In part two, I told you that we had to leave Las Vegas very early in the morning, in order to return to Los Angeles. Well the reason for the 5.30 am journey, was because we were heading to see a very important landmark… THE landmark that I had desperately wanted to see for the past six years… Thelma Todd’s Sidewalk Café!!
As you know, I began research into Thelma’s life back in 2010; the fruits of my labour being published in The Ice Cream Blonde, last year. When I began writing the book, I had no real knowledge of who Thelma was, other than the fact she was found dead in her garage in 1935. However, this beautiful lady quickly won my heart, and I have been a fan of hers ever since. I know that I will never stop collecting things about her, and I absolutely feel that by knowing about Thelma, my life and work have been enriched.
For the past six years, I have been pretty obsessed with Thelma’s Sidewalk Café; the place she lived and worked during the last years of her life. I have visited that building hundreds of times in my mind, but never in real life, since I hadn’t been to Los Angeles in almost twenty years. Imagine my excitement and delight then, when the new owners of the building asked if I would like to have a guided tour! They didn’t have to ask twice, and the resulting visit was one of the best times of my entire life.
When I walked into Thelma’s building, I felt like the luckiest girl in the world, which let’s face it, I was! Being inside was an astonishing feeling, and one that I am still trying to get my head around. Did I really visit her building?! Is that even possible?! Yes I did, and yes it was, but I still can’t believe that it happened; even now!
The first thing we did, was go into the cocktail lounge (but more about that later), and then the part of the building where the café was housed. The owners are renovating the property at the moment, in order to restore it the original 1930s glamour, so the place is pretty much bare. However, the thought of Thelma talking to the customers, taking pride in the room that she had designed and overseen, was just mind-blowing.
The door that can be seen to the left, was actually where customers could come into the café through the day, and Thelma was photographed there, when she ran the place. Of course it is very different now, but it’s still there, nevertheless. In the below photo, I am standing in more or less the same spot as Thelma stood in, during the photo shoot. I’m holding my book in my hand!
There aren’t many photos of Thelma inside the café, but below you will see a rare one that I found in an English magazine, from 1935. During the interview, Thelma explained the purpose of the café; introduced Joya’s, the restaurant she had opened upstairs, and much more. It is a fascinating story, and this photo was one I desperately wanted to use in my book. Unfortunately, because it was a magazine photograph, the quality wasn’t very good so couldn’t be used. I’m happy to include it here, though!
Next we headed upstairs to see where Joya’s was situated, and saw the beautiful fireplace which would have once warmed customers on a chilly, seaside evening. Then it was through to a very grand staircase and hall area, which led to Thelma’s private apartments. To go into these rooms was like a dream for me, and once again I ask myself – did it really happen?! Because of the renovation, the walls of the once beautiful rooms have come down temporarily, but it was very easy to see where one room ended and another began. It wasn’t a very large area at all, but I bet it was a beautiful, glamorous space, back in the day!
After spending quite some time in Thelma’s apartment, we headed out onto her patio. This, I might add, was through the very door she was allegedly locked out of on the night of her death. Once outside, there was a giant whoop of delight, as there in the sea in front of us, were a number of dolphins, diving in and out of the water! Some may say I’m crazy, but I like to think that seeing those beautiful creatures, was a sign that someone special was looking down on my visit. Yes, that even sounds crazy as I type it, but it’s just the way I feel.
Once the dolphins had said good bye, we headed upstairs to see where the gambling room likely was, and saw the huge door that would have let patrons inside. It came complete with a small, wooden slot that could be opened to see who was outside! Can you imagine just how many notorious Los Angeles figures walked in and out of that door? It boggles my mind!
Finally we headed downstairs and back into Thelma’s cocktail lounge. I have photographs of the way it looked back in her day, and although obviously the furnishings are no longer there (or the cocktails!), the room as a whole looks very much the same. Roland West had been in that room when he received Thelma’s message from the Trocadero on the night of her death. So much history had taken place in that spot, and there I was, standing in the middle of it! What a thought!
Finally it was time to head back outside, through the same doors Thelma came in and out of, so many times. They still have the Joya’s logo on them, as you can see from the photo, and I would bet my bottom dollar that there is very little – if any – difference in this part of the building at all.
After posing for a few photographs at the front of the building, we headed down the road to Gladstone’s, where the owners of the building, my parents, our friend Morgan and myself, all had a beautiful dinner, looking out at the ocean. After that, it was finally time to say good bye.
Thelma Todd was a remarkable woman, with talent, gumption and a lot of strength. She said what she felt; stood her ground and fought for what she believed in. Being in the building where this fabulous woman lived and worked, has truly changed my attitude towards my career. I now feel stronger in my decisions, and more determined than ever to make my dreams come true. That unbelievable day was an extraordinary one for me, and I will remember it for the rest of my days. A HUGE thank you to my wonderful new friends who allowed me to visit the site, and to Morgan, for driving my parents and I, across mountains to get there! I feel extremely blessed.
Note: The photographs of Thelma’s café building on this page are all copyrighted, and must not be used without permission. Thank you.