Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Tropicana Motor Lodge

Tropicana Hotel and Motor Lodge
8585 Santa Monica Blvd.
West Hollywood

The Tropicana Motor Lodge was L.A.'s answer to the New York's Chelsea Hotel. It was gutter chic - bohemian cool. So very West Coast. It also had a great diner called Duke's. 

The GoGos at the Tropicana Motor Lodge (1979)

The 75-unit Tropicana Hotel and Motor Lodge was located at 8585 Santa Monica Boulevard in West Hollywood. This was an unincorporated section of L.A. County. It was located just south of the Sunset Strip and west of La Cienega Boulevard.

Welcome to the Hotel Tropicana
Anytime of year, you can find it here...

The Tropicana was built in the mid '40's. It was an attractive, horseshoe shaped, two-story, walk-up motor lodge. Located along U.S. Route 66 -  it was built with the automobile in mind.

There was an easy drive-up parking lot in front. The connected rooms had doors which faced the parking lot. There was an attached manager's office and attached diner later called  Duke's. (Duke's would later take on a whole life of it's own.)  

The Tropicana catered to guest needing short and  long-term stays. It offered  low weekly rates with kitchenettes.  

From the get-go, the Tropicana Motor Lodge served as temporary housing for those who could not afford an apartment and needed somewhere to stay. 

There were a variety of  rooms to choose from, each equipped with  in-room phones and TV. There were several private bungalows at the rear. 
A Bigger Splash

It also had a  attractive kidney shaped pool  David Hockney would be proud of.

The Tropicana Motor Lodge was inexpensive, easily accessible and  located on U.S.  Route 66  - a.k.a. the Mother Road - the major path for migrants going west from Chicago to L.A.

On the Road

During the Great Depression and after WW2 many sought a new life out west.

Route 66 -  
Route 66 was the first paved highway between Chicago and L.A. 

U.S. Route 66 connected rural America with urban America, traditional American with experimental America.

Along Route 66  sprung up mom and pop gas stations, cafes/diners and motor motels which catered to the automobile traveler.

The Tropicana was the only motor lodge along this strip of West Hollywood.

Barney's Beanery
8447 Santa Monica Boulevard
Barney's Beanery (founded in 1920) was one of those Route 66 way-stations. It was located about 2 1/2 blocks east of the Tropicana Motor Lodge in West Hollywood.  It continues to offer up a great bowl of hot chili, cold beer and pool tables.

Motor courts often provided a haven for fugitives. The simple registration process provided guest a great amount of anonymity.  Catch Me If You Can con- man Frank Abagnale stayed at the Tropicana while evading law officers. 

However, the more typical guest at the Tropicana Motor Lodge were passing motorist, salesmen, drifters and migrants.

Location, Location, Location
The Tropicana was built on an up-sloping lot on the north side of Santa Monica Boulevard. Set back off the noisy corridor below- it offered a glimpse of the Hollywood Hills behind.

On the Boarder - Crossroads of Grit and Sublime

Santa Monica Boulevard - West Hollywood
Whereas the Sunset Strip was all glamorous and bright lights - Santa Monica Boulevard was gritty and dark. It was West Hollywood's neglected step sister. Train tracks down ran down the center.  Unregulated business operated out of reach of L.A.P.D.  - the County Sheriff seldom came by.  (Today this part of the route is called California State Route 2).

The Town and the City
Along Santa Monica Boulevard were hardware stores, feed stores, iron works, auto parts, auto painting, auto repair, auto wrecking, dry cleaners, bars, taverns, liquor stores, electronic repair, TV and radio repair, lumber yards, machine shops, storage buildings and warehouses.
Drivin' On Your Freeways...
1961 - 1967
Between 1961 and 1967, there was lots of talk about a new Beverly Hills Freeway being built. The proposed route would follow the the old railroad tracks along Santa Monica Boulevard between La Cienega and Doheny Drive.  The 10-lane freeway would cut a wide swath and take out most property along the way, including the Tropicana Motor Lodge. The State Division of Highways threatened emanate domain and bought property along the route.

The proposed freeway would cast a pall over Santa Monica Boulevard for much of the '60's. Consequently -  little repair and maintenance was done to the Tropicana Hotel and surrounding properties in anticipation of the freeway coming through. 

However, by the end of the decade - the freeway was never built.

1959 -60  City of Night 

Though on the fringe - the  Tropicana was in easy reach of  bebop jazz joints, coffee houses, avante garde art galleries, restaurants, cafes and underground theaters.  

 L.A.'s Restaurant Row along La Cienega Boulevard in Beverly Hills and West Hollywood.

The Subterraneans * 

At Sunset and La Cienega there was Gene Norman's Crescendo jazz joint with regular performers Chet Baker, Gerry Mulligan, Miles Davis, Louis Armstrong, Johnny Mathis and Duke Ellington, Shelley Berman, Mary Kaye Trio, Francis Faye, Billy Daniels, Count Basie, Dorothy Loudon and Dizzy Gillespie. 

 1958 novel by Jack Kerouac

Upstairs was the Interlude club, which showcased cutting edge comics such as Don Rickles, Mort Sahl, Rowan and Martin, and the more fringe comics such as Lenny Bruce, Woody Allen, Shecky Green and Red Foxx.
Frank Sennes reopened Ciro's restaurant-theater as well as the Moulin Rouge at 6230 Sunset Boulevard  (former Earl Carroll's theater). Husband/ wife teem Louis Prima and Keely Smith performed here as did Jerry Lewis as did Red Skelton. 
The Cloisters (formerly Macombo super club) had Tony Bennett, Bobby Darin,  and Della Reese, Ray Charles, Sarah Vaughan and Louis Prima

P.J.'s at 8151 Santa Monica Boulevard was a cool jazz joint.  

there was live folk music at the the Ash Grove at 8162 Melrose Avenue. 

Regular performers at the  Ambassador Hotel's Coconut Grove  included: Judy Garland, Johnny Mathis, Nat King Cole, Lena Horne, Pearle Bailey, Harry Bellafonte, Sheila MacRae, Paul Anka, Betty Johnson, Louis Primas and Keely Smith, Pat Boone and Sammy Davis Jr.

In November of 1960 Shelly Manne opened up a new saloon on Cahuenga Boulevard called Shelly's Manne Hole. He and his band would jam here on the weekend. Jimmy Rowles Trio played there regularly. 

1970 photo: William Reagh
Las Vegas $$$ Lures 
By the early 1960's, the Sunset Strip clubs were in trouble. The small clubs couldn't compete with Las Vegas.   The Las Vegas Fabulous Strip lured top acts away with higher salaries, larger and plusher auditoriums. 

L.A. Dodger Connection 
In 1962 the Tropicana Motor Lodge was owned by popular Dodger pitcher Sandy Koufax

L.A. Angels Come to Town
1963 - There's a New Kid In Town
In 1963 Gene Autry's Continental Hotel (1966 it became the Continental Hyatt) opened  at 8401 Sunset Boulevard.

Gene Autry was owner of the L.A. Angels. The Angeles were in L.A. from 1961 until 1966 - then they moved to Anaheim and renamed the California Angels. 

Gene Autry's Continental Hotel was new, attractive and much more glamourous than the Tropicana. It would later be the Continental Hyatt (Riot Hyatt). Today it is the upscale Andaz West Hollywood.

1966 photo: LAPL Herald-Examiner Collection

B - Residence for the B - Culture
The Tropicana Motor Lodge was worn and faded, old and and neglected -  another Hollywood castoff

'60's Jazz, Poetry, Mystics and Drugs

Warm beer and cold women

The Beat Hotel

In the '60's, the Tropicana Motor Lodge guest were an assortment of musicians, poets, mystics, artist, students, writers and jazz musicians. There were also B-actors, drunkards, drug dealers and bums. Surrounding the Tropicana lumed an underworld of drug-fuelled parties, bars, clubs and free love.

An Authentic L.A. Experience

However, the Tropicana Motor Lodge offered guest an authentic L.A. experience.

Long term guest often developed surrogate families amongst each other.  Long term guest decorated rooms any way they wanted. 

Beatnik Beat
Join the fun and don't be a square

Beatniks preferred to stay in fringe hotels with other beatnik types. They believed that gathering close together would ferment creativity

Late night socials and intellectural exchanges were part of the beatnik scene. 

Beatniks rejected traditional social and artistic forms.  Some beats were disillusions and often eccentric.  Part of the lifestyle involved promiscutity, casual drug use, wild parties and general detachment from life. They dabbeled in Eastern religions. 

They sought out intense experiences through drugs and alcohol. They believed some drugs would  produce flashes of insight. 

Beats used street speak in their poetry and writings.  They may have been  down-and-out - but they were full of conviction. 

Midnight Alleys Roam...

Search for Extreme and Intense Experiences 

There were plenty of liquor stores, dark alleys, street dealers, hustlers and bars nearby the Tropicana.

The Palms Cocktail Lounge - 8572 Santa Monica Boulevard

Monaco Liquor store - 8513 Santa Monica Boulevard

 Sunset Strip

1963-67  Supper Clubs Move Out - Teens Clubs Move In
In 1964, the Beatles and rocked the world and rock 'n' roll dominated the am radio dials. 
Teenagers couldn't get enough and spent money on records like never before.  They rolled into the Sunset Strip anxious to be where the action is.   

1966 photo: Ralph Crane Getty Images

From Beatniks to Hippies
In L.A. cool hipsters would hang out at coffee shops and music clubs on the Sunset Strip. These hangouts included; Ben Franks, Fred C. Dobb, the 5th Estate and Hamburger Hamlet, Pandora's Box and The Trip.

Live rock music and dancing was at the Whisky A Go Go, Gazzarri's, the Trip (formerly the Crescendo), Ciro's supper club became It's Boss.

Music Industry Shifts West
In the late 1960's, the center of the music industry shifted from New York to Los Angles. Big record labels at the time were Columbia, RCA, Decca, Capitol, and Warner Brothers/Reprise.

They began to target teenagers with large amounts of disposable income. 

1966 Elektra Signs the Doors

Elektra Records had started out as a folk label founded in 1950 by Jack Holzman in New York. Elektra had much success with Judy Collins
In 1962 Holzman opened a west coast office. He hired Paul Rothchild as a producer. 
In 1966 Elektra signed the Doors.

In 1967 Elektra built a state-of-the-art recording studio at 962 N. La Cienega Boulevard.

In 1967 Jac Holzman sold Elektra to Warner Brothers (Reprise), which had acquired Atlantic Records in 1967. One of Atlantic's major rock artist at this time was Led Zeppelin  (1968-1973).

Jim Morrison Square - Santa Monica and La Cienega Boulevards

Jim Morrison stayed at the Tropican Motor Lodge off and on until his death in July 1971.

Morrison also lived off and on at the Alta Cienega Motel Room #32  between 1968 and 1970. The Alta Cienega Motel is located at 1005 N. La Cienega Boulevard, just north of Santa Monica Boulevard.
Alta Cienega Motel

Jim's room would have looked out at La Cienega and the bowling alley at the NE corner of La Cienega and Santa Monica Boulevards.

Looking north on La Cienega Bl from Santa Monica Bl

The Doors office and rehersal studio was located at 8512 Santa Monica Boulevard (across the street from the Tropican Hotel).  Here they recorded L.A. Woman.

Doors office and rehersal studio at 8512 Santa Monica Blvd.

A plaque in front commemorates the former site of the Door's workshop

Since Jim's death, the site has had several owners and paint schemes. Now the site houses a Mexican restaurant. 

The Family Elektra

1966 - the Doors, Love,  Judy Collins, Tim Buckley, Paul Butterfield Blues Band
1967- to 1969 Elektra artists included; the Dillards, Love, Delaney & Bonney, Tom Paxton, Bread, Roxy Music, Tom Rush, Paul Butterfield, Nico and the Stooges.
1970 to 1971 Elektra artists included;  Stooges, Tim Buckley, Carly Simon, New Seekers, the Doors, Judy Collins and Harry Chapin.

Elektra merged with Asylum Records in 1972. 

Welcome to the Asylum - California Style
Asylum Records was founded in 1971 by David Geffen and Elliot Roberts
Asylum's roster of artist included the  John David Souther, Linda Rondstadt, Joni Mitchell, Glen Frey, Judy Collings, Laura Nyro, Crosby Stills, Nash and Young, Jackson Brown, Warren Zevon and the Eagles. Tom Waits signed to Asylum Records in 1972. In 1972 Asylum Records merged with Elektra Records which was them acquired by Warner Bros. 

The Tropicana Becomes Elektra -fied

Elketra's growing roster of artist frequently stayed at the Tropicana Motor Lodge.

Other early on rock 'n' roll guest included; Janis Joplin, Van Morrison, Bruce Springsteen, Edie Cockran, Martha and the Vandellas, Jim McGuinn of the Byrds, Alice Cooper and Frank Zappa. Play-write Sam Sheppard also stayed here. 

Motel money murder madness

After Jim died in September 1971 in Paris, Door's fans from all over made pilgramages to the Tropicana Motel to pay homage to the Lizard King. His death added to the auro of the place.

L.A. Woman
Cops in cars, the topless bars...

The location made it ideal for drug dealers and hustlers to set up shop. In 1968 a major police raid arrested 8 people at the Tropicana who were caught with a large quantity of drugs including opium, heroin and marijuana.

1970's Decadence
Like most urban areas, the '70's were hard on the the Tropicana.  The Tropicana Motor Lodge was starting to look as tortured and down trodden as it's guest. When something broke it was never fixed. Carpeting was seldom cleaned or replaced. 

Tropicana -  L.A. Woman Sunday Afternoon

In 1970, Elektra signed Iggy and the Stooges.  Iggy Pop was a fan of and inspired by Jim Morrison.

In 1970, Iggy stayed at the Tropicana while he recorded Fun House. To many, Iggy is considered the godfather of punk. He helped bridge the gap between rock and new wave/punk music. In 1973, he became friends with David Bowie and the New York art-house subculture through his Fun House producer and former Velvet Underground,  John Cale

Iggy developed a cult following of his own.

Elektra had a state-of -the-art recording studio located around the corner on La Cienega. Also staying at the Tropicana was John Cale (signed to Elektra) and members of the Eagles. 

1972 Seedy Characters in Seedy Places

Rooms at the Tropicana were filled  with avant-garde poets and artist,  beat writers such as Alan Gingsberg (Jack Kerouac friend) and counter culture enthusiast. There were those attracted to the American low-life, freaks and castoffs.

Ed Sanders stayed there while doing research his book about events leading up to the Tate-LaBianca murders called The Family

Andy Warhol and Paul Morrissey stayed here while making his movie 'Heat'.  The Tropicana made the perfect backdrop for this parady of the film  Sunset Boulevard.  This was where a fading mediocre B-movie actress held out at. 

1972 Chelsea Hotel West  
Another Lost Angel  - City of Night

The same type folk that stayed at the Chelsea Hotel in New York would stay at the Tropicana Motor Lodge while in L.A.  The Tropicana was the place for the up-and-coming and the down-and-outers

Edgy Cool
The Tropicana was popular with musicians, beat poets and writers, avante garde artist and counter culture. It accommodated both overnight and long-term guest. At the Tropicana, some guest kept their doors open all the time. Some doors were never open. 

The lobby filled up with cartoons and photos of patrons and the staff.  

1971  L.A. Singer/Songwriter and the Cocaine Cowboy 
Let's change the mood from glad to sadness

L.A.'s Merry Pranksters *
A group of singer/songers emerged with a laid back California country rock sound. This group included Glenn Frey, J.D. Souther, Jackson Browne and Linda Rondstadt. All were to sign with David Geffin's newly formed Asylum Records.  Several resided in hip Laurel Canyon. 

Asylum Records singer/songwriters Warren Zevon. lived off and on at the Tropicana Hotel in the mid '70's and wrote about the L.A. street life. He was friends with Pre-Fleetwood Mac Lindsey Buckingham and Stevie Nicks who also lived at the Tropicana.  They helped reinvent the L.A. sound

Tom Waits was another local balladeer writing about life's under belly.  Waits would develop a cult following of this own. Waits was on Electra.

These folk played Monday nights at the Troubadour at 9081 Santa Monica Boulevard.


Nighthawks at the Diner/Small Change/Foreign Affair
In 1976 Chuck E. Weiss, and Tom Waits moved in and stayed for years. He lived in a bungalow at the rear of the property and had his piano in the kitchen.

Gal pal Rickie Lee Jones moved to L.A. and was a regular there as well. This group preffered performing in small clubs such as the nearby Troubadour. While staying at the Tropicana in 1978 Jones wrote Chuck E.'s in Love' .

Tom Wait's Nighthawks at the Diner (1975)

Tom Waits and friends Warren Zevon, Chuck E. Weiss and Rickie Lee Jones all were heavy drug and alcohol users.  All were signed to Asylum Records. All played down the street at the Troubadour and resided at the the Tropicana.

Dan Hicks and the Hot Licks had moved into the Tropicana Motor Lodge. They would play regularly at the Troubadour. 

In April of 1972 members of Dan Hicks and the Hot Licks were arrested at the Tropicana for possession of marijuana. He lived here until 1974. 

These singer/song writers were familiar with the Beat Generation. They had read Jack Kerouac, Allen Ginsberg, William S. Burroughs,  John Clellon Holmes and all the early Beats.  

Rock 'n' Roll Incorporated 

1974 - Elektra/Asylum/Reprise/Atlantic/Warner 

In 1974 the West Coast became the center of the recording industry with the merger of Elektra/Asylum/Atlantic/Warner /Reprise.

Music Industry Money Lure 
Singer/songer writers, once critics of materialism and excesses, became victims of material excess. The music business was at it's most decacent level yet, with all the trappings of success. 

1980 photo: Roy Hankey

The most successful band would stay at the upscale Continental Hyatt, Beverly Hilton or the  Chateau Marmont. 


Chateau Marmont

This was when rock 'n' roll went corporate. Rock bands were a commodity to be packaged and sold. Big money, big arena, big record sales, big billboards, big profits, big egos, big cars, big mansions, big parties, big drugs, big toys and big profits. It's not personal... just business.  

Aspiring musician of all stripes would flock to the Tropicana hoping to rub elbows with record industry big wigs.

DUKES Coffee Shop

In 1969 Dukes Coffee shop opened at the Tropicana. Duke's popularity would take on a whole life of it's own. Dukes had the best breakfast in town.

It was known for it's delicious top grade Lingle Brother's coffee served with real cream and free refills. It became a very popular eating place. The food was delicious and the atmosphere was friendly. Dukes was long and narrow, with long rows of wooden tables which customers shared family style. There was also a lunch counter. 

David Hockney, Nighthawks (1942)

On the walls hung cartoons and photos of patrons and staff. It was always crowded and loud with laughter. 
Dukes was known to have the best breakfast in town. It was an egg lovers paradise.  There were 67 variations of eggs and omelets.  For breakfast It offered a huge selection of omletes served with the best hometown fries.  There were 23 breakfast built around the fried, poached and boiled eggs. There was also blintzes, hot cakes with apples, blueberries or bananas, oatmeal and thick French toast. There was thick slices of bacon or ham. The orange juice was fresh and big bowls of fresh fruit. (L.A. Times, July 1982)

Duke's Power Breakfast/Lunch
Dukes became a favorite breakfast place for musicians, publishers, studio executives, actors, agents and artist to meet and do business. 

Duke's featured 18 kinds of burgers, most were half pound of choice beef. The owner was Duke Stone. The most popular hamburger were the Spanish-style Burger for $2.85 and the Italian style Burger for $3.25.  Most hamburgers came with fires and coleslaw. Duke's father would take daily trips downtown to the Produce Mart early in the morning. 

Tropicana's New Wave of Moody Street Irregulars
1975 - 79 

In the late 1970's, recording studios prolifereated Hollywood and the record industry was beseiged by song writers, musicians, promoters and groupies.

The Tropicana bridged the gap between the outcast poets, singer songwriter era and the new age of punk.

Gutter Glamour
Low, evil decadence.

The Tropicana fit the image of what a rock star was suppose to took like - gritty and street wise.

The lobby walls had photos of all the famous people who had stayed there such as: 
The Ramones, Patti Smith, Television,  Blondie, Iggy Pop and the Stooges, the Sex Pistols, the Cramps and the Clash. Also here was Gary Myrick, Elvis Costello, Siouxsie and the Banchees, the Dead boys, the Dickies  and the Plasmatics. 

Groupie Hang-out
Teenagers from all over would hang out at the Tropicana and Dukes hoping to get a glimpse of there favorite rock star. The Tropicana and Dukes were a groupie haven. There were always kids hanging around. There were parties that would spill out onto Santa Monica Boulevard. 

The End - beautiful friend
The Tropicana Motor Lodge closed down in 1986. 
In 1988 it was replaced with a 178 room Ramada Inn and retail complex.

Former site of the Tropicana Motor Lodge

Dukes closed down in 1986. It moved to a new location next door to the Whisky A Go Go.

Looking northwest from Santa Monica Blvd. toward La Cienega Blvd.



Anonymous said...

You've overlooked the Pink Floyd connection...Try watching "The Wall" sometime and you'll notice it.

Anonymous said...

fyi: nighthawks is from Ed Hopper, not Dave Hockney...

bravo for your blog, there's full of datas about famous and terrific places!!!

Woody McBreairty said...

The passing of Duke's on Sunset is the end of an historic era in West Hollywood, in fact for Los Angeles history. What a story Duke's has to tell, if only someone would "ghost" write it

MusicTvGuy said...

I second what Woods says about Duke's, but would add to it that the original location on Santa Monica Blvd was in a league of its own...

Anonymous said...

You must of been there at some point for a spell. Your spot on with a lot of the people and events happening around the time I was there. Worked at Dukes for awhile in 78-79 when Duke and Jeff his son ran the place together. Life was at its best back then!

Slimbo said...

Spent a lot of summer 1978 at tropacania . One night a bunch of limo,s pulled up and it was the cast and crew from the movie animal house. Big party at duke's me and some friends crashed. After duke's lots of those folks came to party at my room, were Tom waits played door man. Lot of fun

chuck weiss said...

Whoever wrote this is a moron!!! Don't believe this horseshit it's not at all accurate!!!

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