Armstrong’s Cafe at 6600 Hollywood Blvd., courtesy of the California State Library.
The evolution of one address can reveal the revitalization and resurgence of a growing neighborhood or the mass commercialization and bland homogeneity of a district. 6600 Hollywood Blvd. provides ample evidence of the early development of Hollywood from a close-knit, intimate community into a money-driven commercial district.
During Hollywood’s formative years, Hollywood Boulevard was christened Prospect Avenue, a forward-thinking name for a farming community looking for prosperity and success. Only in 1910 did the community rechristen the street Hollywood Boulevard in recognition of their upcoming annexation by the city of Los Angeles. It was no longer just a regular thoroughfare but a boulevard of dreams.
“Hollywood Celebrates the Holidays” by Karie Bible and Mary Mallory is available at Amazon and at local bookstores.
In those early decades of Hollywood, human scale two to three story buildings lined the streets, catering to the needs of local residents. Garages, small markets, little cafes, and humble retail establishments focused on the necessary requirements for every day regular living.
On May 25, 1915, Leila B. Elliott of 6706 Selma Ave. applied for a building permit to construct a one-story garage from 6600-6604 Hollywood Blvd. The May 29, 1915, Southwest Builder and Contractor reported that Mrs. Elliott would build a one-story brick garage with E. E. Klarquist serving as contractor. In 1916, ads report that it served as a garage and seller for Kissel Kars under the leadership of C. F. Little. In 1921, it would serve as an official yellow taxi stand per Los Angeles Herald ads.
6600 Hollywood Blvd., via Google Street View.
By April 24, 1918, Elliott applied to divide her establishment into two rooms, creating a restaurant/cafe on the west side of the one-story brick building. The permit stated that she would install a wooden platform storehouse, small storage area, and restroom for the establishment, also noted in the 1919 Southwest Builder and Contractor magazine.
For a short time, the Trocadero Cafe operated at 6600 Hollywood Blvd. before Mrs. Elliott applied for another permit on December 30, 1920, to install a kitchen at the rear of the building. On January 10, 1921, she asked for another with the help of C. E. Toberman for work designed by architect H. H. Whiteley to plaster celings and walls, construct a counter, bar, and fixtures, install toilets, and plaster the brick on the front of the building. The front exterior was fashioned into a lovely Spanish Revival look with red tile roof, Moroccan style small windows, decorative arches around the windows, and elegant tile work around the entrance and windows.
An ad for the Hollywood Indian Grill, 6600 Hollywood Blvd., Screenland, 1922Screenland, 1922.
Around this time Arthur F. Armstrong took over the cafe section, expanding beyond his downtown cafe at 538 S. Spring St. in partnership with Ben H. Carleton to form the Armstrong and Carleton Indian Grill. Their upscale restaurant attracted the motion picture crowd, becoming a popular luncheon location for stars filming in the area, and thus a tourist magnet as well.
Also known under the name “Blue Front Cafe,” for the blue paint on the front facade, Armstrong’s Cafe gained renown in fan magazines. Actress Mae Busch and director George Melford posed out front in 1922 for Photoplay magazine, with another photo showing stars Thomas Meighan, Conrad Nagel, and Lois Wilson among others pictured. The caption hints that Rudolph “Ruddy” Valentino sits quietly in a corner. The 1922 “Hollywood Snapshots” newsreel even shows actress Viola Dana inside the front window eating lunch.
New Movie Magazine in January 1933 shared reminisces of the place, calling it a “fine dining in the pre-autograph days, here before fans missed lunch to see their idols going for it.” The issue also reported that Adolph Menjou entertained guests with impressions of well known people using the Yiddish dialect.
Good things don’t always last, and neither did the Armstrong and Carleton Cafe. By 1929, Hollywood Blvd. frontage skyrocketed in price as the street’s commercial prospects zoomed with new construction of department stores, banks, and the like. After ten years in business at 6600 Hollywood Blvd., Armstrong used his buyout to open the Armstrong Schroder Cafe at the intersection of Wilshire Boulevard and Santa Monica Boulevard in 1930.
A June 16, 1929, Los Angeles Times story announced the 50 year leasing of the 5,000 square foot 6600-6606 Hollywood Blvd. for the construction of a $175,000 department store, with “terra cotta facing ornamented by wrought iron work.” Orndorff Construction Co. would serve as contractor.
Viola Dana in “Hollywood Snapshots,” 19221922.
Over the next several months, additional permits slowly note repairs and remodeling. A demolition permit was issued for the building on August 31, 1929, with a September 11 permit noting a new storefront, grill, and restrooms. J. J. Newberry Company’s name finally appears on the September 13 permit. Eventually the newly fashionable Art Deco style would replace the graceful Spanish Colonial look on the exterior of the building, along with a striking marquee years later. The building retained a blue front, only of a much different style.
While J. J. Newberry’s glamorous building attracted widespread admiration for its beauty and style, it lost its cachet with the in-crowd because of its five and dime merchandise. Though it served as a department store for over six decades, I can find no mention of filming or movie stars visiting it, though hundreds of ads fill the newspapers and stories of misfortune to employees run as well.
As Hollywood and its Boulevard sank into disrepair and dirtiness by the 1970s and 1980s as film studios, agents, and post production moved to places like Culver City, Burbank, and the like, business suffered in the store and in the five and dime business in general. Around 1990, J. J. Newberry moved on, to be replaced by Hollywood Toys and Costumes, still in operation today.
Hollywood is booming again today, and 6600 Hollywood still stands proudly at Hollywood Boulevard and Whitley Avenue. It and the other historic buiildings around it radiate charm, beauty, and history, the items attracting tourists both in the 1920s and today. Their elegant, human scale stands as a monument to the history of Hollywood, recognized through their status as a National Historic Landmark.