Friday, February 24, 2012

Philip Marlowe's Los Angeles

I'm finishing my second Raymond Chandler story in a week. The Little Sister, and before that Lady in the Lake. 

It's like being in a time machine.

Lady in the Lake starts outside the Treloar Building, which "was, and is, on Olive Street, near Sixth, on the west side. The sidewalk in front of it had been built of black and white rubber blocks. They were taking them up now to give to the government, and a hatless pale man with a face like a building superintendent was watching the work and looking as if it was breaking his heart.

(the work--like all of Chandler's books--can be read online)

The Treloar Building, of course, is the Oviatt Building, where Restaurant (or Club) Cicada is now. Chandler doesn't mention the Lalique glass or other appointments. However, Lady in the Lake was first published in 1943, and the reason the rubber sidewalk is being taken up in the first paragraph is that rubber was needed for the war effort. Most rubber sources were in Asia and controlled by Japan. The U.S.A. needed rubber for airplane and truck tires, so any rubber was fair game.

That's the Oviatt Building above, taken in 1931, courtesy of the Los Angeles Public Library. And here's the entrance today, courtesy of My guess is that Chandler made up or transposed the rubberized sidewalk, because the dark-colored blocks are still there...or maybe they've been restored.

Cicada puts on 1940s-style band concerts and dances periodically; check their website

In The Little Sister, a murder takes place at the Van Nuys Hotel. Hey, I've been there! I even blogged about it! It's now the Barclay Hotel at 4th. Here's how Chandler describes the place:

"Once, long ago, it must have had a certain elegance. But no more. The memories of old cigars clung to its lobby like the dirty gilt on its ceiling and the sagging springs of its leather lounging chairs. The marble of the desk had turned a yellowish brown with age. But the floor carpet was new and had a hard look, like the room clerk. I passed him up and strolled over to the cigar counter in the corner and put down a quarter for a package of Camels."

A quarter for a pack of cigarettes...and he gets change back.

The Oviatt Building and the Van Nuys Hotel have one other link, aside from being LA locations used by Raymond Chandler. They were both used in the movie Mr. and Mrs. Smith.

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