By Leticia Lopez
Actors had dazzled movie theater goers with their performances, but at Ciro’s they impressed fellow costars and actors from other movie studios. Ciro’s nightclub was a hive buzzing with the kings and queens of the silver screen. The club’s history involves sparkling nights of entertainment, romance, and mobsters. A location where the stars could be seen and newcomers could be discovered, Ciro’s was the place to be.
Like all success stories, Ciro’s began with a rough and unglamorous past. In the 1920s, the land between Hollywood and Beverly Hills was simply a dirt track that turned muddy during the rainy season. This so called “no man’s land” where the Sunset Strip now stands was not even considered part of Hollywood until the mid-1920s when it became West Hollywood.
Speakeasies and brothels secretly sprouted in private homes, and the dull, dirt road of Sunset Boulevard was the perfect secluded place. Lined with orchards, poinsettia and avocado trees, Sunset lacked the roaring dance halls, city buildings and crowds. It was the prefect hideout for serving alcohol and offering sexual pleasure from sight. The Los Angeles Police Department often disregarded the illegal alcohol and prostitutes in the area because it happened in middle of nowhere.
Entrepreneur and publisher Billy Wilkerson opened the nightspot The Trocadero. He was friends with gangsters who protected him, such as Tony Cornero and Johnny Roselli. Local mobsters including Mickey Cohen and Bugsy Siegel visited the Trocadero to gamble in the secret backroom. It has been said that Wilkerson got tired of extortion that he eventually suggested Sunset gangster Nola Hahn to burn down the place. In 1938 when the Trocadero kitchen burned because of suspicious arson, Wilkerson sold the building.
Wilkerson later opened Ciro’s in 1940 and it quickly gathered frequent guests like Marilyn Monroe, Judy Garland, Hedy Lamarr, and Frank Sinatra. Ciro’s was ideal for a date night where dazzling movie and TV stars could escape the fans and mingle with other star-studded Hollywood residents.
Ciro’s was located at 8433 Sunset and had an elegance that arouse with its white structure and illuminated stairway after the day had set and the stars had taken over. It was a music night club with a baroque style interior – red ceilings, red-silk sofas, ceiling to floor drapes, cupid statues holding flower vases, and at the end of it all, a stage. This palace of entertainment also had a hidden gambling room, and the mobsters Roselli and Siegel frequented the club as well. Even when Siegel was in jail, he had his food delivered from Ciro’s and his lover often booked the club for parties.
Ciro’s was beaming with beautiful people, bubbling drinks, and ravishing entertainment. It was the perfect place for columnists Hedda Hopper and Louella Parsons to interview stars on the scene, write about the upcoming acts and report on who was dating whom.
The hottest and newest entertainment of the 1940s and 1950s was offered at Ciro’s, and it’s no wonder that couples used to spend their nights drinking, getting to know each other and dance the night away. Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz, and Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall were among the iconic pairings that attended Ciro’s. Radio comedians-turned-television stars Gracie Allen and George Burns frequented as guests, and so did Shirley Temple and husband John Agar.
Entertainers at the start or prime of their careers performed music, comedy, and dance. The bandstand stage was where they could showcase their talents and be signed under contract by studio managers or talents scouts in the audience. One particular gal was lucky enough to be a chorus girl at Ciro’s before starring in her own TV series I Dream of Jeannie. On that same stage performed the song and dance group the Will Matson Trio composed of Will Matson, Sammy Davis Sr., and Sammy Davis Jr. who got his big break. Other honorable acts included jazz singer Peggy Lee, Pearl Bailey, Abbe Lane with Xavier Cugat and his orchestra, and Desi Arnaz.
Owner Wilkerson was growing tired of the club by 1942, and with prohibition and gambling restrictions gone he was looking forward to opening a casino in Las Vegas. Similar to the ending of The Trocadero, Wilkerson asked the gangster Hahn for another favor. Again, a suspicious fire allowed Wilkerson to get out and pass the ownership to Herman Hover, but Ciro’s closed for good after declaring bankruptcy in 1959.
What became of the building located on 8433 West Sunset Boulevard was The Comedy Store in 1972. Founded by comedian Sammy Shore, his wife Mitzi Shore, and comedy writer Rudy DeLuca, the Comedy Store became the hotspot for their famous comedian friends to rehearse, catch up with friends, and perform. It was the place for new coming comedians to watch the greats on stage and one day hope to be in that same stage performing their own sets.
Ciro’s established a legacy that sustains the glitz and glamour we still associate with Hollywood. Thousands of tourists visit to see iconic landmarks like The Comedy Store, the former location of Ciro’s, where famous comedians perform nightly shows, and the aura of Old Hollywood lingers. Entertainment continues to drive visitors and celebrities alike to Hollywood all hoping to catch a glimpse of stardom. Ciro’s influenced how people perceive hotspots for the rich and famous – a hive for glamour, romance, cocktails, and of course entertainment.
By Leticia Lopez