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Historic Brown Derby property sold in Los Feliz for $9.25 million

August 19, 2012|By Roger Vincent
  • The former Brown Derby restaurant building at the intersection of Los Feliz Boulevard and Hillhurst Avenue will soon be home to MessHall restaurant.
The former Brown Derby restaurant building at the intersection of Los Feliz… (George Wilhelm/Los Angeles…)

 The last surviving Brown Derby restaurant building, which dodged the wrecking ball in the mid 2000s, has sold for $9.25 million to local investors.

The domed structure at the intersection of Los Feliz Boulevard and Hillhurst Avenue in Los Angeles was the fourth Brown Derby, a small restaurant chain popular with the entertainment industry in Hollywood’s Golden Age.

The sellers, a group led by Adler Realty Investments Inc. of Woodland Hills, had let go of their plans to raze the building and build a five-story condominium and retail complex. Neighbors objected to the potential loss of the landmark and worried about increased traffic at the busy intersection.

With the support of public officials, the former Derby property was declared a historic landmark, effectively killing the development — and providing an unexpected break for the would-be developers.

“We would have finished right when the condo market was in the tank,” said real estate broker John Battle of Lee & Associates, one of the sellers. The project might well have been foreclosed upon, he said, a fate suffered by many condo developments in that period.

The property has been altered numerous times since it opened in 1929 as a Willard's chicken restaurant. In 1941, it was purchased by legendary director Cecil B. DeMille. He brought in the Brown Derby fine dining and 24-hour car service in keeping with the drive-in restaurant fad of the era.

From the 1960s to the early 1990s, the Derby location was home to Michael's Los Feliz restaurant.

It was occupied most recently by a branch of Louise’s Trattoria. The owners of Louise’s closed it recently — they will reopen the space next month, in conjunction with restaurateur Bill Chait, as a new eatery called MessHall.

A Chase Bank branch took over the domed portion of the former Derby, preserving the arching wooden ceiling that was a key element of a primitive air conditioning system that allowed water to drip down the sides of the dome and cool the room.

The new owner is CMC Asset Investments Inc., a company owned by the Chu family of Los Feliz, which will operate the property as it is, Battle said. Attorney James Chu represented the family in the transaction.

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