Crossroads of the World

October 29, 1936 – “Tonight! Hollywood hails a new wonder.” Crossroads of the World’s opening gala presented itself as a glamorous spectacle replete with shopping, music and performances, and the attendance of international film stars including several Universal film players, Boris Karloff, and actors from Cuba, Italy, and Russia, among others. Occupying an entire city block, the world’s first planned outdoor shopping mall described as a “miniature city,” a “continental villa” and a “galaxy of beautiful buildings” was designed by architect Robert Vincent Derrah, and commissioned by Ella Crawford who owned the land. Crawford was the widow of Charles E. Crawford – the notorious “Gray Wolf of Spring Street,” a 1920s LA crime lord. In 1931, Mr. Crawford was killed in broad daylight by district attorney, David Clark, on the future site of Crossroads of the World. Mr. Crawford’s ghost has lived on, serving as inspiration to several of Raymond Chandler’s literary villains.

Architectural Map of Crossroads of the World

Photo via Crossroads of the World

Mrs. Crawford transformed the crime-ridden land she owned into a site of internationally influenced shopping, dining, and entertainment in the heart of Hollywood. With an initial construction budget of $250,000, Derrah employed mixed architectural styles including Spanish, Turkish, Italian, and French. Perhaps most notable is the streamline moderne building (one of both of our favorite architectural styles) at the Sunset Boulevard entrance. In its day, the building housed shops and a bar, and architecturally, it resembles an ocean liner complete with porthole windows. Atop the would-be ship is a 30-foot tower and revolving globe. In addition to shops, offices, patios, and walkways, there also was the Playhouse that in 1937 was home to the puppet show “Marionettes Go Hollywood” featuring the likes of Mae West. At one point there were plans to build an international film theater, which never came to fruition. Crossroads of the World later doubled as a set for LA Confidential. Sid Hudgens’ (Danny DeVito) office occupied one of the offices on the property, and you may remember seeing the globe tower in an early scene in the film.

It’s amazing how much of Crossroads of the World has survived to this day.  Some shops and a number of offices still inhabit the old shopping center, but the glamour and hustle and bustle have all but faded. The Sunset Boulevard entrance remains gated off – by some stroke of luck the gate was unlocked when we went to explore – and is only accessible by walking or driving through a side parking lot that opens up into the center of the property. A security guard roaming the premises was the only other person we saw walking around. Oddly, it felt like a perfectly preserved ghost town in the middle of Hollywood.

Postcard from Crossroads of the World

Photo via Los Angeles Public Library

The fate of Crossroads of the World is currently up for debate. Once Mrs. Crawford died in 1953, the property changed hands several times and began to decline.  The current owner, Morton LaKretz, purchased the property in 1974, which prompted a total restoration. Current plans call for a massive redevelopment of the area, which would thankfully preserve much of the site, but would also add new retail, office, and residential space, along with a 26-story hotel. While the property absolutely deserves to be revitalized, we can’t help but think how the space would look and feel without the hotel, modern additions, and Sunset Boulevard gates. Here’s to hoping that efforts are made to restore Crossroads of the World to some version of the quaint yet glamorous shopping, dining, and entertainment center it once was.

Crossroads of the World is located at 6671 Sunset Boulevard. The site is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and the California Register of Historic Places.

 
 

Crossroads of the World

Photo via Finding Lost Angeles (2017)

Crossroads of the World

Photo via Los Angeles Public Library

 
 
 

Sources:
"All-Star Cast of Puppets to Give show." Los Angeles Times (1923-Current File): 10. Jul 23 1937. ProQuest. Web. 11 Aug. 2017.
Crossroads of the World
"Display Ad 7 -- no Title." Los Angeles Times (1923-Current File): 6. Oct 29 1936. ProQuest. Web. 11 Aug. 2017.
"Display Ad 22 -- no Title." Los Angeles Times (1923-Current File): 1. Dec 16 1936. ProQuest. Web. 11 Aug. 2017 .
"Hollywood's Unique "Crossroads of the World" Project Makes Bow to Public in Premiere Tonight." Los Angeles Times (1923-Current File): 6. Oct 29 1936. ProQuest. Web. 11 Aug. 2017 .
"Stars from all Nations to be Present at Opening." Los Angeles Times (1923-Current File): 6. Oct 29 1936. ProQuest. Web. 11 Aug. 2017 .