The background and early history of most nightclubs in Hollywood isn’t noteworthy. Zardi’s is an exception. The space at 6315 Hollywood Boulevard witnessed a variety of tenants over the years. The Chinese Gardens Cafe was the first to offer prepared dishes. It was replaced by Sardi’s, then Chi Chi, followed by Eddie Spivak’s, and in the 1950s the space was advertised as Sardi’s, Cardi’s, and finally Zardi’s.
The Holly-Vine Market occupied several storefronts on Hollywood Boulevard west of Vine Street in the early 1900s. Wreden’s at 6315 was a purveyor of beef, pork, and lamb; plus fresh fish and poultry. Quality fruits and vegetables were offered at A. Kalamos. Other storefronts included Van de Kamp’s Holland Dutch Bakers, E. A. Morrison Grocer, and Rabin Brothers delicatessen and food stores.
A classified ad – FOR RENT – Stores and Business Sites – in the May 31, 1924, Los Angeles Evening Citizen News advertised the immediate availability of several concessions located at 6311 to 6315 Hollywood Boulevard. The new owner, Frank E. Wright, sought to attract retail and service enterprises, moving away from the previous uses of the location that catered to groceries and raw provisions.
One of the new tenants was the Chinese Gardens Café that occupied an enlarged space at 6313 Hollywood Boulevard that allowed dancing and entertainment. American and Mandarin menus were offered with no cover charge for the entertainment. Chinese Gardens Café occupied the space from 1927 until late 1931 when Eddie Brandstatter negotiated a lease on the space to open a new restaurant.
A notice in the Los Angeles Times from July 10, 1932, announced changes at the address.
“A long-term lease stipulating an aggregate rental of $78,000 and an immediate $20,000 building improvement on the property at 6313 Hollywood Boulevard was closed during the week as Eddie Brandstatter, film city caterer, revealed plans for a new entry into the Hollywood restaurant field.
Plans for the building development are now being completed by Architects C. A. Balch and R. M. Schindler and construction is expected to start August 1st with the new cafe scheduled for opening by October 1st.
Gore Brothers, Inc., will make the improvements.
Brandstatter was formerly identified with the Montmartre and the Embassy Club, two of Hollywood’s smartest restaurants. The new cafe will be known as Sardi’s.
Herman Sims, Hollywood real estate broker, represented both parties in the lease transaction.”
Rudolph Michael Schindler was an Austrian-born American architect who practiced in Southern California during the years 1920-53. Schindler studied architecture in Vienna. His primary influences were Otto Wagner and Adolf Loos who espoused a modern approach to architecture. He was further influenced by Frank Lloyd Wright after seeing a portfolio of Wright’s architectural designs published in Germany by Ernst Wasmuth, Ausgeführte Bauten und Entwürfe von Frank Lloyd Wright, Berlin, 1911. Schindler was determined to work for Wright and moved to Chicago in 1914. Wright hired Schindler in 1918. He sent Schindler to Los Angeles in 1920 to supervise construction of Aline Barnsdall’s Hollyhock House, Wright’s most important commission at the time. Schindler remained in Los Angeles where he established his own practice.
C. A. Balch’s architectural practice was focused on theater design when he worked with Schindler on the Sardi’s restaurant project.
NEW RESTAURANT PLANNED, Los Angeles Times, July 24, 1932
Work started today on the reconstruction of the Gore Building at Hollywood Boulevard and Vine Street for occupation by Sardi’s, Eddie Brandstatter’s new restaurant. Occupancy will take place, according to Brandstatter, shortly after October 1st. Reconstruction is being done by Johnson & Aldous, contractors, under the supervision of C. A. Balch, architect. The expenditure, according to Balch will be approximately $20,000.
Inside construction will be in charge of R. M. Schindler, architect. The restaurant will occupy the entire building with the elimination of the upper floor. There will be a seventeen-foot ceiling. The establishment when completed will be the largest and most up-to-date place of its kind in the West.
Schindler’s architectural plans for Sardi’s were very detailed. The streamlined interior featured modernist banquettes with table and seating that floated on singular post supports. The cushioned seating and back supports were unadorned, no pattern or embellishment to the smooth surfaces. Each banquette provided space for a caricature of a well known Hollywood movie star or personality. Schindler designed the distinctive font that announced the arrival of the new restaurant high on the façade of the building exterior. The same font was used on menus and related signing.
SARDI’S MINUS BALLYHOO, Los Angeles Times, February 3, 1933
Without the customary Hollywood ballyhoo of searchlights, music, etc., Eddie Brandstatter will open his new restaurant, Sardi’s, on Hollywood Boulevard near Vine Street, for luncheon next Thursday. “I am Intentionally omitting the usual ballyhoo,” said Brandstatter. “because I intend to build the reputation of this new establishment on food and prices.” There will be counter, booth and table service with Frank Bolzano, formerly of the Victor Hugo and Town House, as chef, and Alex, formerly of the Brown Derby and the Beverly Hills Hotel, as head-waiter. The restaurant will be open twenty-four hours every day with service available at all times.
Sardi’s opening February of 1933 was at the height of the depression. The target audience, wealthy socialites and the entertainment industry, were somewhat isolated and the enterprise attracted a steady and loyal following in Hollywood. The entire Hollywood and Vine area was the focus of a major retail redevelopment during this time with the following enterprises as part of the new mix of establishments: Radin Jewelry Company, Playhouse Pharmacy, Betty Bolton, Inc., Compact Novelty Shop, Batrisha Millinery, French Slipper Shop, Helene’s, Rogll’s, Le Mards, Pollock Tailoring Company, J. Hillard Wright, Coco Tree Café, Otto Tailoring Company, Marlene’s, Green Board Sales Bureau, Garcia’s Men’s Shop, Nuart Cleaners, O’Keefe & Merritt, Carson’s Shop, Taft Grill, Vine-Selma Drug Company, Hollywood Vogue Furriers, and Strauss Bootery.
Eddie Brandstatter established a reputation as a fine restaurateur with his earlier creations at Monmartre and Embassy Club. The clientele, producers – directors – movie stars, became regulars at Sardi’s. It was the place to be seen in Hollywood. Gossip columns that followed the Hollywood elite frequently mentioned sightings of celebrities at Sardi’s. The gallery of caricatures that adorned the walls at Sardi’s included: Shirley Temple, Constance Bennett, Clark Gable, Charlie Chaplin, Jimmy Stewart, Judy Garland, Jean Harlow, Eddie Cantor, Robert Taylor, and Will Rogers.
Sardi’s was destroyed by fire on November 1, 1936. A drugstore, jewelry store, and tailor shop also suffered water damage as a result of the fire. Thousands of onlookers crowded Hollywood Boulevard as a column of smoke was seen for miles around. The fire began shortly after noon when a waiter entering the kitchen area saw flames shooting into the exhaust fans above the stove. He returned to the dining area and alerted customers to exit the restaurant. Several engine companies responded to the fire. No lives were lost but eight suffered injuries including a cook at the restaurant and seven firemen. The restaurant interior was a total loss valued at $100,000.00. Water damage to the other establishments was valued at $15,000.00. Manager Covey and owner Brandstatter assembled architects and construction firms that evening to lay immediate plans for reconstruction and reopening that was planned for December 15, 1936.
Sardi’s launched a morning radio program soon after opening in 1933. It featured interview segments with prominent personalities who were newsworthy at the moment. It became one of the top rated morning radio programs in the nation as it was carried over the Blue Network. Tom Breneman hosted the program, “Breakfast at Sardi’s,” for several years until 1945 when Breneman purchased his own restaurant and moved the radio program there. Sardi’s owner filed a suit in the matter.
RADIO BREAKFAST FIGHT SUIT FILED
Whether Tom Breneman and other defendents have the right to replace “Breakfast at Sardi’s”
With another national radio program called “Tom Breneman’s Breakfast in Hollywood” and then prohibit the owner of Sardi’s from initiating a new breakfast program from his restaurant, was the issue of a suit filed yesterday against Breneman, radio master of ceremonies, and others.
David Covey, owner of the restaurant at 6315 Hollywood Boulevard, from which the “Breakfast at Sardi’s” program was broadcast from 1933 until last Match 9th, asks Superior Court to determine the rights of all parties and to enjoin the defendants from assertedly threatening legal action against sponsors of a proposed new program to originate in his café. Such threats, he claims, have prevented agreement on a contract.
Breneman plans to broadcast his program under a different name from a new location.
After reopening, Sardi’s continued to operate in Hollywood until August of 1945 when Chi Chi, a restaurant chain, acquired the lease at 6315 Hollywood Boulevard. Ads for the new location stressed “Chi Chi in Hollywood” and the chain also resumed the tag of “Sardi’s” as seen in an ad from July of 1947 when Bill Anson hosted a radio broadcast from the restaurant nightly from 12 to 2 A.M. over KFWB.
The MIDNIGHT AT SARDI’S ad noted two entertainment rooms at the restaurant, The Monkey Room and The Circus Room. Martha Davis was the featured artist in the latter. She was actively recording during this time with United Artists’ Urban Productions – “I’m Fer It” and “The Be-Bop Bounce” as well as Ben Pollack’s Jewel label – “When I Say Goodbye” and “Sarah, Sarah.”
MARTHA DAVIS (By Dave Penny)
At the mid point of the 20th Century, the success of the jolly fat lady at the piano was a universal phenomenon. To name a few: Julia Lee, Nellie Lutcher, Rose Murphy, Winifred Atwell and even Mrs Mills and, one more, Martha Davis.
Born in Wichita, Kansas, on 14th December 1917, and raised in Chicago, Martha Davis attended the famous Du Sable High School, and counted Dorothy Donegan and Nat Cole among her class mates. She met Fats Waller in the 1930s, who allegedly taught her some of his piano skills, and by the mid 1930s she was frequenting the lively Windy City jazz clubs and sitting in at all-night jam sessions. At one such in 1939, she met and subsequently married a Mississippi-born (17th October 1917) bass player named Calvin Ponder, but as he would enjoy a lucrative career with, notably, Earl Hines’ big band, the couple did not work together regularly until 1948. By this time, the couple had moved to California and Martha had made her impressive recording debut on the tiny West Coast independent, Urban Records and had even enjoyed a substantial movie role in the Monogram Films featurette, Smart Politics, alongside Gene Krupa’s Orchestra.
In 1948 Martha and Calvin recorded together for Ben Pollack’s Hollywood-based Jewel Records, and it was to be her most successful year chart-wise, with a cover of Dick Haymes’ pop hit “Little White Lies” reaching #11 on the Billboard R&B listing in July. This was followed by her duets with Louis Jordan – “Daddy-O” c/w “You’re On The Right Track, Baby,” the former of which climbed to #7 later in the year. The patronage of Jordan provided an entrée with Decca Records, and Martha recorded six tracks for the label in December 1947. Surprisingly, she would not record again until 1951 when Bob Thiele signed her to Coral Records, although Herman Lubinsky reissued the 1948 Jewel sides in 1950 when he purchased the recording masters from Pollack.
Chi Chi applied for an entertainment license to allow dancing and live music in November of 1947. A citizens group protested the application that was denied by the Police Commission. A similar request by the Susie Q at 6700 Hollywood Boulevard had also been denied. The area around Hollywood and Vine had experienced several robberies and a City Council committee recommended that lighting be increased in cocktail bars and restaurants where liquor was sold.
The petition for an entertainment license for Chi Chi might have been granted as the booking of Viviane Greene as noted in the California Eagle edition of January 15, 1948, confirmed that she was appearing at the club. Viviane Greene had recently achieved some measure of fame with her releases on the Trilon label, most notably – “Honey, Honey, Honey” and “The Unfinished Boogie.” Her combos on Trilon and Mercury featured Nick Esposito, Tony Rizzi, and Red Callender among others. Although Greene is currently absent from listing in jazz discographies, she and her recordings on Trilon clearly qualify her for inclusion.
The restaurant space changed hands again in January of 1948 when Eddie Spivak, a noted Los Angeles restaurateur, purchased the former Chi Chi – Sardi’s at 6315 Hollywood Boulevard and changed the name to Eddie Spivak’s in Hollywood. Spivak owned the Redwood House in downtown Los Angeles and Smokey Joe’s on La Cienega. Spivak presented live entertainment for several months in the fall of 1948 when Pete Daily and His Chicagoans were featured at the club that was advertised as EDDIE’S.