Just looking at this aging, unassuming hotel on Ivar Avenue, you probably wouldn't guess that it had much of a Hollywood history. But you'd be dead wrong.
Today, it may be just an apartment house for senior citizens, but back in the 1920's, the Knickerbocker Hotel was at the heart of Hollywood - and it played a key role in Tinseltown history for decades. The Renaissance Revival/Beaux Arts style structure began life as a luxury apartment building, before becoming a hotel later in its history.
hung out at the hotel bar, and reportedly liked to tango dance here.
The hotel lobby features a large crystal chandelier, which cost $120,000 in the 1920's - which would be over $1 million today's dollars. It is under this very chandelier that epic film director D.W. Griffith ("Birth of a Nation," "Intolerance") died of a stroke on July 21, 1948.
Remember the movie "Francis," starring Jessica Lange as the ill-fated actress Frances Farmer? It was here that the real Frances Farmer was arrested in 1942, and dragged half-naked from her room, beginning the ugly spiral that resulted in her eventual lobotomy.
Legend has it that author William Faulkner and Meta Carpenter, a script girl at 20th Century Fox, began their 18-year affair at the Knickerbocker.
Marilyn Monroe honeymooned here with Joe Dimaggio in January of 1954.
Elvis Presley enjoyed staying at the Knickerbocker; in suite 1016. He was here in 1956, while he was shooting "Love Me Tender." He also posed for "Heartbreak Hotel" photos in one of its rooms.
A young Ricky Nelson showed up there unexpectedly, telling Elvis' backup group, the Jordanaires, that he wanted to do some recording. The singers took him under their wing, taught him a few guitar chords, and eventually recorded with him on most of his albums.
Fellow rocker rocker Jerry Lee Lewis ("Great Balls of Fire!") also liked to stay here, back in his heyday.
Other stars who lived at the Knickerbocker include Frank Sinatra, Barbara Stanwyck, Lana Turner, Mae West, Laurel & Hardy, Larry Fine of the Three Stooges, and Cecil B. DeMille.
Producer Art Linson ("Fight Club," "The Untouchables," "Fast Times at Ridgemont High") grew up at the Knickerbocker and named his Knickerbocker Productions company after the hotel
On November 15, 1962, a costume designer to the stars named Irene jumped to her death from a hotel window. She had designed costumes for over 100 Hollywood movies, including "Easter Parade" and several "Thin Man" films. She was distraught over money problems (and some say over the death of Gary Cooper.)
William Frawley, who played Fred Mertz on "I Love Lucy," lived at the hotel for decades. On March 3, 1966, he was coming back to the Knickerbocker when he dropped dead of a heart attack on the sidewalk in front of the hotel. His nurse dragged him into the lobby in an attempt to revive him, but it was too late.
Because of all this, the hotel bar was considered haunted by some, so the bar area was boarded up and left unused for almost 25 years, before it was re-opened in the 90's as a posh, nostalgic coffee shop called "The All-Star Theatre Café & Speakeasy." Unfortunately, the Café lost its lease recently and planned to move to the nearby Vogue Theatre (which also has a reputation for being haunted).
The café did its best to bring back the Art Deco glamour of the Roaring 20's - the chandeliers originally belonged to Liberace, and you still found a Ouija board on one of the coffee shop's tables, in honor of Mr. Houdini. You could play pool, backgammon or chess, relax on overstuffed sofas... they even sold vintage evening gowns and jewelry on the side.
The All-Star Café also hosted studio wrap parties and film shoots, attracting the likes of Sandra Bullock and Leonardo DiCaprio.
According to some
ghost-hunters, the bar was still haunted. The ghost of Valentino was said
to drop by occasionally, along with the ghost of Marilyn (who prefers the
women's restroom) and a few anonymous spirits. And if you showed up the night
before Halloween, you might have be able to attend the Café's annual
Houdini Halloween Séance.
(You can't go into the hotel itself - it has a secured main entrance. But you can glimpse the grand chandelier through the front door.)
Getting there: The Knickerbocker is located just one block west of the Capitol Records building. From Hollywood & Vine, go just one block west, and turn right (north) on Ivar. The Hotel will be on your right (east) side.
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