Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Florentine Gardens - Hollywood Nightspot

Florentine Gardens, 5955 Hollywood Blvd, Hollywood
In the late 1930s and 1940s radio was huge in Hollywood. Stations were located all over town - up and down Vine Street, Sunset Boulevard and Hollywood Boulevard. The radio stations brought a large crowd into Hollywood and at night that crowd needed a place to party. There were many clubs and entertainment joints that popped up around Hollywood and one of them was the Florentine Gardens on Hollywood Boulevard.
Opening in 1938, the Florentine Gardens was a dinner theater. The cost back then was $1.50 and an audience would get some Italian food, partially nude girls, an emcee, dancers, a singer and more. Whereas the Sunset Strip featured many upscale nightspots, Hollywood had more of the working class nightspots and the Florentine Gardens was one of them.
Various performers made appearances at the Florentine Gardens including such big acts as the Mills Brothers and Sophie Tucker. Yvonne DeCarlo, or more famously known as Lily Munster, from the 1960s television show The Munsters, started as a chorus girl at the Florentine Gardens. And another interesting tidbit - when Norma Jean Baker, just 16 years-old, married Jim Dougherty, the wedding party celebrated at Florentine Gardens. Of course Norma Jean did not stay married to Dougherty for long. She eventually moved on with her life and became the big star Marilyn Monroe. She would have many different and more notable lovers after Dougherty.
Business wasn't always good at the Florentine Gardens but in the early 1940s, with WWII going on, many servicemen could be found in Hollywood. It's no surprise that these young men would find the affordable and at times sleazy entertainment of the Florentine Gardens attractive. These servicemen kept the business coming for the Florentine Gardens. But, of course this didn't last. In 1948, the Florentine Gardens went bankrupt. It later reopened as the Cotton Club and ran for a few more years as a place for black performers but the Cotton Club would also struggle. Today the building still stands and is a nightclub featuring live groups and D.J.s.
Here is a great YouTube video featuring some nice images of the Florentine Gardens:

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