Felix In Hollywood

A Blog for the Smart Set

Sunday, June 27, 2010

The Piazza Del Sol

The Piazza Del Sol, located at 8439 Sunset Blvd., is an office building that houses several smaller production companies and is probably most notable these days for it's tenant Katana Japanese Restaurant.  Katana's prime Sunset Strip location and co-ownership by Ryan Seacrest and Tori Spelling once caused Newsweek magazine to announce that, "it's so hip, it hurts."  I'm quite sure it is.  And I'm quite sure it does.  But let's concern ourselves with the buildings history a moment.

The Italian Renaissance beauty (all 54,000 square feet of it) was built in 1927 as the Hacienda Arms, a luxury apartment building.  In short order it became the home of Marie Dressler, Loretta Young, child star Leon Janny and others. 

But the property's real 'golden era' (as far as concerns those of us who like our history on the juicy side) was in the 1930's when it was known as The House of Francis, Hollywood's most elegant and exclusive bordello!  If you're familiar with the E.J. Fleming book, "The Fixers: Eddie Mannix, Howard Strickling and the MGM Publicity Machine", it might just as well have been called The House of MGM.  If not, here is your tutorial:

Starting somewhere in the early 30's and ending in 1940, the well established Los Angeles madam, Lee Francis ran her operation out of the Hacienda Arms.  It's elegance, rich appointments and clubby atmosphere was unsurpassed.  French champagne and Russian black caviar were the snacks of any given day (and night).  And then, of course, there were the girls.  All of them beautiful and skilled.  They may have been frustrated that they hadn't made it as movie queens, but the $1000 per week, on average, that they were making with Lee at the height of the Depression certainly soothed the pain.  It is said that MGM had an account at the house under a different name.  Erroll Flynn, Spencer Tracy, Jean Harlow and Clark Gable were regulars.  That's right, I said Jean Harlow.  When Lee Francis got around to writing her autobiography (you just knew she would) "Ladies On Call", she explained that Harlow's frequent visits would always have one of two outcomes.  Either she would selected a handsome man from the clientele lounging about (for which she always gave Francis $500 considering she was walking out with a paying customer) and take him home, or she would simply go upstairs with one of the girls for a round of fun and games. 

Francis expained it this way:  "I had several well known women who would come by my house.  They would come in, hire the services of my girls, and take them upstairs with the same candor and obvious purpose as any man.  One must not confuse the average society woman who takes on one of my girls with (lesbians).  She is merely sex hungry and either afraid to risk entertaining a man because of the possible consequences or squeamish at the thought of sleeping with any man other than her husband.  So, in the strict sense of the word, she is not a woman-lover."  Oh, okay.  In any case it was also noted that both the girls and the male customers often complained about Baby Jean's rough taste in sex.

The money (40% of her profits) that Francis paid the Vice Squad insured her certain courtesies.  She was given an ample 'heads up' of any police raids, so she could clear everyone out and greet the cops with the 3 C's: champagne, caviar and cash.  Everything was jake until a change of policy and heart on the part of the LAPD in 1940.  Lee Francis was finally pinched and the party was over.

If you ask me, a classy set up like the House of Francis is a lot hipper than Jason Seacrest, Tori Spelling or any old Japanese joint any day!


savannah said...

office space? what a shame, sugar. i'm sure the interiors have been ripped to shreds by now. *sigh* xooxxo

Rob said...

Wow, amazing history in that building--considering it's Hollywood, I'm surprised it hasn't been torn down!
As I'm a sucker for the "Three C's" (champagne, caviar and cash, I wonder how quickly it would've taken me to get corrupted in that joint...!

Mike, Studio city said...

Well that explains why my friend lived there in the early 70's. He was such a slut, back then most of us were. I had some fun times in that building, now it all has more meaning.