Let’s go to Jail!”
The clink-themed Jail Cafe opened at 4212 Sunset Boulevard in September 1925 as gangland violence was reaching it’s peak. The building, constructed over the summer, was designed by architect A.F. Leicht to resemble a stone jail structure complete with watchtower; inside patrons could gather around a large cozy fireplace or be served in private “cells” by waiters dressed as convicts.
Proprietors Louis Bedford and H.N. Denny planned to build a chain of such novelty cafes, but only one other was opened in Los Angeles, the short-lived 6th St. Jail Cafe at 1207 W. Sixth St. in the Westlake district. The 6th St. Jail grand opening was held March 6, 1926, but a hitch in obtaining its dance permit necessitated a second “grand opening” on June 26, 1926. By November 1927 it had become The Moulin Rouge, operated by Fred Harlow.
The original Jail Cafe on Sunset lasted longer, through March 1930. By then the mood of the country had shifted; the whoopee spirit and the novelty of lawlessess had worn off. By January 1933, 4212 Sunset had been converted into the Gateway Theater, which lasted through the 1950s. As of 1963, it was operating as El Cid.
Top image: LAPL
A.F. Leicht also designed a lighthouse-style hostel and several other proposed additions to the Angelus Temple for Aimee Semple McPherson between 1925 and 1928. The architect sued Sister Aimee in November 1928, for $17,350 in unpayed fees for his work. Aimee denied she had commissioned the drawings. Taking the stand in court on January 3, 1929, she dazzled the audience by appearing that morning in a fur coat and silver turban, then changing into a white frock trimmed in black velvet for the afternoon session. Leicht abruptly dropped the suit the next day.
Bedford managed another cafe, the Pirate’s Den, at 8637 Santa Monica Blvd., which was raided by George Contreras, then head of D.A. Asa Keyes’ dry squad, in December 1926.
Harlow was acquainted with sometimes-LAPD detective/sometimes PI Harry Raymond and managed a number of cafes affiliated with the local underworld. The Moulin Rouge at 1207 W. Sixth St. was raided by federal prohibition agents, who petitioned for its padlocking in April 1929. The address became retail space. Fred moved on to other locations.