The Food House is a faded memory. Chalk it up to another place I never stepped inside. The generically named market heralded by bold deco letters was a standout on Sunset Boulevard until it was gone. Did The Food House ever really exist? Thankfully, sometimes a photograph is more reliable than memory.
In 1936, the Silverlake structure was built on Sunset between Edgecliff and Maltman in the Childs Heights Tract by Virgil Investment Co. The property operated as a market for over 60 years. It seems Food House Markets may have been a short lived chain in the LA area, having at least one other location on West Adams Street.
It’s unclear exactly when Food House came into the picture, but in 1940 a sign tower was constructed that would display their eye-catching vertical signage. (That tower still exists today, bearing the “99¢ Only Store” sign.) From the looks of it, Food House had great deals on all of the basic food groups: vodka, wine, and refried beans.
In November 1960, the Silverlake Food House made LA Times headlines when a dynamic duo of masked bandits attempted a crackpot overnight heist. Using the cover of nightfall, the pair breached the grocery store via the roof. While hard at work safe-cracking, the thieves helped themselves to some late night hors d’oeuvres and beer courtesy of the Food House. Turns out, that was the extent of their robbery as the looting was interrupted by the morning market manager and the cash was left behind in the scuffle.
Ultimately, like so many Los Angeles markets, the Food House shuttered. At some point in the late 90’s the signage came off the building and the letters sat on the roof for a while. Then in 1999, a 99¢ Store took over and the rest is history… for now.
Right next door to Jones Decorating sits the Olive Motel. The motel dates back to 1946. With its “L” shaped layout, rounded corners, flat roof, and classic neon signs, the Streamline Moderne Olive Motel is an iconic holdout amidst the rapidly changing Silverlake landscape.
Back in the dog days of August 2015, I took an evening walk around the neighborhood to cool off. As I turned onto Sunset, the familiar neon glow of the Olive Motel beckoned me to to snap a photograph.
A couple days later the sign was gone. It had been taken down to make way for some crummy new signs that carry the Olive Motel name but none of the original style.
The Olive may have lost its original signs but the motel lives on, perhaps persevering on pure grit. These days, the motel has a seedy reputation perhaps best known for rooms rented by the hour or a murder that occurred there in 2007, but what has always stood out to me is the understated art deco design that holds its own in the face of a neighborhood fast-flipping to gentrification.
The most striking thing about the Olive Motel is the remarkable human behind the design. Her name is Edith Mortenson Northman, the first licensed female architect in Los Angeles.
Northman cracked into the man’s world of architecture forging a steady independent career making her mark by designing over 100 buildings including residences, gas stations, motels, churches, temples, war effort projects and factories many of which are still standing today.
Northman was born in Denmark in 1893. As a child, she loved to watch buildings being built but back then such a thing was considered unbecoming for a lady. Edith came to the US with her family when she was 21. During a brief stint as a librarian, she read an article that reignited her fire to pursue architecture.
And that’s just what she did. She got a degree in architecture at USC and was licensed by 1931. Northman soon kickstarted a humble yet successful solo architecture practice with just one draftsman, bucking the odds of the economic depression while being a woman in a highly male profession.
Being a rarity in the species of architects, Edith caught Hollywood’s eye. When Samuel Goldwyn was producing a screwball comedy about the hijinx of a fictional female architect called Woman Chases Man, Northman was recruited to advise on the film.
Observing on set, she commented that the architect character played by Miriam Hopkins did “quite unbelievable things in the pursuit of the illusive client.”
Outside of her prolific career, Edith Northman strongly advocated for women to enter the field of architecture and construction. She aptly noted that “Women are no longer a curiosity in the field. They are just as qualified after training to design in the many architectural fields as men.”
Northman also believed in community service, participating in many philanthropic clubs and bringing her skills to the community teaching courses to the general public who wanted to be educated in home building.
Sadly, a diagnosis of Parkinson’s disease in the early 1950’s rendered Edith Northman unable to hold a pencil, bringing a tragic end to a brilliant career. She died in 1956 but certainly not in vain. Edith Northman was a visionary that paved the way for designing women everywhere leaving a legacy of amazing architecture all over southern California and beyond.
“I started drinking before you people were born. I’ll be drinking after I bury you.”- Charles Bukowski
Chances are it’d be hard to figure all the joints Bukowski bellied up to. His domain was Hollywood and Western for a chunk of his life when he was boozing/ writing poetry and prose by day and sticking mail at the post office by night. There’s a neat video of him reminiscing about his old neighborhood here.
That hood has changed a lot since those days with arrival of the Metro Red Line and scads of soul-less structures filled with fast food and big box stores which knocked out whole city blocks of mom and pop shops. It used to have equal parts grit and personality… lots of bars, liquor stores, and street life.
Though Bukowski was long gone (moved to San Pedro in the late 70’s) the area still had flavor in the 80’s and 90’s when we captured these pix. This dive was on Western– perhaps he tipped a few back here before getting 86’d. Notice the sex shop next door.
The Study is wedged between a hotel and a liquor store that Bukowski recalls, so maybe he did some “studying” here as well. This spot became a gay bar in the ’90’s and has now been erased from the landscape all together. I remember it having a pot belly fire pit inside, providing refuge from the cruel LA weather I guess.
Buk is said to have ventured west on Hollywood Blvd. to the Frolic Room, which keeps pouring ’em strong to this day.
Big Ed’s was a classic Culver City watering hole, popular among actors, gamblers, & hustlers in ’40s & ‘50s. It seems a stretch to think Bukowski would have been a regular here as it falls so far outside of his home turf.
It had its last last call in the late ‘80s. Just before shuttering, it was transformed into The Golden Horn bar, the setting of the cult movie, “Barfly”, the only screenplay penned by Bukowski. If you squint, you may be able to imagine the Golden Horn neon atop the Big Ed’s. Bukowski had a cameo as a bar patron towards the end of the movie, so maybe just maybe he did drink here after all…
Sometime after the movie was made Big Ed’s was razed, but not before being mysteriously burned, which is when this shot was snapped. Wouldn’t you know it became a parking lot. Now that’s poetry.
Find more photography of old Los Angeles dive bars here.