Vintage Photos From Culver City's Lively Prohibition-Era Jazz Scene
Prohibition didn't put much of a damper on nightclubbing in Los Angeles, especially if you were hanging around Culver City in the mid-1920s. Thanks to the proximity of MGM studios, the main drag of Washington Boulevard was the place to be.
There was Fatty Arbuckle's Plantation Cafe, a popular spot to grab some bootlegged liquor and a show. Opened in 1928, at the height of Prohibition, it was the place to see and be seen, but it didn't last long. When the stock market crashed in 1929, so did the Plantation Cafe.
But Sebastian's Cotton Club, located at the intersection of Washington and National, was Culver City's premier jazz club. Opened in 1926 by Frank Sebastian, the club was one of, if not the first, to feature bands of exclusively black musicians. According to Martin Turbull, it was open late; very late. If you made it through the night, you'd be served breakfast in the morning.
One of the most famous headliners to perform at the Cotton Club was Louis Armstrong. Ever heard of him? According to the biography Pops: A Life of Louis Armstrong, in 1930, Armstrong snuck out back to the club's parking lot to smoke a joint in 1930 with his drummer Vic Benton. They were caught; allegedly set-up by a competing club owner who paid police to arrest Armstrong. Armstrong said of the incident:
While Vic and I were blasting this joint, having lots of laughs and feelin' good, enjoying each other's fine company, we were standing in this great big lot in front of some cars. Just then, two big healthy dicks (detectives, that is) come from behind a car, man, nonchalantly, and say to us, "We'll take the roach, boys." Mmmm!
Here's a recording of Louis Armstrong's band playing, "I'm A Ding Dong Daddy" from a 1930 performance at the Cotton Club:
The Cotton Club closed in 1938, and was reborn as Casa Manana. After another change of ownership, the building became the Zucca Opera House, which was burned to the ground in 1950.
And here's one more Armstrong tune recorded at the Cotton Club from 1930. It sounds fantastic: