6121 Sunset: CBS Radio Square / Brittingham’s Radio Center Restaurant

Until the latter half of the 1930s, commercial radio was primarily based in New York and Chicago because the technology that made radio programming possible was oriented for east-to-west transmission making it prohibitively more expensive to broadcast a show in the opposite direction. The regulations changed in 1935, sending radio rushing to Hollywood just as moving pictures had done in the 1910s.

Ironically, therefore, the new structure erected to house the new Pacific Coast headquarters of the Columbia Broadcasting System (CBS) would be built on the site of the first film studio in Hollywood.

By 1936, CBS was expanding it’s Hollywood presence, broadcasting from various leased theaters including the Figueroa Playhouse at 940 S. Figueroa St. (now the Variety Arts Theater) in downtown Los Angeles, the Wilshire Ebell Theater, The Music Box Theater at 6626 Hollywood Blvd., and the Vine Street Theater at 1615 Vine St., which it renamed CBS Radio Playhouse (now the Ricardo Montalban Theater). CBS continued to use the latter space until 1953.

The Vine Street Theater as CBS Radio Playhouse c. 1937. LAPL.

In April 1936, CBS purchased local KNX radio station, which operated out of a building at 5939 Sunset Boulevard. Beginning December 29, 1936, all CBS programs, previously heard locally over KHJ, would be broadcast by KNX. The new arrangement was celebrated with a 2-hour special on January 2, 1937, the first hour broadcast from New York, the second half from the Music Box theater in Hollywood.

12/29/1936 Hollywood Citizen-News.

 

1/2/1937. Wilmington Daily Press-Journal.

 

On October 16, 1936, local papers reported that CBS was planning a $1 million new home, revealed by Donald Thornburgh, CBS VP in charge of Pacific Coast operations. Having seen that the competition, NBC, was already outgrowing its new Hollywood home on Melrose Avenue, CBS was going big- huge even. The location was to be the north side of Sunset between El Centro and Gower streets. William Lescaze was to design the building; Earl T. Heitschmidt of Los Angeles would be in charge of the actual construction.

10/16/1936 Monrovia News-Post.

Drawing of the proposed new CBS complex, 2/3/1937. LAT.

 

Architect William Lezcase.

The site chosen for the radio home, addressed as 6121 Sunset Boulevard, had been the Nestor Film Company’s Hollywood studio, established here in a converted tavern on October 27, 1911, and the Christie studios. Demolition of the former studios began in February 1937.

Nestor Studios c. 1911. LAPL.

Nestor Film Co. want ad, 10/31/1911. LAT.

Demolition of the old Nestor-Christie studios at Sunset and Gower, c. February 1937. LAPL. Herman Schultheis collection.

The groundbreaking ceremony, held April 27, 1937, was broadcast nationally over CBS and KNX at 12:45pm.

Construction progress c. December 1937. LAPL. Herman Schultheis collection.

 

The CBS home, known as Columbia Square, officially opened April 30, 1938 with star-studded, all day national coverage.

4/29/1938. Hollywood Citizen-News.

The CBS Columbia Square grand opening lit up the Hollywood sky. LAPL.

The finished building had an office tower, 8 broadcasting studios and an auditorium that could hold over 1000 people.

 

4/29/1938. Hollywood Citizen-News.

LAPL

The eastern half of the complext housed a restaurant, retails shops and a bank.

Harry Brittingham Radio Center Restaurant, addressed as 6111 Sunset and later 6113 Sunset, served as both a commissary for station employees and open to the public. It held its grand opening at the same time as CBS: April 30, 1938.

A view of Brittingham’s Radio Center Restaurant at Columbia Square c. 1938. LAPL.

Ad for the grand opening of Brittingham’s Radio Center Restaurant. 4/29/1938. Hollywood Citizen-News.

4/29/1938. Hollywood Citizen-News.

The interior features a “radio in review” photo montage mural depicting radio personalities, designed by Martin Stern wnd executed by Ray DeBose and Harry Peters of the Hollywood Blueprint Co.

Brittingham’s Radio Center Restaurant New Year’s Part ad, 12/30/1939. Hollywood Citizen-News.

Ad for Brittingham’s Radio Center Restaurant 1/2/1941. LAT.

 

Also opening April 30, 1938 was an outlet of J. Sidneys Sidney’s, Ltd. menswear shop. “Sid’ had opened his first shop at Fox in 1929. In 1938 he operated shops at Paramount and at MGM. The Columbia Square shop, addressed as 6105 Sunset Boulevard, would be his third. The MGM shop would later close and one at Hollywood and Vine.

 

4/29/1938. Hollywood Citizen-News.

4/29/1938. Hollywood Citizen-News.

Looking West on Sunset from Gower St., approaching Sidney’s, Ltd. (with awning) c. 1939. The intersection had been officially renamed Columbia Square though the earlier nickname “Gower Gulch” persisted. LAPL, Herman Shultheis collection.

Columbia Square in the 1940s.

Columbia Square in the early 1950s.

By early 1951, CBS was expanding its television operations and running out of room at Columbia Square. It was forced to not renew the leases of the businesses operating within the complex so that the space could be used for CBS’ own broadcasting needs. As it had in the early days of radio’s westward expansion, CBS also leased theaters around town, including the Earl Carroll Theater at 6230 Sunset.

Earl Carroll’s Theater with CBS signage c. 1951.

Sydney’s, Ltd. announced in March 1951 that it was going out of business. Brittingham’s Radio Center restaurant lease was up in April 1951. The restaurant’s fixtures and equipment were sold at auction in May 1951.

3/4/1951 LAT.

5/20/1951. LAT.

CBS moved its television operations to its huge new CBS Television City in November 1952, KNX moved to new quarters in 2005. Columbia Square was recognized as a Los Angeles Historic-Cultural Monument in 2009.

5939 Sunset: Auto Showroom/ KNX / KMPC

5939 Sunset Boulevard, located at the northeast corner of Sunset and Gordon Avenue, was designed by architect McNeal Swasey in 1924 for Stanley W. Smith as his Hollywood showroom of Peerless motor cars. The star-studded grand opening took place in the evening of June 25, 1924.

As the expansive Spanish-style structure was sectioned into 3 seperate showrooms, it was sometimes adressed as 5941 Sunset Blvd. Just inside the 6 classical columns was a patio. Cars were displayed behind large windows at either end of the Sunset-facing facade.

6/25/1924 Hollywood Daily Citizen

6/22/1924 LAT

On January 7, 1925, Smith announced that this building (addressed as 5941 Sunset) would now be a dealership for Hudson-Essex cars, in association with local distributor Walter M. Murphy. In July 1926, when Smith relocated to Northern California, Murphy took over the building here.

1/7/1925

 

As the Hollywood branch of Walter M. Murphy Hudson-Essex 7/7/1926. Hollywood Daily Citizen.

6/22/1926. LAT

In January 1927, Murphy moved his Hollywood dealership from here to 6250 Hollywood Boulevard. 5939 (aka 5941) served briefly as a gallery in 1928. In November 1932 it housed a short-lived Motion Picture Museum and was later used as an exhibition space, the Hollywood Auditorium (addressed as 5045 Sunset).

Radio Station KNX was broadcasting some shows here by May 1933. In April 1935, the Los Angeles Evening Post-Record reported that the station would soon have the “finest studio headquarters west of the Mississippi on the corner of Sunset Boulevard and Gordon Street. Nothing will be spared in the way of expense and expert craftsmanship to make the KNX home the acme of all all studios. Kenneth Ormiston, KNX chief technition will go east to study the accoutrements of the great Radio City, of all the leading eastern and midwestern broadcasting headquarters.” In May 1935, KNX applied for a permit to reconfigure the space into a fully-fledged broadcasting studio, designed by architect Earl T. Heitschmidt. One of the key features of the new facility was a $35,000 pipe organ capable of making any sound effect required. Less than a year later, in April 1936, KNX was sold to the Columbia Broadcasting System (CBS).

 

4/2/1936. Van Nuys News.

In October, 1936, CBS announced it would build a new Pacific Coast headquarters that would include space for KNX down the street at 6121 Sunset Boulevard between El Centro and Gower. This building opened in April 1938 and KNX moved in.

5939 Sunset thereafter became the home of Max Reinhardt’s Workshop, a school for state, screen and radio actors.

As Max Reinhardt’s Workshop, 8/28/1938.

In December 1943, radio station KMPC, “The Station of the Stars,” announced that it was moving from 9361 Wilshire Boulevard to 5939 Sunset. The dedication of the move was held on March 19, 1944.

3/19/1944. LAT.

3/18/1944. Hollywood Citizen-News.

5939 Sunset as KMPL in 1944. LAPL

KMPC remained here until 1967, when it moved across the street to 5858 Sunset (once Stanley W Smith’s used car lot). 5939 was used for storage.

From 1976 to June 2007, having undergone extensive alterations, it was an outlet of the Old Spaghetti Factory restaurant chain.

In 2011, plans to build a 22-story apartment building (the cleverly named Sunset-Gordon Tower) on the site were announced. Though initially it was reported that the 1924 building would be preserved and incorporated into the new structure (a condition of the project’s approval), it was demolished in 2012. The current red-tile roof building on the site is a reconstruction built in 2014.

A replica facade of the demolished 1924 building was constructed in 2014. City of LA photo.