R.I.P. Old Old Spaghetti Factory Building 1924-2012

Yesterday a demolition crew pretty had much wiped out all that remained of the decrepit old Old Spaghetti Factory Building at 5939 Sunset Boulevard at the corner of Gordon Street. For years the building had been shuttered pending plans to build in its place a new 22-story mixed use project of 305 residential units and 40,000 square feet of commercial space. The owners of this project originally promised to retain at least the facade of the historic old building and incorporate it into their new design, but the big pile of bricks where the building was seems to indicate that these plans have changed. But fear not preservationists! Curbed LA reports the developers are preserving historic elements of the building – the existing trusses, fireplace and mantel. And these we are told, will be incorporated into the new building. UPDATE ON THE PRESERVATION OF THE BUILDING. SEE BELOW!

(Upper image via Google Earth. Lower via Curbed LA)

I don’t know how many will mourn the loss of this run down old building, but I think it deserves a proper send off anyway. I, for one, will miss it for at least the reason that now I have to drive all the way into the Inland Empire to get my brown butter and Mizithra cheese spaghetti fix. But I will also miss it because it was yet another part of “Old Hollywood,” gone forever. Over its nearly ninety-year history the building at 5939 Sunset lived many lives. It began life not as a low-priced Spaghetti house, but rather a high-end automobile showroom.

The Cleveland-built Peerless was one of the major luxury cars of its day and such a popular one with Hollywood stars there was good cause to bring a dealership directly into the film colony. In 1923, Stanley W. Smith, president of the local Peerless concern took out a ninety-nine year lease on the vacant lot at the northeast corner of Sunset and Gordon and commissioned prominent Los Angeles architect McNeal Swasey to design what would be the “last word” in automobile showrooms. A competent craftsman in the Spanish mode of design, Swasey was known for his fine residences such as the Lionel Barrymore house on Roxbury and the Hotel Constance in Pasadena. Swasey brought his sense of residential design to the $100,000 project creating an automobile showroom/garage that had “home-like” elements, albeit more mansion-like than home-like, but decidedly different from the typical car dealership. Visitors to the Spanish-style Peerless Showroom would arrive by way of a patio entrance framed by six massive columns. Passing through the heavily carved Spanish doors visitors would then enter a soaring two-story space anchored by a handsome fireplace. Heavy beamed ceilings soared overhead while the shiny Peerless cars reflected in the gleaming tile floors. Swasey ingeniously broke up the showroom space into four separate rooms, each with their own look and feel intended, of course, to give each Peerless car on display the “star treatment.”  Additional space was provided for a garage with company offices upstairs.

How the Los Angeles Times covered the opening of the Peerless Showroom.

When the grand new Peerless Showroom opened with a  gala event on the evening of Wednesday, June 25th, 1924, the Los Angeles Times gushed the showroom was “one of the most unique and distinctive to be found anywhere in the country.” As to be expected, the opening had all the trappings of a film premiere with many notables in attendance including Constance Talmadge; Marie Prevost; Edna Purviance; Charles Ray; Patsy Ruth Miller; producers E.M. Asher and John McCormick, all Peerless owners by coincidence. Only screenwriter June Mathis had to send her regrets as she was already en route to Italy for the start of filming on Ben Hur. The highlight of the event was not only the wonderous new building but the unveiling of the new Peerless 6 roadster, earning many “oohs and aahs” no doubt from the famous crowd.

As fine a car as the Peerless was, it did not survive the Depression and in the early 1930’s the company that produced them switched their factory completely over from producing cars to brewing beer, Carling Black Label Beer to be exact. With Peerless becoming beer, a new use was needed for 5939 Sunset Boulevard. For a short time it became the site of a “Tango Game” parlor, but was shut down by the authorities. Then it was reworked into a public events venue known as the Hollywood Auditorium hosting Hollywood’s first (and maybe last) annual food show with another stellar lineup that included Carole Lombard; Cesar Romero; and Pat O’Brien as invited guests.

By the end of 1934, 5939 Sunset had been revamped by noted Los Angeles architect Earl Heitschmidt into studios and offices for pioneer West Coast radio station KNX.  Heitschmidt’s modernization was so well received it was given a spread in Architectural Digest in 1935. KNX (which had been purchased by CBS in 1936) remained on the site until 1938 when it relocated down the street to the newly completed CBS Columbia Square at 6121 Sunset Boulevard designed by modernist master William Lescaze.

KNX Studio A. The studios were decorated by W & J Sloane.

Studio B

After KNX’s departure, the building got an exciting new use when legendary theatrical Impresario Max Reinhardt took over the space and turned it into his Max Reinhardt Studio Workshop, which provided space to workshop his upcoming productions as well as operating a school with a full range of classes taught by some pretty impressive teachers including acting by Paul Muni; Edward G. Robinson; Constance Collier and Basil Rathbone; music scoring by Erich Wolfgang Korngold; directing by William Dieterle and camera work by Karl Freund!

In 1944, 5939 Sunset returned to use as a radio station when KMPC relocated there from its longtime Wilshire Boulevard base. In 1952, KMPC was purchased by famed singing cowboy/entrepreneur Gene Autry for a reported $800,000 and it became part of his burgeoning Golden West Broadcasting. KMPC remained on the site as a studio until 1968 when Autry moved it across the street to 5858 Sunset Boulevard. After a fire in 1970 nearly destroyed it, the old building at 5939 Sunset found yet another new life as a restaurant with the 1976 opening of the Old Spaghetti Factory and for the next quarter century lived a happily cheesy existence satisfying countless tourists, families, and families of tourists not to mention untold birthday parties with festively presented plates of steaming spaghetti served and consumed in spaces where the likes of Max Reinhardt. Marie Prevost, Gene Autry, Edward G. Robinson and Paul Muni once held sway.

So while the march of progress may be unstoppable, it’s still a little sad for me at least to see some of what falls in its wake.

R.I.P. old Old Spaghetti Factory. My arteries will never forget you!

UPDATE: I received today (Friday) the following communication from my friend Richard Adkins, president of Hollywood Heritage regarding the story behind efforts to preserve the building or at least as much of the historic elements as possible. Thanks Richard!!!

Before the current misconceptions on the status of the Spaghetti  Factory becomes assumed fact, let me fill you in on some details.
The building in the various surveys of historic resources in Hollywood had  been so compromised over the years and any building that was nearby was gone  removing this particular buildings context and importance. It was considered a  contributor and possibly could be more significant pending further research.
The late Robert Nudelman, on behalf of Hollywood Heritage, Inc. negotiated  an agreement with the then-owners to retain the building while erecting a larger  structure behind. When CIM purchased the building, they inherited the agreement.  They contacted Hollywood Heritage in order to proceed with their construction  according to the agreement. Investigation on the site revealed that the  unreinforced masonry would not allow restoration of the walls as subsequent  owners had applied a thick layer of gunnite onto the original facade, which is  why KNX had square pillars rather than original Doric columns (The Spaghetti  Factory removed both the square encapsulated columns and the originals and  replaced them with taller Corinthian columns without the appropriate height  lintel above them). CIM proposed to rebuild the facade using original  window frames and return it to the Peerless showroom appearance under the  supervision of a preservation architect and Hollywood Heritage. CIM did  not take advantage of the existing agreement with Hollywood Heritage by  making it public before demolishing the old structure. The  mantel, the windows and the trusses (all the remained of the Peerless  detailing) were carefully removed as were other details which could not be  removed and saved and the building was extensively photographed  and architectural drawings were made of the original structure for  preservation purposes before the bulldozers arrived.
The interior details will be reinstalled in the new structure and the  facade restored to its original appearance.

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19 Responses to R.I.P. Old Old Spaghetti Factory Building 1924-2012

  1. Always great research. Thanks for the history of this place! As a location scout, I’d always wanted to check it out, but never had the chance….

  2. Dee says:

    ALL that marvelous Los Angeles history buried under a pile of rubble — except for your blog. Thank you, Steve.

  3. Scott Zwartz says:

    A horrible crime has been committed against art, architecture, and history, and the perpetrator wants to be mayor … Look at the rumble and you’ll see what Garcetti will make of L.A.

  4. Pingback: PreservationWatch: Old Spaghetti Factory Will Be Recreated For Sunset Blvd. Tower | LA News Talk Radio

  5. Pingback: PreservationWatch: Old Spaghetti Factory Will Be Recreated For Sunset Blvd. Tower | Find An Apartment In La

  6. Marvin Stone says:

    Thanks, Steve . . . for this fascinating history of the site of the Old Spaghetti Factory and its many other incarnations over much of the 20th century. You are such a vital preservationist for so much of the early history of Hollywood and greater Los Angeles . . . please keep up your great work.

  7. Hal Mason says:

    you can’t bring it back!

  8. Suzanne says:

    Even though this was a low-priced Spaghetti restaurant, it was a lot of fun to go there. Many times I’d gone to sit at one of the tables that resembled an ornamental iron bed. The atmosphere was always cheerful and fun, full of kids and families. I’d even been on a few dates there in my youth! While the food wasn’t so great, it was the atmosphere you went there for. The historical building was beautiful, and will be missed. Too bad Hollywood is under such destruction.

  9. Cathy Vera says:

    We lived on Gordon St. for 18 years and had many a good meal there. Sorry to learn of it’s demise.

  10. Vanessa says:

    Sorry to see it go. As bad as it was, still kind of miss the Old Spaghetti Factory

  11. pete arbogast says:

    i grew up there, watching my dad work alongside many greats at kmpc. gave me an idea that i might like a career in radio.

  12. Steve as always thank you for your wonderful and important work. While I’m incredibly sad that the building is gone, I’m infuriated that the demo went about in such a way as to give the appearance of stealth. I would just hope that in future that developers and preservationists alike would be a little more open and forthcoming with things that they know rather than letting a community of people just wake up to a parking lot full of rubble.

    You can imagine my surprise after giving one of my walking tours on Tues. (21st) and telling my tour guests about the history of the building, only to come to the same point on Wed. (22nd) and saying to a new group of tour guests, “Oh my god there was a building here yesterday!”.

    “….which is why KNX had square pillars rather than original Doric columns….”
    I’m looking at the first photo in this post and those ‘square pillars’ of KNX sure look awful round to me.

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  15. Nancy Blair says:

    McNeal Swasey was my grandfather. I didn’t know he had built this building, tho I am aware of many others. Any info of his work would be much appreciated. Great work.

  16. kelly sullivan says:

    Mizithra and meatsauce since i am 5. I was there in the 70’s. Every occasion every visitor we always went there. Ice cream was the best! Pretty crazy i would love to be a resident because i know the odor would be comforting. I celebrated my 21st birthday there, and so many others. So sad to lose it.

  17. DTomich says:

    Let it go folks. The new structure is beautiful. Much of the original architecture has been recreated to preserve the feel of the old building. Much needed residential space along with subterranean parking and a new park have been added. Progress is inevitable. Let’s just be thankful for a beautiful new structure!

  18. Kenneth Frey says:

    I grew up in So Cal – Santa Monica, primarily, and was at UCLA in my college years. My first waiter job from about ’78 to ’80 was at the Spaghetti Factory. I’m a hopeless sentimentalist thanks to my mom’s love of all things Hollywood. I’ve only found out about the history of this (sorely missed) building in the past few years.

    I have many fond memories of being a server there. Taking the warm sourdough bread loves from the drawer and eating them with the fantastic garlic butter. The occasional meatball or tenderloin handed us from the cooks as we worked the tables and trolley car out front. Working the night when Andy Kaufman invited guests from a concert nearby (c. 1978?) to the restaurant for cookies and milk. And yes, we served them cookies and milk!

    My favorite memory was getting to serve a private banquet attended by my then (and still) heart throb – Susan Anton. Many wonderful memories of my brief time in this venerable building. They say the only constant is change, and there’s probably no city in America where that is more true than LA.

    As long as we have writers like Steve, and those of us who follow him, these historic sites, buildings, and memories will live on in spirit. Thanks Steve!

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