Crossroads of the World
1936 – Robert V. Derrah
6671 Sunset Boulevard – map
Screw Times Square! The real Crossroads of the World is right here in Hollywood on Sunset Boulevard. Granted, Times Square can claim the Coca-Cola Sign, the New Year’s Eve Ball Drop, One Times Square, and the Naked Cowboy, while our landmark today boasts primarily a bunch of boring offices. But our Crossroads of the World looks like a big boat.
The project was conceived by a woman named Ella Crawford and designed by (a man named) Robert V. Derrah.
Born in Salt Lake City, Derrah was apparently a brainiac, for he graduated from both MIT and Harvard before coming to the area in the mid-1920s. He served as president of the Southern California Chapter of the American Institute of Architects in 1945, only to die from a heart attack in October of the following year at the age of 51. Derrah was responsible for a couple of other city landmarks, too, the Coca-Cola Company Building, No. 138, and Southern California Gas Company Building on Flower, No. 789.
In this case, what Derrah designed was an international shopping center of shops and studios, “a beautifully housed, permanent world’s fair.” One of the keys to the success to the set of buildings was its open spaces where pedestrians could wander about.
The development’s general layout is that of a docked Streamline Moderne ocean liner surrounded by two-story cottages done up in a variety of architectural styles – English, French, Swedish, Spanish, Algerian, Turkish, Italian, Persian, Mexican, and, er, Netherlandish. Derrah also tossed in bits of colonial New England and early California for you xenophobes.
Early on, plans called for building a theater for foreign films, something I can’t find evidence of ever materializing.
The ship’s aft is crowned with a thirty-foot Art Deco tower capped with a lighted eight-foot world globe, a literal Hollywood landmark.
Crawford, who was extremely careful in her selection of tenants who would bring in high-class shops keeping with the international theme, somehow had an in with Universal Studios (this was right around when Standard Capital took over the studio from Carl Laemmle) . The day before Crossroads’ October 29, 1936, grand opening, a quartet of Universal starlets showed up for photo-ops for the mall (and for themselves). For posterity, their names were Marjorie Gage, Emily Lane, Mary Alice Rice, and Polly Rowles. I mention this only because I’m thinking these ladies’ careers could use a bit of a boost.
Opening night for Crossroads of the World was akin to a big movie premiere. Included in the revelries were a master of ceremonies, “colorful foreign musicians, groups of native dancers and folk singers.” To boot, Universal went on to provide a bunch of international “film players” to act as hosts and hostesses. Just look who was scheduled to greet you with Ciao!, Hola!, or whatever (and the countries they were representing):
Cesar Romero (Cuba)
Binnie Barnes, Wendy Barrie, Boris Karloff, and Jack Dunn (England)
Ella Logan (Scotland)
Tala Birell (Austria)
Henry Armetta (Italy)
Mischa Auer (Russia)
Peggy Ryan and George Murphy (Ireland)
Gertrude Niesen (Scandinavia)
Opening day, the Los Angeles Times reported the shopping center had “accommodations for more than a hundred shops, cafes, bazaars and studios. These units will feature merchandise and foods from the four corners of the earth.” Today, the designated city landmark houses businesses including design firms, a hair care shop, production houses, magazines, talent agencies, religious institutions, and at least one art gallery. The Sunday afternoon I was walking around, it was all but deserted. Lots of parking in the lot off Las Palmas.
This Seeing Stars page says Diana Murphy and Sid Hudgens had offices here in Indecent Proposal and L.A. Confidential, respectively.
“Hollywood's Unique “Crossroads of the World” Project Makes Bow to Public in Premiere Tonight” Los Angeles Times; Oct 29, 1936, p. 6
“Stars From All Nations to Be Present at Opening” Los Angeles Times; Oct 29, 1936, p. 6
“Architects’ Ideas Vie” Los Angeles Times; Oct 29, 1936, p. 6
Southwest Builder and Contractor Oct 18, 1946, p. 5
Longstreth, Richard. City Center to Regional Mall MIT Press 1997 Cambridge, Massachusetts
Up next: Canoga Mission Gallery