This self-guided walking tour explores West Hollywood’s most historic and culturally significant landmarks. The Old Sherman neighborhood is a collection of sites that harken back to the earliest days of the city’s history. These buildings and sites played an integral role not only in the development of West Hollywood but also as a major contributor to the history of Los Angeles County. This tour is designed to introduce residents and visitors to the rich historical and cultural fabric of “Old Sherman.”
The city known today as West Hollywood was originally inhabited by Gabrielino Indians who lived in the canyon areas at the base of the Hollywood Hills. These Native Americans also traveled from the inland village of Yang-na near present-day downtown Los Angeles to the coast, using a trail that is today the route of Wilshire Boulevard. In the aftermath of Spanish arrival and Mexican colonial periods, West Hollywood was part of Rancho La Brea, which was granted to Antonio Jose Rocha in 1828. After Rocha’s death the land passed through the hands of Major Henry Hancock, the City Surveyor whose nephews sold the land to real estate and transportation entrepreneur General Moses Sherman and his business partner Eli Clark. From 1896 until 1924, West Hollywood was known as Sherman.
Look across the street at the brick sheriff station. This was the site of Sherman’s baseball field, where the silent film Casey at the Bat was filmed in 1913. On the left side of the photo you can see the businesses along Santa Monica Boulevard.
In 1896, Sherman and Clark purchased this 5.5 acre site and established the operating headquarters for the Los Angeles Pacific Railway Company, later acquired by the Pacific Electric Railroad. Here converged the main rail lines from Downtown Los Angeles through Hollywood, to Sawtelle, Santa Monica, Venice and others. By July 4, 1896 the first electric trolley car was operating from this site.
The origins of West Hollywood are intricately related to the railroad, in general, and the Sherman Yard, in particular. Although it was Henry Huntington who built the Pacific Electric Railroad into the largest electric interurban streetcar system in the world, Sherman played key roles in the early history of this system, which profoundly influenced the development of Los Angeles.
The Pacific Electric System was dismantled after World War II and as a result, this rail yard and its behemoth barns were demolished by the mid-1950’s, and eventually replaced by the Pacific Design Center.
You are now standing at the intersection of Santa Monica Boulevard and Larrabee Street, which was the heart of Sherman’s business district. Look across the street at 8851 Santa Monica Boulevard on the northwest corner of the intersection.
This is the GABLE and WYANT COMMERCIAL BUILDING, constructed in 1925. This is the site of Sherman’s first store, owned by the postmaster and local landowner Thomas Quint in the 1890’s. The second floor served as administrative space for the Sherman Township’s court, health offices, town meetings and permit office. The corner space is occupied as a bar with other commercial uses on either side along both streets.
Sherman’s first businesses lined Santa Monica Boulevard, which was once a narrow dirt road. The street was widened in two phases in the 1920’s, first by the Sherman Township and again by the State when Santa Monica Boulevard was designated State Highway 2. Originally the electric trolley tracks ran along a median strip. Beginning in 1999 all of the tracks were removed when the Boulevard was reconstructed.
Built in 1922 and designed by architect Asa Hudson, the FIRST NATIONAL BANK OF SHERMAN building was also home to Larrabee Studios, which was once owned by songwriting team Gerry Goffin and Carole King and, in addition to recording music for The Brady Bunch, was later used by Donna Summer, the Village People and Prince.
Both historic buildings embody the Italian Revival style with their vertical emphasis, large circular arched and pedimented windows, heavy stone lintels and dentillated molding, medallions and decorated frieze panels. The mid-1920’s witnessed the shift of Sherman from a small town to that of growing, economically diversifying community with the Chamber of Commerce changing the name from Sherman to West Hollywood in 1925.
Clustered along San Vicente Boulevard and Larrabee Street, between Santa Monica Boulevard to the south and Cynthia Street to the north, are remnants of Sherman’s oldest neighborhood, a 12 acre site platted in 1896. This group of LATE VICTORIAN BUNGALOWS housed the families of workers who operated the rail facilities.
Built between 1898 and 1910, the old structures exhibit common simple features such as hipped roofs, narrow wooden clapboard siding, simple end boards and window trim, overhanging eaves with brackets or boxing, and front porches. The bungalow became associated with the California lifestyle, providing residents with low-cost housing, modern amenities, modest square footage, and a basic design that could be personalized. By 1910 Sherman had grown into a substantial town, with pool halls, restaurants and hotels in addition to other amenities such as grocery stores, barbershops, and a post office.
On Cynthia Street are several outstanding examples of CRAFTSMAN BUNGALOWS, most built between 1910 and 1930. The low roofed bungalow at 8867 Cynthia Street was built in 1912 for the local stationmaster of the Pacific Electric Railroad. At the southeast corner of Cynthia Street and San Vicente Boulevard, currently occupied by the Fire Station, is where the Town’s oldest religious congregation, The West Hollywood Community Church, once stood. It was lost in a fire in 1940, rebuilt and then replaced with the fire station in the 1990s, after the church was abandoned and boarded up.
Betty Way is perhaps Sherman’s most intact street, with 13 out of its 14 houses dating to 1929-1930 . A narrow one-block lane ending in a quiet cul-de-sac, this one-acre tract was laid out in 1896. It is rumored that the houses were originally occupied by workers from the nearby railyards. In the early 1950’s avocado and lemon trees shaded rural cottages on Larrabee Street north of Betty Way. By the end of the decade they had been replaced with multi-unit stucco apartment buildings.
As you walk along these shady streets note the various housing styles. Overshadowed by multi-unit condos and apartment buildings, many bungalows from 1920’s -30’s survived and were remodeled playfully into MINI-MAISONETTES. Snuggled on tiny lots, the Spanish-themed cottages originally housed railroad workers, as well as families of local business owners. In the 1930’s the area became fashionable for interior designers, many of whom ”decorator-ized” the cottages with flamboyant details, including French-themed facades, exaggerated doorways, mansard roofs, manicured hedges, and giant accessories.
Of special note, 8914 Cynthia Street was built in 1905 and is part of the City of West Hollywood’s Old Sherman Thematic Grouping.
THE FIRST BAPTIST CHURCH at 9025 Cynthia Street, which housed members of the Dutch Reform Church in 1924, is the only remaining church from the Town of Sherman. Noted especially for its stained glass windows, the building features, a gabled roof with red clay tile edge, arched corbelling on the cornice, and an unusual square top tower topped with an octagonal cupola and stucco dome.
The church also boasts a rare remnant of 19th century Sherman. In 1890 a 324-pound copper bell was installed by the Pacific Electric Railway at their Sherman Terminal, presently the location of the Pacific Design Center (Tour Stop 1), where it chimed out salutes to arriving and departing rail passengers. In 1920, the bell was sold to the West Hollywood Community Church on the corner of San Vicente Avenue and Cynthia Street (Tour Stop 5). Here it rang to sound farewells to deceased locals, celebrations of national holidays, and warnings for community emergencies.
When the church burned in 1940, the only thing salvaged from the ruins was the bell. When a replacement church was built, it was polished and hung in a newly built bell tower, but was walled up at the request of neighbors who did not appreciate the noise. In the 1990s when the fire department demolished the church to build its new station, the bell was rediscovered and put aside. Eventually, it was moved here to the First Baptist Church.
To see the bell for yourself, cross Cynthia Street and walk a few feet up Wetherly Drive, where you will find it on display in the church’s garden area. You are now looking at the last piece of the Sherman Rail Yards left in West Hollywood.
One of the region’s most remarkable houses, THE LLOYD WRIGHT HOME AND STUDIO was designed in 1927 by Frank Lloyd Wright’s eldest son, who lived and worked at this site from 1927 until his death in 1978. Here Lloyd Wright designed many important structures during his career, including the second Hollywood Bowl shell and the Wayfarer’s Chapel in Rancho Palos Verdes.
This intact two-story home and studio is a prime example of modern architecture’s use of new materials and technologies, rational planning, and standardized building parts. It reveals Wright’s success at combining wood-framed construction with the concreate textile block construction techniques developed by his father in Los Angeles in the mid- 1920’s.
Along this block note the variety of “decorator-ized” bungalows and landscaping. This unimposing neighborhood, close to Hollywood and Beverly Hills, has long attracted highly creative people-writers, artists, actors, musicians, and designers. Writer Dorothy Parker lived in the bungalow at 8983 Norma Place for over twenty years.
One of the Norma Triangle’s more unusual houses is at 8952-56 Norma Place, a two-story COLONIAL REVIVAL HOUSE built in 1921. Reportedly silent screen star Norma Talmadge once used the house for dressing rooms when she was filming on location nearby. Another legend claims that the front porch was originally built as part of the set from Victor Fleming’s Gone with the Wind.
At the corner of Robertson Boulevard and Keith Avenue is 812 Robertson Boulevard, home to two West Hollywood icons; the current MARGO LEAVIN GALLERY and the past TONY DUQUETTE STUDIOS. Built for the lace factory of Cornelius and Edith Cristoefelles, the building is reputed to have been the sound studio for Norma Talmadge but as she never had a studio of her own, was probably only used for a location in a film. In 1932 it housed the Beverly Hills Water Bottling Company. In 1956, Tony Duquette took over the building for his studio. He was multi-talented and worked in various artistic mediums and design professions, as well as being a painter, sculptor and costume, jewelry, film set, and interior designer. He used the space until 1970, when Margo Leavin opened her art gallery. The gallery is known as a bastion of cutting-edge contemporary art, presenting 500 shows by mostly New York and L.A. based artists such as John Baldessari, Alexis Smith, and William Leavitt.
South of Santa Monica Boulevard is an area where there once was located a number of light industrial businesses. Because the adjacent City of Beverly Hills’ zoning severely restricted industrial land use, this area became the locale for many services. Dog kennels, veterinarians, lumberyards, dry cleaners, car repair shop, metal workers, and manufacturing plants located here in the 1930’s to serve local demands.
One of these light industrial businesses was a record factory at 692 Robertson Boulevard, now occupied by The Abbey. But what makes this particular record factory very significant is that it was also home to Modern Records, one of the first R&B and Rock ‘n’ Roll labels. Started by the Bihari Brothers (pictured) in 1945, Modern produced early recordings of legends like B.B. King (also pictured), John Lee Hooker and Etta James, as well as the first recording released by Howlin’ Wolf.
Built in 1936 as the clubhouse for Boy Scout Troop 27, it is possible that this clubhouse was constructed in honor of the 25th anniversary of the Boy Scouts of America. The residential development of the area during this period sparked the need for community groups and facilities. The log cabin style of this clubhouse was popular with the BSA and attempted to conflate the organization with the spirit of American pioneers. The property was later occupied by the Lion’s Club and is now used by a variety of community groups.
As you walk, take note of the eclectic styles of the buildings on the east side of the street. 626 is a Streamline Moderne building from 1940, 634 and 642 date from the 1920s, 646 (now home to the Hollywood Foreign Press Association) is a 1940 Tudor Revival, 656 and 662 date from 1938, and 666 is an Art Deco building built in 1931.
The Mitchell Camera Corporation constructed this motion picture camera factory in 1929 to service the film industry in Hollywood and beyond; an industry which it eventually dominated. By 1946, 85% of all motion pictures shown in theaters worldwide were filmed with Mitchell cameras produced at the factory, and the company received Academy Awards for Technical Achievement in 1939, 1966, and 1968.
Following the departure of the Mitchell Camera Corporation in 1946, the building achieved importance in the LGBTQ history of West Hollywood. From 1967 to 1971 it was The Factory, a nightclub popular with celebrities. In 1974 that it became the disco Studio One, an epicenter for gay nightlife and activism. In the 1970s and 1980s, the club was an important space where gay men could be open and proud about their identities. It drew gay icons such as Joan Rivers and Liza Minnelli. And it hosted some of the country’s first AIDS fundraisers, before closing in 1993.
As you walk, take note of the row of storefronts from 8944-8928. Though many have been modified, they were all built between 1935 and 1937.
The Mother Lode, located in 8944 Santa Monica Boulevard, has been open since 1979, making it the oldest gay bar in West Hollywood that is still in business. In the 1960s it was a restaurant and bar called the Por Favor, which was frequented by Judy Garland.
We have now returned to the tour starting point at the intersection of Santa Monica and San Vicente. We hope you’ve enjoyed your journey back in time to the town of Sherman. You’re now perfectly situated to take advantage of all the galleries, cafes, bars, showrooms, and boutiques that can be found along Santa Monica Boulevard, and on Melrose Avenue to the south, Sunset Boulevard to the north, Robertson Boulevard to the west, and La Cienega Boulevard to the east.