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Developer Discovers New Role in Hollywood for Schwab's

A 21st century version of the famed pharmacy will anchor project at Sunset and Vine.

June 20, 2003|Roger Vincent | Times Staff Writer

Schwab's Pharmacy, a long-lamented icon of Hollywood's golden era, will make a comeback next year in a high-profile real estate development at the corner of Sunset and Vine.

Although the popular legend that actress Lana Turner was discovered at Schwab's probably isn't true, the pharmacy and soda fountain founded in 1932 were a popular entertainment industry hangout for decades. It was immortalized in director Billy Wilder's tour de force 1950 movie "Sunset Boulevard," serving as headquarters for the main character, Joe Gillis, played by William Holden.

The pharmacy at Sunset and Crescent Heights boulevards closed in 1983 and was razed to make room for a shopping center. But tourists from around the world still come looking for the storied lunch counter, said Larry Bond, chairman of Bond Cos., whose Santa Monica company bought the rights to the Schwab's name.

A 21st century version of Schwab's will be the centerpiece of a shopping center and apartment project called Sunset + Vine. Bond is developing the $125-million project with Canyon-Johnson Urban Fund, a partnership of Beverly Hills-based Canyon Capital Realty Advisors and former Los Angeles Laker star Earvin "Magic" Johnson's Johnson Development Corp.

The new Schwab's will be on the first floor of the complex, behind the preserved 1938 art deco facade of the former TAV Studios, which once housed ABC Radio and later the Merv Griffin Theater.

In "Sunset Boulevard," Holden's Gillis called Schwab's a "combination office, kaffeeklatsch and waiting room." The new, 21,000-square-foot version will aspire to similar roles, in part by offering amenities undreamed of by former regulars Marilyn Monroe, James Dean, Judy Garland, Lucille Ball and Orson Welles.

In addition to a lunch counter, the Schwab's scheduled to open next year will include a boutique department store, yoga and Pilates studio, hair salon, sushi bar and restaurant, flower shop, cafe and teahouse.

Bond came up with the idea of buying a great name from the past to draw attention to his project and the neighborhood. "I was looking for something that would bring back the excitement and glamour of yesteryear," said Bond. "I couldn't think of anything better than the Brown Derby or Schwab's Pharmacy."

After settling on Schwab's, he tracked down two descendants of the four Schwab brothers who operated the original. Through a relative at Alan Schwab Pharmacy in Beverly Hills he found Laura Schwab Abrams of Point Ludlow, Wash., the daughter of one of the founders; she owned rights to the Schwab's Pharmacy name with her sister, Linda. Bond declined to say what he paid for the famous name and logo.

At Sunset and Vine, Schwab's will be joined by Borders Books & Music and Bed Bath & Beyond, among other retailers. Some stores may open by the end of the year, Bond said. Loft-style apartments will be available by April, and all 300 rental units should be completed by July 2004.

The project on the northwest corner of the intersection will boast a massive electronic billboard, a surrounding frieze of advertising signs and a projector that will flash images of faces. A brace of klieg lights, which Bond said should be visible for miles, will sit atop the 120-foot centerpiece. But Schwab's will be the main attraction.

"Besides creating a comfortable place where our tenants can relax and hang out, we plan to make Schwab's a place for young people to get together for a drink on their way to the great clubs in Hollywood," said Bobby Turner, managing director of the Canyon-Johnson Urban Fund.

Hanging out at Schwab's is a fondly remembered Hollywood tradition. The four Schwabs who bought a failing drugstore in 1932 decided to cater to the actors, writers and other film folk who frequented the nearby Republic, RKO and Columbia studios.

Among the store's attractions, said Leon Schwab in 1983, were check cashing and charge accounts.

"Leon has carried [the tabs of] actors longer than their mothers did in pregnancy," actor Chuck Mitchell told The Times that year. Mitchell, whose roles included the porcine villain in "Porky's," had been a regular since 1942.

Other patrons included Charlie Chaplin, who was allowed to get behind the soda fountain to make his own milkshakes. Gloria Swanson bought makeup at Schwab's. Actor Hugh O'Brian worked there as a soda jerk before making it big as television gunslinger Wyatt Earp and, Leon recalled, was "more or less" discovered at Schwab's.

The last of the Schwab brothers, Bernard, died in March. He and his brothers, Leon, Jack and Martin, owned six pharmacies at the peak of their success. The Sunset Boulevard location survived the longest and was the best known.

Bond hopes lightning will strike again.

"We're keenly interested to see what new Hollywood star will be discovered at our property," he said.

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