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The Nightclubs Of 1920's & 1930's Culver City, CA

Culver City, CA at the height of Prohibition
Culver City, CA at the height of Prohibition
The Day The Circus Came To Town-Author

With the repeal of the Volstead Act in 1933, which ended Prohibition, local bars and diners sprung up all over the area. In reality, booze was freely flowing through the former Rancho La Ballona, as speakeasies and bring-your-own-booze places had been flourishing for many years.

Westchester was still mostly farmland and undeveloped, with the exception of the new university, Loyola University, which had opened in 1928. Over in Culver City, the moving picture business was booming, and many of those places catered to the moguls and stars of the Hollywood scene.

The undisputed champion of the day was Frank Sebastian’s Cotton Club.
Sebastian's customers enjoyed "Las Vegas type" acts at his club at 6500 Washington Boulevard (at National), having moved there from Windward Avenue in Venice. It offered valet parking, three dance floors, and full orchestras, and secret gambling rooms, rivaling the club of the same name in New York.

Louis Armstrong headlined at Sebastian's Cotton Club, and in fact lived on Wade Street in Culver City. Lionel Hampton acknowledged that he started out at the age of 18, in 1926 at the Cotton Club with Les Hite. Hampton remembered Sebastian being tired of his old band after a few years, so he brought in Louis Armstrong to front Les Hite. Hampton recalled Sebastian's introduction of Armstrong and Hampton as "The world's greatest trumpet player, Louis Armstrong, with the world's fastest drummer, Lionel Hampton."

Next to Frank Sebastian's Cotton Club, Roscoe "Fatty" Arbuckle's Plantation Café was probably the next best-known nightspot in Culver City. Arbuckle established his nightclub on Washington Boulevard, across from La Ballona School, which Arbuckle attended as a child. Arbuckle had been a huge film star.

In 1921, at the height of his popularity, "Fatty" Arbuckle's career was destroyed by scandal. Arbuckle opened the Plantation Café in 1928, as a way to get back in the Hollywood spotlight. On opening night, Fatty Arbuckle performed a comedy routine for his peers in the film world, like Charlie Chaplin, Mae Murray, Buster Keaton, Mary Pickford, Douglas Fairbanks, and Tom Mix.

The Plantation Café went under with the crash of the stock market. Fatty Arbuckle died in 1933 at the age of 46, never able to accomplish his planned comeback. Sadly, the day he died he had been given a new contract with Warner Brothers.

In July of 1935, Frank Sebastian was jailed for contempt of court when he refused to answer grand jury questions regarding illegal liquor and gambling at his club. He was rumored to have mob ties. The Cotton Club closed in 1938. It later became Casa Manana under different ownership, and later Zucca's Opera House. It burned to the ground on February 20, 1950.

FRANK SEBASTIAN’S COTTON CLUB, 1930. Headliner Louis Armstrong was the rage from about 1930 to 1932. Of course he want on to be one the biggest celebrities in Hollywood. On November 14, 1930, Armstrong and his drummer Vic Berton snuck out to the parking lot of the Cotton Club to smoke a joint between sets. He spent nine days in jail. It turns out he was set-up by a competing club owner who paid local police detectives to arrest the very popular performer. (Complements, The Day The Circus Came To Town, Author).

ROSCOE “FATTY” ARBUCKLE. Arbuckle was one the of highest earning stars of the day, but hit rock bottom when he was arrested on manslaughter and rape charges. Between November 1921 and April 1922, Arbuckle endured three widely publicized trials for the rape and manslaughter of actress Virginia Rappe. Rappe had fallen ill at a party hosted by Arbuckle at the St. Francis Hotel in San Francisco in September 1921; she died four days later. Arbuckle was accused by Rappe's acquaintance of raping and accidentally killing Rappe. After the first two trials, which resulted in hung juries, Arbuckle was acquitted in the third trial and received a formal written apology from the jury. (Complements, The Day The Circus Came To Town, Author).