Schwab's Pharmacy (Hollywood)

 
(1940s)* – Postcard view looking at the south side of Sunset east of Crescent Heights showing “Movieland’s Drug Store” (Schwab’s Pharmacy).  

 

Historical Notes

Schwab's Pharmacy was a popular hangout for movie actors and movie industry dealmakers from the 1930s through the 1950s. Like many drug stores in the United States throughout the mid-twentieth century, Schwab's sold medicines and had a counter serving ice cream dishes and light meals.

 

 

 

 
(1940s)^x^ – Close-up view of Schwab’s Pharmacy at 8024 Sunset Boulevard in West Hollywood.  

 

Historical Notes

Schwab's opened in 1932 when Philadelphia natives and brothers, Jack, Leon, Bernard and Martin Schwab, bought a failing pharmacy on the corner of Sunset and Crescent Heights boulevards. The pharmacy was located just around the corner from several studios and the brothers set up their pharmacy to cater to the Hollywood crowd. Schwab's was more than just a place to fill prescriptions: there was a grocery store, a make-up counter (Gloria Swanson bought all her cosmetics there) and a restaurant that served all-American fare like hamburgers and meatloaf (Marlon Brando and Orson Welles were fans).*

 

 

 

 
(1951)** - A woman walks down Sunset Boulevard outside of Schwab's Pharmacy. Photo by Earl Leaf  

 

Historical Notes

On weekend evenings in the 1950s, the sidewalk in front of the pharmacy was filled with customers six deep, standing around with a soda or a malt. Schwab’s had an impressive Rolodex of actors who referred to it as “headquarters.”

For Billy Wilder’s 1950s noir classic Sunset Boulevard, an exact replica of the pharmacy was created on the Paramount Studios backlot. In the film, when screenwriter Joe Gillis (played by William Holden) finds himself down on his luck after being rejected by Paramount, he explains: “Schwab’s was kind of a combination office, coffee klatch, and waiting room. Waiting, waiting, waiting for the gravy train.”^

 

 

 

 
(ca. 1939)^^  - Standing, Bert Lahr, Ray Bolger, MGM executive L.K. Sydney, E.Y. Harburg, Meredith Wilson, & publisher Harry Link.  Judy Garland & Harold Arlen are at the piano.  

 

Historical Notes

1938 - Harold Arlen was working on a movie score for an upcoming film, The Wizard of Oz. He was having a difficult time composing a ballad for one particular scene. Ballads were usually love songs, but this scene was about a lonely farm girl longing for "a place where there isn't any trouble," and it had him stumped. He decided to take a break from writing and catch a movie at Grauman's Theater with his wife, Anya. He sat in the passenger seat with Anya at the wheel. They turned onto Sunset Blvd, heading East, when suddenly he touched her arm and asked her to pull over. Anya parked the car under the neon sign of Schwab's Pharmacy, as Harold scribbled the melody that just came to him. He rushed inside to call his writing partner, Yip Harburg, from the Schwab's payphone.

"Yippers, can you meet me at my house in 10 minutes? I think I got a nugget."

 

 

 

 
(1940s)^x^ - View showing Sidney Skolsky, a gossip columnist, in front of Schwab’s Pharmacy on Sunset Blvd.  

 

Historical Notes

Sidney Skolsky, a syndicated Hollywood gossip columnist for the New York Daily News who was the first journalist to use the nickname "Oscar" for the Academy Award in print, made Schwab's famous in the 1930s. He used the drugstore as his office, and called his column in Photoplay, the premiere movie magazine in the U.S. at the time, "From A Stool At Schwab's".

 

 

 

 
(1945)^.^ - Hurd Hatfield and Angela Lansbury hanging out at the counter of Schwab's Pharmacy and (maybe) reading reviews of their film "The Picture of Dorian Gray", which was released in March of that year.  

 

Historical Notes

A persistent Hollywood legend has it that actress Lana Turner was "discovered" by director Mervyn LeRoy while at the soda counter at Schwab's. While the 16-year-old Turner was indeed discovered at a soda counter, the actual location was not Schwab's but another Sunset Boulevard establishment, the Top Hat Cafe, and the person who discovered her was not LeRoy but Hollywood Reporter publisher William Wilkerson.^

 

 

 

 
(1948)^.^ - Schwab's Pharmacy on Sunset Blvd on a Friday night. It was a hangout for Hollywood Stars and up--and-comers. Life Magazine Photo  

 

Historical Notes

Schwab’s became an essential piece not only of Hollywood day-to-day living but of Hollywood lore.  Open from early in the morning until past midnight, the place was a clubhouse, a headquarters, and a hearth fro up-and-comers, never-quite-ever-beens, rubberneckers, and strivers and schemers trying to pry a way into (sometimes back into) the movie business.*

 

 

 

 
(1950)^.^ – William Holden waits for traffic to clear as he attempts to cross Sunset Blvd on his way to Schwab’s Pharmacy in this scene from the movie Sunset Boulevard.  Crescent Heights Market is seen on the left.  

 

Historical Notes

The 1950 film, Sunset Boulevard, stars William Holden as Joe Gillis, a struggling screenwriter, and Gloria Swanson as Norma Desmond, a former silent-film star who draws him into her demented fantasy world, where she dreams of making a triumphant return to the screen. Erich von Stroheim plays Max von Mayerling, her devoted butler, and Nancy Olson, Jack Webb, Lloyd Gough, and Fred Clark appear in supporting roles. Director Cecil B. DeMille and gossip columnist Hedda Hopper play themselves, and the film includes cameo appearances by leading silent-film actors Buster Keaton, H. B. Warner, and Anna Q. Nilsson.^

 

 

 

 
(ca. 1960s)^.^ – View showing Schwab's Pharmacy after it was completely rebuilt. Sunset Steak n’ Stein is on the right, where Googie’s used to be located.  

 

Historical Notes

Over the years, Schwab’s became a popular local mini-chain, with locations at 6255 Hollywood Boulevard, 430 N. Roxbury Boulevard and 401 N. Bedford Drive. The Bedford Drive location, which had a special department and phone number reserved for the famous, was where Marilyn Monroe filled her prescriptions. One of her prescription bottles sold for $3,200 in 2014.*

 

 

 

 
(ca. 1960s)^.^ - Nighttime view of Schwab's Pharmacy after it was enlarged and given a new facelift.  

 

Historical Notes

Schwab's continued to be a popular hang-out well into the 1970s with luminaries like Cher, Linda Ronstadt and Diane Keaton frequenting the Hollywood hot spot.

 

 

 

 
(1980)* - Exterior of Schwab's Pharmacy at 8024 Sunset Boulevard, in West Hollywood.  

Historical Notes

In the 1970s and early ’80s, a new set of celebrities began gracing the fountain with their presence, including Eric Estrada, Al Pacino, Sylvester Stallone, Goldie Hawn and Jerry Brown. In 1980, Jack Schwab passed away at age 75, and after five decades of service, the Schwab’s on Sunset Boulevard closed down. Leon Schwab stated that the closure was due to family reasons, but the truth was that the company was in financial distress. In 1983, everything that was not bolted down, from the stools and counters to the pharmacy’s famous Rolodex, was auctioned off to the highest bidder. The large red-and-blue neon sign that hung over the front door sold for $650.*

It took the wrecking ball a couple of more years to knock down Schwab's, but in 1988 the building came down, making way for a large retail complex. 

 

 

 

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