The Clover Club
Originally a palatial private home, the first reference to a gambling raid at 8477 Sunset came in October 1929, when Clyde Plummer- formerly the incorruptible head of the LAPD’s vice squad, now head of District Attorney Buron Fitt’s prohibition enforcement unit- found an illegal craps game running here. When Plummer again raided the joint for gambling again in February 1930, it was calling itself the Sphinx Club. Among those arrested was “Frank Harris,” alias George Goldie, brother of gambler Bob “Goldie” Goldenberg.
As of March 1933 it was operating as Club Sokoloeff and again raided by sheriff’s deputies- this time for liquor violations. In August 1933, it was the “Hahn Club” according to a city permit to make some alterations to the building, Nola Hahn being another gambler associated with 8477. Soon after this it adopted the name by which this address is most famously associated: the Clover Club.
Eddie Nealis was among those arrested at the Clover Club in the wee hours of January 28, 1934 in a raid by Sheriff’s vice squad deputies, who dressed in tuxedos in order to blend in with other patrons (1).
Bob Goldie still held a large share in the Clover Club at the time of his death in November 1935. Other asserted partners in the club according to a lawsuit brought by Goldie’s widow over the estate included Nealis, Milton “Farmer” Page, Guy McAfee, and Tutor Scherer, who had operated gambling clubs around Los Angeles during the Prohibition era. A 1941 lawsuit against producer Joe Schenck also identified Al and Lou Wertheimer, formerly of Detroit’s Purple Gang, as having been partners in 1935-36 (2).
On the surface, the Clover Club operated much like any other upscale Hollywood nightclub, with dining and dancing, roving photographers, even brawls. The illegal gambling rooms were hidden, with access granted to those in the know- which included many of Hollywood’s elite. Despite numerous raids and loss of license due to gambling activity, there doesn’t seem to be any stigma attached to the club, as Society and Hollywood gossip columns of the period are full of perfectly respectable events being hosted there.
In January 1936, the State Board of Equalization (SBE), which, since Prohibition’s end regulated liquor at the State level, pulled the Clover Club’s license over its gambling activity as well as questions regarding its true ownership. The operators, in true mobster fashion, accused the SBE of soliciting bribes.
In any case, the club was back in business by June 1936. That month, while claiming 8477 to be a residence, a “Moe Lewis” applied to the city for a permit to make alterations to the property.
On February 2, 1937 the Clover Club’s gambling rooms were raided by sheriff’s deputies. The Hollywood Citizen-News published a scathing editorial on February 4, 1937, writing that the raid was big news:
“It was big news because, while its extensive operations for many years were known to most people, the fact the the Sheriff never did anything about it was taken as proof that it was paying liberally for the protection which its owners assured its patrons. But lately the Sheriff has been making some raids on the smaller gamblers in county territory and they have been complaining that riads upon them were proof that the Clover Club owners were in control of the Sheriff and the District Attorney.”
The paper also stated: “The Clover Club is owned by former Detroit gangsters in partnership with the leading gangsters of the Los Angeles underworld. With their enormous profits, they have been able to buy almost any public office they wish to control.” And it blasted Beverly Hills Justice of the Peace Cecil D. Holland, who merely fined the operators [noting the owners themseves were never charged] rather than giving them jail time, and that the fines- chicken feed to these millionaire gangsters- would not even cover the cost of the raid.
The editorial speculated that if the Sheriff was sincere in wanting to see the place shut down, the Clover Club would remain dark.
A few days later, on February 10, the paper further editorialized that the raid had indeed been “merely a conspiracy between the Sheriff and underworld gangsters to cause the people to think that the gangsters do not control our law enforcement machinery” and called the whole thing on the part of the Sheriff and the judge “a big hug and kiss for the gangsters.”
WIth citizens taking it upon themselves to investigate vice conditions, on July 29, 1937, State Attorney General Ulysses Webb authorized his assistant, Harry S. Dietz, to look into cleaning up the town. On August 5, 1937, the Clover Club’s license was again suspended by the SPE for gambling violations.
The underworld’s response was to attempt to discredit the investigators. In September, Guy McAfee accused Dr. A.M. Wilkinson, a religious leader and prominent member of the citizen’s vice committee, had accepted a bribe from him in June 1936. Wilkinson insisted the money had been a donation for a church event with no strings attached.
In any case, the Clover Club reopened on October 14, 1937.
In February 1938 a State Assembly Committee vowed to probe conditions in the “so-called county strip centering on Sunset Boulevard,” but were unable to serve subpoenas on any of the Clover Club’s owners or operators. The club did, however, lose its license again on November 16, 1938 due to gambling infractions.
In June 1939, the Los Angeles Times reported that the “big shot” gamblers of Los Angeles were leaving town, noting that the Clover Club had been closed “for months.” Eddie Nealis was said to be in San Francisco, Farmer Page on a gambling ship, and Guy McAfee operating a night club in Las Vegas.
Some sources attributed the exodus to the reform policies of new Mayor Fletcher Bowron, elected in September 1938 after his predecessor Frank Shaw was recalled from office. County D.A. Buron Fitts, however, hinted that a “well know figure” was squeezing local gamblers out and establishing a dictatorship over gambling.
In any case, it was hardly the end of gambling on the Strip or of the Clover Club, as journalist George Creel noted in an article for Collier’s magazine published in September 1939, writing:
“Big time gambling establishments are about as secret as the Washington Monument. The Clover Club, for instance, has the impressive facade of an art museum, and is furnished with all the elegance of a movie set built to show Long Island life. The cuisine enjoys well-deserved fame, the croupiers have lacquered hair, and the lofty game room is large enough for a skating rink. Here, and in other places like it, is where the high-rollers, particularly the big shots of the movie colony, plank down thousands on the whirl of a wheel, a roll of the bones, or the turn of a card.”
Sure enough, on March 24, 1940 sheriff’s deputies, led again by Capt. George Contreras, with Deputy Charles Rittenhouse and others, raided the skating-rink-sized gambling rooms secreted within the Clover Club premises, seizing equipment, cash and the names of many “Hollywood notables” (3).
On September 15, 1943, 8477 reopened as the Marcel Lamaze Club. Lamaze was also affiliated with Ciro’s just down the street at 8433 Sunset. By October 1943 it was advertising as the “Marcel Lamaze Clover Club.” Soon, however, it was back to being just the “Clover Club” again.
With its famous name restored, the Clover Club began hosting Sunday Night Guest Parties, honoring a different Hollywood celeb each week, to compete with the Trocadero’s Sunday Talent Nights. In December 1944, the Clover Club, along with the Trocadero, Mocambo, Ciro’s, and other Sunset Strip nightspots, had its license suspended by the SBE for violating the wartime midnight closing hour curfew.
In January 1945, The Long Beach Independent reported that the Clover Club’s lease, stock & liquor license had been sold by asserted owner Ivan Staufer to restaurateurs Paul Kalmanoviz and Nathan Sherry, who would later be part-owner in a namesake cafe at 9039 Sunset (4).
On April 3, 1945, 8477 Sunset reopened as “Jerry’s Joynt Hollywood” (5). But by summer had reverted to the famous Clover Club name once again.
It seems to have closed once again, however, as advertising of Aug 31, 1946 refers to a “reopening” September 6, 1946. On October 6, 1946 it was raided for gambling. Manager “Robert Rubin” and several other employees were arrested.
An ad dated October 19, 1946 says “Rumors are flying but the Clover Club is open as usual.” “Rumors Are Flying” was the name of a popular song at the time, but no doubt the Strip was buzzing about the raid. It is the last ad found for the Clover Club as part of this research.
On June 14 1947, 8477 opened as the temporary clubhouse for the new Hollywood Friars Club. On October 27, 1950, it was announced that it would become the new home of the Army & Navy Officer’s Club, which still occupied the building when it burned down, January 28, 1952.
This history of the 8477 Sunset Blvd. is derived from original research, based on historical newspaper and magazine articles, city building permits, city directories, legal documents, census records, and other public records.
(1) See Los Angeles Times 1-29-1934 and 1-30-1934.
(2) See Los Angeles Times 5-22-1936 and 8-7-1936, 3-14-1941 and 3-19-1941. Scherer ‘s 1956 book of poetry also makes note of his affiliation. It’s asserted today that Bugsy Siegel also owned a part of the club. When police arrested Siegel at his home in 1940, they did find cancelled checks in his safe made out to Farmer Page for $1000 and Eddie Nealis for $4000 but it was not known what the checks were for. Note that in Los Angeles and Hollywood, when “ownership” of a property generally meant ownership of a lease to operate a property, not the land on which it stood. Leases changed hands often; land seldom did. Given that partnerships in ventures like nightclubs also tended to be held by corporations, generally using fronts, determining actual ownership of a property is difficult.
(3) In 1940, Contreras was accused of having gambling interests and soliciting bribes. He was exonerated in both cases, but before the year was out, Contreras was removed as head of the vice squad in the wake of the public outcry over the news that Bugsy Siegel had been allowed to make outside “excursions” while being held in County Jail for suspicion of murder. In 1941 Rittenhouse was arrested on 61 counts of bribery, when bookmaker John Osborne alleged that he and others had paid “protection” money to Rittenhouse and Eddie Nealis from 1938 to 1939. The case eventually ended in acquittal, although, inexplicably, Rittenhouse’s brother was found guilty of bribing a witness in the case.
(4) Court documents from a May 1958 tax lawsuit involving the now-late Nathan Sherry’s heirs reveal that Sherry retained the Clover Club property after his partnership with Kalmanoviz was terminated in 1947, and further notes that Sherry;s ownership included not only the Clover Club building but the real property it stood on. He sold the property after the building burned down in 1952.
(5) At the time, Sherry and Kalmanoviz also had an interest in Jerry’s Joynt Wishire at Wilshire Blvd. & San Vicente.