A postcard of Roy Harlow’s Pump Room, courtesy of Mary Mallory.
Ventura Boulevard has been the dining and entertainment mecca of Studio City residents back to 1927, when the area was still part of North Hollywood. Originally a main highway connecting Santa Barbara with Hollywood and Los Angeles, Ventura Boulevard evolved into a major business corridor for the area as well, thanks to the highway and the construction of the Mack Sennett Studios.
More celebrity driven or upscale restaurants lined the street, offering a more high tone evening for those with some money to spend. Many proffered free entertainment with the purchase of dinner, often with top drawer talent. Most featured hearty fare in elegant surroundings, appealing to the better classes.
Roy Harlow’s Pump Room catered to those striving towards higher rungs of the ladder, while surviving on more pedestrian incomes. First opened in 1946 at 14445 Ventura Blvd. in Sherman Oaks, Harlow’s Pump Room featured a wide range of cocktails to complement steaks and chops while offering free entertainment to dinner patrons.
In the late 1930s, Harlow sold used cars and lived at 4109 Rhodes Avenue in North Hollywood. He hoped to form something a little more classy and relaxed than trying to get customers to purchase trade-ins and well used automobiles. His Pump Room was modeled after the 200-year-old Pump Room in Bath, England, a high end salon that was part of the coastal town’s spa. After two years, Harlow moved the restaurant into Studio City, locating it at 13003 Ventura Blvd., and added an organ to provide musical accompaniment to dinner.
His eatery featured hearty dinner specials for $1, which included appetizer, soup or salad, vegetable, eat, dessert, and drink, a deal. His prices were affordable for middle class families or couples looking for a night out.
Located near Coldwater Canyon Boulevard, his establishment found itself vulnerable to robbery. On April 25, 1952, the nightclub was held up by four gunmen who took $400, and shot a patron. Frank Chapman the bartender reported in the April 28, 1952 Van Nuys News that many thought it was a joke, as the men had come in earlier and ordered drinks, asking organist Randy Sauls to play “Blue Skies” and then leaving. They returned ten minutes later carrying pistols, shooting motion picture stills photographer Ed Cronenweth, who was sitting at the bar. The gunmen shot him through the back, with the bullet ending up in his abdomen. Guests and staff were rounded up, forced to step over the wounded Cronenweth, and then locked in a restroom after turning over money and jewelry.
A month later, all suspects and an additional woman accomplice were arrested. The May 24, 1952 Los Angeles Times reported on the melee regarding arresting the suspects. Two men and a woman were tracked down to Santa Barbara and surrendered, while two men in Reno exchanged gunfire with police before being arrested. Three men ended up admitting they took part in San Fernando Valley and Sunset Strip robberies, as well as shooting Cronenweth at the Pump Room. The group was implicated in twenty robberies, including of such restaurants and clubs as the Dresden Room and Skandia.
On October 16, 1953, gunmen struck again, armed with sawed off shotguns and snub nosed pistols, per the October 17, 1953 Los Angeles Times. The gang escaped with $2,000 in cash and jewelry, after emptying the safe and cash register and lining up patrons against the wall and forcing them to hand over jewelry, money, and other valuables.
As with the first robbery, the group was apprehended by police, and on January 21, 1954, five pled guilty, including an accomplice, to multiple robberies netting approximately $20,000. Four of the men had previously served time in prison, while one, S. De Witt Crenshaw, possessed a clean record. Thirty victims were prepared to testify in court. On February 17, four men were sentenced to prison after R. W. Sheppard withdrew his plea, and his case was continued.
These robberies were an aberration, the vast majority of the time the Pump Room welcomed middle class guests looking for a good family-style meal, an easy drink in the cocktail lounge, and a relaxing evening out. The eatery also welcomed groups to its private room for meetings and special events, like the League of Women Voters, the Boy Scouts, Toastmasters, the American Legion, the Rotary Club, the Red Cross, Kappa Kappa Gamma, B’nai B’rith, and the San Fernando Valley Republican Woman’s Club. Charity and social groups often met here.
By 1956, Roy Harlow began focusing his attention to his new Ram’s Horn restaurant in Encino, though he still owned the Pump Room. In 1958, Don Paul, Bob Kelley, and Bob Waterfield also served as hosts and owners along with Harlow. He sold off his interest that year, allowing the new proprietors to maintain the use of the name the Pump Room. They switched over to piano instead of organ for entertainment, but continued in the same vein as before.
On July 31,1961, the club suffered another robbery when a gun man approached the manager in the parking lot at 4:15 am, forcing him to open the safe, before escaping with $722.
The Pump Room continued serving Studio City and San Fernando Valley residents the same quality food and service through 1978 when it closed. Marrakesh Restaurant opened in its place in 1979, removing the pump handle and spout from the pump atop the sign, but leaving the exterior pretty much intact.
While the Pump Room is gone, its memory lingers with many who visited it over the years. The nightclub is one of many to serve Studio City restaurants, which, while gone, still see new eateries and clubs fill the same spots, continuing the tradition of serving San Fernando Valley patrons.