6534 Sunset: Fred Thompson Building / Mary Helen Tea Room II / Gormet

 

In April 1927, local papers reported that Fred C. Thompson, cowboy star of Western motion pictures, would build as an investment property a commercial building on Sunset Boulevard next to the new Chamber of Commerce building, across the street from the Hollywood Athletic Club. Architect Henry Gogerty and set designe/architect Carl Jules Weyl designed  the sprawling 2-story Spanish shopping court, which was to contain 11 shops and 9 studio spaces, built around a patio courtyard. The latter was dubbed the “court of the Olive Tree” as it featured a fully-grown olive tree in the center.

 

6/18/1927. Hollywood Daily Citizen.

The groundbreaking was held in June 1927. Thompson already had several anchor tenants lined up. Movie couturier Howard Greer of Paramount was to occupy the entire east wing. Hair and wig specialist William Hepner’s salon was to occupy the west wing; and the new home of Mary Helen Kemp’s popular Mart Helen Tea Room was to have the entire rear of the building. The building was completed in October 1927.

6/25/1927. Hollywood Daily Citizen.

CSL.

Fred C. Thompson died on Christmas Day 1928. In September 1945 the building was sold to ventriliquist Edgar Bergen, who owned it until 1968. An application to declare the building a Historical-Cultural Monument was submitted to the LA Planning Department in 2019.

9/25/1945. Hollywood Citizen News.

 

The Tenants

The Howard Greer maison de haute couture, addressed as 6530, opened in December 1927. Greer had come to Hollywood in January 1923 to join the costume department at the Famous Players-Lasky (Paramount) studios at Sunset and Vine under its then-director Ethel Chaffin. In December 1924 he was named head of the department. He continued to design costumes for movies as a freelancer after opening the salon. Travis Banton, who’d come to Paramount in 1924 , replaced Greer as the studio’s chief of costume design.

Kay Francis at Greer entrance. From Picture Play magazine January 1931 via Lantern.

Entrance to Greer’s salon from Sunset c. 1934. Detail from a larger photo. CHS.

In February 1928, Greer leant 100 gowns and accessories for a charity fashion show organized by Times fahion page editor Peggy Hamilton, held at the Biltmore. One of his creations, a hand-painted chiffon gown he named the “Peggy” went missing during the show.

2/19/1928. LAT. 

“Moderate” being a relative term. 10/19/1931. LAT

Greer, 6530 Sunset. 4/19/1931. LAT.

Greer displaying his idea of “moderate prices.” 10/4/1931. LAT.

Irene Dunne models a Greer original. 2/13/1934. Hollywood Citizen News.

In 1938, having resigned from Paramount, Banton briefly teamed up with Greer at 6530 Sunset Boulevard.

Though his official partnership with Greer at Greer’s 6530 Sunset salon was brief, it was imortalized in a photograph of the building by Herman Shultheis c. late 1938. The entrance to the salon is through the awning, just past the pepper tree. LAPL.

Greer is still listed at 6530 in the 1941 Los Angeles City Directory, but had moved to new quarters at 310 North Rodeo Drive as of later that year.

Howard Greer moved to 310 N. Rodeo Drive in Beverly Hills. 9/17/1941. LAT.

Howard Greer moved to 310 N. Rodeo Dr. in Beverly Hills. 2/18/1942. LAT.

In late 1942, 6530 was made over into Patrick Michael Cunning’s experimental “Stage 8” theater space. Cunning remained here until February 1946. Gormet Hollywood restaurant (formerly addressed as 6534) took over this address as of October 1946. See below

12/22/1942. LAT.

 

William Hepner’s Beauty Salon, addressed as 6540 Sunset, opened on January 4, 1928. It was his second Los Angeles salon. The first, on 7th Street, had opened in 1926.

 

1/1/1928. LAT.

 

The Hepner “Halo-Tress wig. 1/29/1928. LAT.

 

Sunset Boulevard was being widened in the summer and fall of 1930, affecting boulevard businesses. 9/6/1930. Hollywood Daily Citizen.

William Hepner died in January 1932; the Hepner salon continued at 6540, however, (Hepner had quietly turned over the running of it to his wife Rita Hepner in May 1930) through January 1936. In February 1939 the space was taken over as the new home of Paul Compan’s salon, then briefly housed the salon of Lydia, “Hairstylist to the Stars,” in September 1940. It thereafter took on a variety of non-beauty related uses.

Paul Compan beauty salon featuring Murial Barr, who was then appearing in the “Broadway to Hollywood” review at Earl Carroll’s new Hollywood theater right down the street at 6230 Sunset Blvd. 2/15/1939. Hollywood Citizen News.

Muriel Barr as an Earl Carroll girl in his “Broadway to Hollywood” review. 3/18/1939. Hollywood Citizen News.

Lydia, one of many who claimed the title “stylist to the stars.” 9/18/1940. LAT.

 

The first of the three anchor tenants to move into Fred Thompson’s new Spanish Village shopping center was the Mary Helen Tea Room.  Mary Helen Kemp had opened her first namesake tea room two blocks east in a bungalow at 6460 Sunset in 1922. She opened in the new, larger quarters, addressed as 6534 Sunset, on November 4, 1927.

11/4/1927. Hollywood Daily Citizen.

Mary Helen Kemp (inset) reopened her tea room in the Fred Thompson Building. 11/4/1927. Hollywood Daily Citizen.

 

11/28/1928. Hollywood Daily Citizen.

The courtyard wishing well depicted in Mary Helen’s 1928 ad. CSL.

Another view of the wishing well. CSL.

Through the Arch! Mary Helen Tea Room signage hangs from a wrought-iron bracket mounted in a pepper tree. CSL.

10/10/1929. Hollywood Daily Citizen.

Leaving through the arch, heading out to Sunset Boulevard. CSL.

Always in search of a new fad, Hollywood caught backgammon mania in 1930 on the heels of the pee wee golf craze. In February and March 1931, Mary Helen held Backgammon Luncheons on Friday afternoons with authority on the game Mrs. Arthur Moses. 2/26/1931. Hollywood Daily Citizen.

What does one wear to a backgammon luncheon? Why, backgammon pajamas from May Co., of course. 12/14/1930. LAT.

Joan Crawford and then-husband Doug Fairbanks Jr. play backgammon at the beach on a table designed by Mrs. Arthur Moses.

In the Fall of 1931, Mary Helen closed down temporarily to remodel and expanded the restaurant’s indoor dining room space. The grand re-opening was held November 13, 1931 (Thanksgiving Day was November 26, 1931).

11/12/1931. Hollywood Citizen-News.

The Depression was reaching its peak in the Winter of 1932-1933. The Mary Helen survived where others did not, but did roll back the prices. 9/28/1932. Hollywood Daily Citizen.

Mary Helen Kemp retired from business in the Spring of 1936 and her tea room closed.

In February 1939, the space became Gormet Hollywood, one of 4 restaurants owned by Hudson Bernard Werder. It featured dining and cocktails on the patio as well as an open fireplace.

Gormet Hollywood opens, still using the 6534 address. 2/10/1939. Hollywood Citizen News.

Still 6534. 4/27/1946. Hollywood Citizen News.

As Gormet, 6534 Sunset, looking south. The mountains in the background are the work of an artist; 6534 was on the south side of the boulevard- the mountains were in the other direction. Shaffer’s Batteries and Ignition long occupied 6550 Sunset.

Postcard view of the patio as Gormet, addressed as 6530 Sunset from October 1946 onward. The wishing well was still a feature.

“It’s delightful on the patio.” Gormet, now 6530 Sunset. 8/8/1947. Hollywood Citizen News.

Hudson Werder died in April 1946. Gormet Hollywood continued, however, through January 1961.

1/5/1961. Hollywood Citizen News.

In March 1962, 6530 opened as the Mauna Loa restaurant, with rather incongruous Polynesian-themed decor. Mauna Loa did not last long.

9/25/1962. Hollywood Citizen News.

By December 1963 it had become the Garden Room- a new name but the now even more incongruous Polynesian decor remained.

12/13/1963. Hollywood Citizen News.

On May 6, 1965 it opened as Mouling, featuring Chinese cuisine in the Spanish Village, the Polynesian decor still intact. Mouling had a long run. A Times restaurant reviewer described the place in 1978 as “a slightly ramshckle patio in the old Hollywood style with plenty of Old Hollywood charm.”

5/6/1965. Hollywood Citizen News.

Mouling closed in April 1980, the equipment and fixtures (including the Polynesian decor) sold at auction.

4/27/1980. LAT.

In May 1982, another Sunset Gardens gave it a go. It had a “Mediteranean atmosphere.” The Times wrote in SEptember 1982: “it has a feeling of Casablanca’s Rick’s Cafe Americaine.”

8/19/1982. LA Weekly.

In January 1984, Sunset Garden’s fixtures and equipment were to have been sold at auction, but it was cancelled when a new owner took it over and reopened it in May 1984 as (again) Sunset Gardens, with Argentine-Italian cuisine.

5/17/1984. LA Weekly.

 

In November 1984, the Cat & Fiddle English pub announced it was relocating to 6530 Sunset from its former home in Laurel Canyon. It opened here in April 1885.

4/25/1985. LA Weekly.

The Cat & Fiddle remained until December 2014. Other restaurants have occupied the space since then.