A concrete den of sex, scandal, and intrigue. A stunning example of Mayan Revival American architecture. A glamorous Hollywood haunt. And perhaps where Elizabeth Short, the Black Dahlia, met her deadly demise. For more than 90 years, the Sowden House has captured the morbid curiosity of true crime fiends, Old Hollywood lovers and architecture admirers alike. Today, the Sowden House exists as equal parts history and mystery thanks to shocking headlines, crime theories, and on-screen portrayals, not to mention its ominous presence looming high over Franklin Avenue. But aside from the home’s scandalized tales that have long been seared into the popular imagination, what do we really know about the Sowden House?
On February 25, 1942, the city of Los Angeles awoke to a startling and terrifying scene: “powerful searchlights from countless stations stabbed the sky with brilliant probing fingers while anti-aircraft batteries dotted the heavens with beautiful, if sinister, orange bursts of shrapnel.” To Angelinos―already on edge from the Japanese attacks on Pearl Harbor just a few months earlier, and attacks off the coast of Santa Barbara the night before―it seemed as though the nightmare of an attack on the contiguous United States had arrived in their own backyard. Yet when the dust cleared the day after the “Battle of Los Angeles,” it left more questions than answers. Even today, now 77 years later, what really took place during “The Great LA Air Raid” in the early hours of the morning of February 25, 1942 remains a mystery.
Since the early days of LA’s Chinatown, the Golden Dragon Parade has remained the main event of New Year celebrations. One 1927 article recalls:
"The great, green Chinese dragon which has been hibernating somewhere in the mysterious precincts of Chinatown, has awakened from his year of slumber… in preparation for his single public appearance on Saturday at 10:30 a.m., when the [Chinese] new year reaches its climax in a parade through the streets of Chinatown… To any evil spirits that chance to be lurking in the vicinity of Chinatown let it be said that the mystic fire-eating, snorting monster will stalk the streets Saturday morning bent on the destruction of all their number who come within his path.”
Now, more than 90 years later, the sights and sounds of the annual Golden Dragon Parade remain the same--Chinese New Year rituals of community, revelry, good will, and celebration fill the streets of Los Angeles’ Chinatown.
The Dunbar Hotel and Club Alabam were once the crown jewels of the thriving Jazz Corridor of Central Avenue beginning in the 1920s. These cultural and racial safe havens, where patrons found both connection and entertainment, represented a flourishing center of African American life in Los Angeles. Today, life on Central Avenue is markedly different both from its heyday in the 1920s-1940s, and its years marked by disinvestment beginning in the 1960s. Despite decades of change and strife, the physical building, and the sense of community that the Dunbar and Alabam created, live on today.
Initially reading “HOLLYWOODLAND” and emblazoned brightly above the City of Angels, the Hollywood Sign is one of LA’s most recognizable landmarks, and possibly the most famous advertisement in the world. Today, the sign is as synonymous with the television and film industry as Hollywood itself. But these towering letters among the Hollywood Hills, which only recently celebrated their 95th birthday, originated simply as an advertisement for a new housing community known as “Hollywoodland.”
Imagine for a moment some quintessential images of any noir film or novel—an unsolved murder; cops with questionable motives; starry-eyed Hollywood hopefuls on the wrong path; the moonlight shining through horizontal blinds and a puff of cigarette smoke; the dull humming of a glowing neon sign outside; and of course, a dark, seedy motel at the center of it all. While these images could easily be straight out of a Raymond Chandler novel, in Hollywood, where the line between fiction and reality is so frequently blurred, there’s a place where all of these scenes played out at one time or another: the Hollywood Center Motel. Today, the tired motor court sits like an old movie prop along Sunset Boulevard, cast aside after playing a part in movies like L.A. Confidential. But the history of this decaying motel, tucked away behind a worn breezeblock wall, is no less interesting.
One avid collector of Disneyland memorabilia, Robert Kraft, has amassed an impressive range of artifacts that span the 60+ years since the park first opened its gates in Anaheim, CA. Before all the items hit the auction block, he’s giving them a proper send-off with a pop-up exhibit that is free and open to the public.
Those famous words, "through these portals pass the most beautiful girls in the world," emblazoned in bright neon above Sunset Boulevard, once beckoned people from across Los Angeles to come to see one of the most glamorous, risque, and tantalizing shows the world had ever known. This was the famous Vanities at Hollywood’s Earl Carroll Theater; a revue known as much for the soaring music, infectious comedy, and elaborate costumes as it was for the scantily-clad performers themselves. Yet today, the now-empty theater shows no signs of the grandeur that attracted a packed house of moviegoers and movie stars alike during its brief, but unforgettable mark on Los Angeles during Hollywood’s heyday.