Nickodell was nestled between KHJ Channel 9 and Paramount Studios on Melrose, almost as if it were a part of the studio complex. I was lucky enough to go there (way past its heyday) in the 80’s to grab an ice cream at the counter on a trip to the Paramount lot. I even snapped a shot of the mighty neon sign atop the building. Traveling up Melrose nowadays, I can almost still see it through the fog of history.
In 1936, restauranteur Nick Slavich took over the joint originally called the Melrose Grotto, and made it his own, at some point re-dubbing it Nickodell, a mash-up his and his wife’s names. (He owned another Nickodell a bit north on Argyle, but that’s another story.) It was an eatery (and boozery), largely popular with studio types, dishing out old school American fare like steaks, baked potatoes, and beloved Caesar salads.
Nickodell closed in November of ’93 and was subsequently demolished by Paramount in ’94 to make way for a few more spots in their parking lot, leaving us only with a few matchbooks and fond memories.
I arrived in Hollywood with a camera just in time to take one of the last shots of Tiny Naylor’s Drive In at Sunset and La Brea before it was flattened. The roof resembled an aircraft carrier and I half expected fighter jets to arrive and save this place from the destructive forces of commerce and modernization. Hell, when I was a kid modern meant cool. Modern meant a roofline like Tiny Naylor’s, a jet-age version of a 1950’s malt-burger sci-fi flick drive in. But Tiny N’s version of modern was itself modernized into a bad stucco strip-mall. And today you can order franchised Crazy Chicken parts and never know that at this same site modern man & modern woman once drove up in modern finned American cars and sat beneath a flying rooftop eating burgers and malts.
Sometimes you can save an old building like the Sunset Grill but then you can’t save it from itself. There was quite some dust up over the demise of the Sunset Grill, a classic burger grill just east of Hollywood’s heartland. Guitar Center was going in next door and may have needed a parking lot. Or maybe they just didn’t want their cheap Japanese knock off Fenders to compete with the authentic grill and grease of a joint that probably spawned a thousand classic songs over the years. How authentic can a 1950’s replica of a Fender Tele seem next to the reality of the Sunset Grill? The dust up saved the Sunset Grill but today it resembles a stucco box. Gone are the stools, the grease, the soul of the place.
…that is until we close for good. Ships Coffee Shop. Los Angeles. Toasters on every table. Open 24 hours. Several locations. Arrows of neon pointing toward space. A place in the dreamscape of every kid who grew up in these parts of Los Angeles. Nope, they never closed, until they closed for good back in 1995. Whittled down to the last shop on La Cienega Blvd, then erased from the landscape. Family opened and family gone. The Culver City location, which was as close to Hollywood as one could get before actually hitting Hollywood Blvd., eventually became a Starbucks. There’s irony there but we’d rather not bother with the obvious. Google “Ships Coffee Shop” and you’ll come up with biographies and cool vintage shots. This shot’s from the last few years they existed. For some reason the sign was repainted just before the coffee shop closed for good. “Go figure,” as my Dad would say. Which means there’s no logic in the ever changing landscape of our Stripeycity.
Betty, our last waitress at Ships Culver City
To see a photo of Ships’ neon in full splendor against a smoggy LA sunset, visit the stripeycity shop.