Last time I was in downtown L.A., I saw this neon sign on a building on South Spring Street. "Dancing Girls." A seedy reminder of downtown Los Angeles' past.
It was a weekend, and the building was deserted. The metal gates were down over the street-level windows and doors, and the entrance was locked.
The building itself was charming; pretty patterned brick, pleasing proportions. Magnificent banks of windows jutting out in a central bay on the third and fourth floors. That central gable, with its gracefully shaped window.
It was certainly an older building, but recently renovated, with new, modern, wood-framed windows, and new glass doors at the street. Yet they'd saved the old sign, with its faded paint and pentimento, and fragile neon tubes.
I walked around the building. It stands alone, between two empty surface parking lots. The parking lot to the north connects through to a parking lot on Broadway, north of the Orpheum Theatre. As I walked toward the alley between the Orpheum and this building, I saw this sign:
Designed to be visible from the Broadway parking lot. What, I wondered, was the history of this building?
I have a pretty good eye for old theatres, and this one didn't strike me as an old theatre, not even a very early one. For one things, there were too many windows on both walls. Theatres have blank walls, because auditoriums are supposed to be dark.
This building had windows - and on the upper floor, high arched windows. No theatre, this. What could it have been, and why the girly-joint signs?
Here was another clue. The arched entryway has letters carved into the stone, "City Club." I put my face close to the locked glass door.
A small entry hall, marble floors in a stepped checkerboard, a small reception desk, a potted plant. An ornate black iron lantern and chandelier.
The realtors' banners advertised it as being available for showrooms and offices, "and more." Like most historic properties in L.A., it also advertised its availability as a filming location. I went home and, curious, I started to investigate.
The real estate office's website calls it The Primrose Design building, and at a link called "History" is a reprint of an article from the Los Angeles Times dated September, 1924.
This was the headquarters of the Los Angeles City Club. The headline touts it as among the best example of its kind in the nation. Its cost, excluding furnishings, is estimated at $180,000. The article describes the impressive 4th floor dining room with its "baronial medieval" decor, high arched windows, and large-scale checkerboard floor of concrete fashioned to resemble rough stone. The lobby, it notes, is in keeping with this style, with its marble-tiled floor. A tile mural, depicting a California landscape scene, is mentioned.
The fifth floor contained a ladies' dining room and a balcony overlooking the main dining room below. The third floor housed the Club's offices, a library, and a private dining room. The second floor was to be leased out for commercial offices, and the first floor for retail.
There's even a blurry photo of the building - looking almost exactly the same as today - except for the sign.
Libraries, offices, ladies' dining rooms - none of this explains the sign for Dancing Girls.
Well, you know me, by now. This made me even more curious. So come along with me as I discover the history of this building.
Next up - Part Two of "Dancing Girls"