The first Carpenter’s drive-in restaurant on Sunset Boulevard was located at the northeast corner of Sunset and Vine. This drive-in was demolished in 1937 so that NBC’s radio studio could be built on the site. NBC is covered in Part II. A new Carpenters opened across the street to the southeast corner at 6290 Sunset and has its own post.
As mentioned in the post about the Hollywood Palladium, this narrow parcel between Vine and Argyle and Sunset and Selma had once been home to the Famous Players-Lasky studios, whose films were released through the Paramount Pictures Corp. (Famous Players-Lasky also owned the parcel next door between Vine and Argyle where its main studio buildings and offices were located). In 1926 Paramount-Famous-Lasky moved to new quarters at 5451 Marathon Street near Melrose Avenue and in May 1926, the company applied for a permit to move a building from the corner here to the Marathon property. This was the Lasky-DeMille barn, which Jesse Lasky and Cecil B. DeMille had first rented in 1913.
Most of the other buildings were demolished and the materials sold for salvage.
The parcel was largely vacant after that, housing a used car lot.
On May 8, 1930, H.B. Carpenter applied to the city for a permit to construct “toilets and dressing rooms” at 6285 Sunset, at the northeast corner of Vine. On May 29, he got another permit to put up a roof sign on a sandwich stand here. There’s no permit on file for construction of the sandwich stand itself, but it may have been lost.
Harry Brewster Carpenter was born in Leavenworth, Kansas in 1888. He operated a cafe in Kansas City in the 1910s, but by 1917 he was in Los Angeles and operating a restaurant along with his older brother Charles E. Carpenter.
In 1930, at the same time the permits for start the Carpenter’s drive-in at Sunset & Vine were being sought, a stranger had arrived in town, set up headquarters in suite 427 of the Roosevelt Building at 727 W. Seventh Street, and was seeking busy corners on which to build “highly attractive, drive-in, stay-in-you-car-and-be-served units selling hot and cold drinks and sandwiches.”
In an ad that appeared on March 8, 1930 in the LA Evening Express, the man, E. George Sanders, general manager of a LARGE CHAIN RESTAURANT ORGANIZATION, Saunders Chain Store, Ltd, asserted that small investment was all you needed to secure managing direction of these units and you would share in CERTAIN, SURE, SAFE PROFITS.
On March 11, 1930. The LA Evening Express reported on E. George Sanders’ planned restaurants, noting he was said to be affiliated with the Twin Barrel Food stations and National Kanteen Company. A month later the paper reported that Sanders was seeking to lease large, busy corners.
On May 11, 1930 (3 days after H.B. Carpener’s first permit on file for 6285 Sunset) the LA Times added further details about the Sanders Chain Store System, Ltd.: “The company’s buildings take the shape of coffee pots. The cost of each building, with equipment, is approximately $15,000. The company plans to open in early June the first 5 units of 46 to be built in Southern California.”
If it sounds like a flim-flam fly-by-night operation, it was. Had anyone checked up on Sanders, they’d have seen he had been travelling around for the past year selling investors on some sort of drive-in chain restaurants under different corporate names.
In January 1929, for example, he was manager of the National Kanteen Company, as the Express would later mentioned. He told the Oakland Tribune that Kanteens were rapidly being built in various parts of California including Oakland, at 35th and San Pablo Avenue.
In February 1929, using ads with the same wording he would later use in Los Angeles, Sanders was in Stockton seeking investors for Kanteens there. According to the Stockton Daily Independent, 5 units were under construction in the Bay area with many more planned statewide.
In April 1929, he showed up in Phoenix, Arizona as VP and general manager of the Autoteria Catering Corporation, planning to build 3 unique restaurants in the city and numerous others statewide. On April 19, the Arizona Republican ran a sketch of his proposed Autoteria Plaza, being built with a local investor, L. Harry Gibbs. Gibbs, in fact had put up the money to lease the large corner lot for the enterprise at Seventh and McDowell streets. A giant steaming coffee pot was the logo of the Autoteria.
On May 11, 1929, the Republican described how Sanders operated: “Within 48 hours after E. George Sanders arrived [a stranger] in Phoenix from California, the Autoteria Catering Company was incorporated and a program for the foundation of a chain of sandwhich and soft drinks stations was launched.” If fortunate, a local investor could take over the operation and make a go of it, as was the case in Phoenix. Gibbs took on the Autoteria and built one or two more.
The promises of statewide chains- let alone nationwide- were as phoney as the steam blowing the spout of the giant coffee pot.
Sanders reused the giant coffee pot idea when he arrived in Los Angeles in March, 1930.
Sanders apparently had some responses to his ad for corners to lease. On May 3, the Express reported that he’d leased the corner of Vermont and Council streets, Washington and LaSalle streets on May 10, May 21 the northeast corner of Poinsettia Street and Beverly Boulevard, and on May 25 the Times reported he’d leased Wilshire Boulevard and Stanley Drive.
Likewise, a permit for a “garage and proposed lunch stand” was granted to J.E. Martin, 427 Roosevelt Building, for 202 N. Vermont at the northeast corner of Council, on May 13, 1930.
A permit for a “SIGN STRUCTURE ONLY” was approved by the city on June 5, 1930 for 7275 Beverly at the northeast corner of Poinsettia. Sanders Lunch Stand is the owner of record, at 427 Roosevelt Building. A Godfrey Bailey is listed as architect. A permit for a “reviewing stand” at the same location was granted on July 1, 1930.
No permits were located for 1950 W. Washington or 8601 Wilshire, though photographic evidence indicates the latter was built, and advertising in July 1930 invites prospective investors to drive out to both of these address to see them. It could be, if the structures were prefabricated, they didn’t require a permit, or the permit has been lost over time.
An ad appeared in the Express on June 20, 1930, announcing that the grand opening of 4 Sanders System “sit-and-eat-in-your-car” drive-ins would be held July 4, 5, and 6, 1930. The addresses were listed as the previously-reported corners: 1950 W. Washington Blvd., 8601 Wilshire Blvd., 7275 Beverly Blvd., and 202 N. Vermont.
On June 25, the Express wrote: “People who have been curious about the unique coffee-pot buildings under construction in various sections of the city will have their curiosity satisfied with the announcement the buildings are to house a new type of sandwich shops to be known as the Sanders System, These sandwich shops will have numerous innovations in service, the outstanding feature being explained by their slogan “stay in your car and be served.” The Express repeated the claim that there would be 46 such units built, which it said would happen “within the next 18 months.” The first of 4 (not 5 as previously stated) would open July 1. The buildings featured huge coffee pots illuminated with colored floodlights and topped with neon signs reading “We Feature Ben-Hur Drip Coffee.”
A July 3, 1930 ad in the LA Evening Express listed the opening night festivities, but only mentions 3 of the 4 drive-ins; 8601 Wilshire is not listed.
Sanders left Los Angeles, perhaps with some heat, and surfaced again in Atlanta as president of the Frosty Morning Shops, Inc., where he proposed a series of sandwich and soft drink stands in the shape of a giant orange. He left Atlanta for Tampa, where as of July 1931, as National Bottle Shops., Inc., he was seeking investors for a nationwide chain of bottle-shaped sandwich stands that would feature a local beverage called Celo.
On August 2, 1931, the Atlanta Constitution reported that Sanders had been indicted by a grand jury for embezzlement and authorities were seeking his arrest in Tampa. He had declared bankruptcy of Frosty Morning Shops Inc. and fled town. An audit of the books revealed over $3,000 of company funds missing. He had also taken money from employees, assurtedly as a show of faith that they would perform their duties, and had violated Georgia state law by selling speculative stock. It’s not clear whether Sanders, thought to be a native of Leavenworth, Kansas, was apprehended or tried.
None of the reporting on Sanders’ Los Angeles adventures refers to the corner of Sunset and Vine but the timing of the permit applications, the connection with Ben Hur Coffee and the use of the giant coffee pot imagery in Carpenters’ advertising is curious. The post at the top of the Sunset & Vine building also looks like it was designed to have something like a large coffee pot mounted on it.
An ad from September 1931 indicates it had been in business a year, during which the business had served over 100,000 pieces of apple pie, it says.
July and August 1931 ads for Carpenters list Poinsettia and Beverly as a location, which was one of the advertised locations of a Sanders System drive-in. While it could have been an opposite corner, the ad pictures a drive-in with a giant coffee pot on top. The September 1931 ads also lists a fourth location: Wilshire and Western Avenue.
By July 1932, Carpenters’ ads only list 3 locations: Sunset and Vine, Wilshire and Western and Wilshire and La Cienega. On June 6, 1934, a 4th one opened at Vermont and Pico.
While “film folk” reportedly liked all the Carpenter’s drive-ins, the Hollywood Citizen-News wrote on May 19, 1932 that it was the Sunset and Vine location “where the modest little Ford rubs shoulders with his more illusterous neighbor the Rolls Royce, owned by many famous movie stars who make a practice of eating at Carpenters.”
Even if it started off with a fly-by-night-artist, the concept- sitting and eating in YOUR car while being served- took Los Angeles by storm. More drive-in restaurants would follow.