While reading the online newspaper LAist, we learned about the Cotton Club by Frank Sebastian, that opened in 1926 in Culver City, during the Prohibition era (1919 to 1933), and operated until 1938. Located at 6500 Washington, it offered valet parking, three dance floors, full orchestras, dinner and breakfast, plus secret gambling rooms. Modeled after the jazz club by the same name in Harlem, New York, it catered to white customers only and featured bands of black musicians. Duke Ellington, Lionel Hampton, Cab Calloway, and Louis Armstrong played there often.
Culver City was a neighborhood popular with movie stars, because it housed M-G-M, the Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer studios, from 1924 to 1986, and the Thomas Ince Studios, built in 1918, that became the Cecil De Mille studios in 1925, RKO-Pathé Studios in 1928, and Selznick Pictures in 1935. Renamed Culver Studios in 1970, it’s located at 9336 Washington Blvd. The MGM studios at 10202 Washington Blvd were bought by Sony Pictures in 1990, and beautifully restored.
Cotton Club, the 1984 movie by Francis Coppola, starring Richard Gere, Diane Lane, Gregory Hines and Lonette McKee, is set in the New York City’s Cotton Club. Duke Ellington’s was the orchestra in residency there from 1927 to 1930, then Cub Calloway’s band played from 1931 to 1934. The jazz club and speakeasy operated in Harlem from 1923 to 1936, then it was moved downtown to Broadway and 48th St (from 1936 to 1940), after the Harlem Race Riot of 1935, because that neighborhood no longer felt safe for whites.
Why the name cotton? Because the club decor was designed to evoke a plantation environment. In Culver City silent movie star Roscoe “Fatty” Arbuckle built his Plantation Cafe, at 11700 Washington Blvd, in 1928.
Text by Elisa Leonelli