herman, and others. Stars like Clint Eastwood, Frank Sinatra, and Herb Alpert hung out to hear great music. Musicians like Dizzy Gillespie, James Galway, Doc Severinsen, and others often sat in with the band. Magazines and books as diverse as Westways, Frommers, Fodor’s, and California called it one of the best jazz clubs in the Los Angeles area.
The club began slowly going down hill after the McKays left, leaving too much on Leverette’s plate. Other similar clubs began competing against it. IRS problems took a hit as well. In the mid-to-late 1980s, the club fought to stay in business. On December 18, 1987, tenor saxophonist Warne Marsh suffered a heart attack on stage, dropped from his stool, and died in the middle of a performance.
In a April 2, 1988, Los Angeles Times story, Leverette, who was in ill health, stated that he was selling and that Donte’s would be redecorated and reopened. His son-in-law found him slumped over his bed, dead, in his office at the club on April 6, a day after escrow closed and three days after the club closed.
Foichi Akemoto, Japanese businessman, purchased the club for $300,000 in July 1988, planning on remodeling and opening. He was approached by David Robert Silvert, a so-called talent manager and real estate developer, who claimed he wanted to open a Donte’s record label and re-open the club. Akemoto financed Silvert’s loan,, which ended up a disaster. On April 21, 1989, Silvert was jailed in Arizona on five real estate fraud charges, for defrauding an elderly woman out of her property and money. Akemoto was left in financial straits over the deal, hoping to sell the building to recoup his own money.
In 1999, a developer began buying businesses on the block, and eventually Century West BMW built a giant showroom/garage on the site of these clubs and other businesses. Now just a memory, these operations entertained generations of music lovers before fading into the sunset.