The Fish Shanty and old Kooky World of La Cienega




VINTAGE LOS ANGELES: FISH SHANTY AND THE KOOKY WONDERLAND THAT WAS RESTAURANT ROW

La Cienega and Beverly Boulevard used to be a playful pocket of themed eateries, amusement parks, and nightclubs


By Alison Martino


Established in 1950 by the Smith Bros., the Fish Shanty was classic West Coast kitsch. Located at the intersection of La Cienega Boulevard and Burton Way, it was known to Angelenos as "the restaurant that swallowed you whole,” and nothing thrilled me more as a child than walking through the jaws of the Shanty’s whale fa├žade or hiding under his fin, which was made out of thousands of tiny, ocean-blue, midcentury mosaic tiles that sparkled during sundown like the crest of an effervescent wave. (It will be forever preserved on film after being used as the entrance to a British club in the 1965 black comedy, The Loved One.)


Photographs of the La Cienega Smith Bros. Fish Shanty restaurant interior. Handwritten descriptions by Birdie Smith in the Margin.





The kitchen served reasonably priced seafood in a nautical atmosphere that included a ship’s wheel, lavender leather booths, and an aquarium with turtles in the entryway. It was the first time I ever tried clam chowder and sand dabs, and I specifically remember ordering Shirley Temples with extra cherries. (I still have a couple of the plastic mermaids that the waiters stuck on the rim of my glass.) Believe it or not, this area of Los Angeles was once a playful pocket of themed restaurants, amusement parks, and nightclubs surrounded by an amazing landscape of kooky architecture. The fish shack was conveniently located across the street from a disco in the shape of a giant claw called Osko’s and down the road from several beloved cartoonish destinations, like Beverly Park and Ponyland. (Yes, you could actually ride a ferris wheel or jump on a pony where the Beverly Center is today.) Other nearby eateries included Tail o’ the Pup, the Islander, Alan Hale’s Lobster Barrel, and The Velvet Turtle. How appropriate! 

                  Osko's (screen grab from "Thank God It's Friday")

Beverly Park, also known as Ponyland was a magical wonderland. Tragically it was torn down for the Beverly Center. Ponyland was next door. Both places were extremely popular for divorced fathers and birthday parties.


Beverly Park 1970. The Beverly Center is in this location now. Rexall is now a CVS. Smokey Joes cafe on the bottom right had just suffered a fire. This is the corner of La Cienega and 3rd looking West.




"Kiddieland" located on Beverly Blvd and "Ponyland" located next door. 

The Fish Shanty fit in perfectly with these whimsical landmarks and blended right into so-called Restaurant Row on La Cienega, a section of trendy restaurants such as the original Lawry’s, Ollie Hammond’s, and Tail o’ the Cock. Most of these places are now just memories that helped shape my youth, and the Shanty was the captain that anchored them.


 "Tail 'O the Pup" located on north west corner of La Cienega and Beverly Blvd. Recently brought back as a food truck and lacks everything that was once whimsical and magical. 

       
  "The Islander" located on La Cienega between Beverly Blvd and Melrose Ave.

 
                                                 
Actor, Alan Hale had his own place called "Lobster Barrel" and Charo's husband also owned a Kitchy Mexican styled restaurant near by called,  "Casa Cugat" located at the celebrity end of La Cienega's restaurant row.




The Original Lawry's when it was located on the west side of the street. This structure is now the Stinkin' Rose


The The Captain’s Table located above Melose on La Cienega next to Casa Cugat. Xavier always used his wife Pia in the advertisements.  The Captain’s Table had a glorious history as one of the city’s best places to eat fish.





      Alan Hale's, Lobster Barrel!

                 "The Velvet Turtle" not too far from La Cienega


And who could forget playing in that gigantic boot inside Standard Shoes just a few blocks away?


I always felt, growing up, that this was the way certain stores should be -- lively and fun. I look back fondly on the Judy's and the Joseph Magnins...and of course, Standard Shoes. Designed by Deborah Sussman. 



And back to the Fish Shanty!


Restaurant Row




Even Rexall Drugs on the corner of La Cienega and Beverly Blvd was magical. Today this is a CVS


And during the 1950s and 60s you had La Cienega Lanes for blowing at the corner of la Cienega and Santa Monica. It later became Flippers Roller Boogie in the 1970s and 80s.  






Climax II and the Captain's Table located at La Cienega and San Vicente in 1969. (later this structure would be painted white and become Osko's).  Painted by Victor Henderson, Terry Schoonhoven, Leonard Koren and Jim Frazin. Painted over in 1972. In the 1980s these structures were demolished to build a retail strip mall that included the new Loehmann's location (that moved from 3rd street). It has also recently been demolished Rick Caruso's latest development.




Tragically, Fish Shanty was demolished after a fire in the early ’90s and was replaced by a car dealership. Today it’s a swanky apartment building courtesy of Rick Caruso, complete with a Trader Joe's. The thing I love the most about this re-use of the original Shanty site is the oval cutout in the top of the new modern structure. For me, it represents the neighborhood whale that always made me smile. So next time you walk through the doorway of that Trader Joe’s, imagine yourself  heading into the belly of the beast.


Alison Martino is a writer, television producer and personality, and L.A. pop culture historian. She founded the Facebook page Vintage Los Angeles in 2010. In addition to CityThink and VLA, Martino muses on L.A’s. past and present on Twitter and Instagram.

Alison is also currently a columnist for Los Angeles Magazine.

Comments

  1. I LOVE THIS! Imagine if all of this stuff was still there - what a wacky wonderland LA would be!

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    1. I'm so lucky I got to experience the last of it! It didn't last long enough! Ironically, I now live right off La Cienega - where all of this used to exist. And I just don't understand what happened. There were even functioning oil wells pumping on La Cienega that existed until 1980!! What was once the ISLANDER is now 5 stories of Stucco :(

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    2. What happened to the Tail o' The Cock..
      is the original building still there....?
      Scotty O

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  2. Thank you for the many walks down memory lane. I consider myself lucky as well to have experienced Beverly Park, Ponyland, and Oskos. I remember when wild rabbits were residents of the tar pits. Like you, I wonder what happened... I see my city lose a little bit of her soul each day and I pray. Always grateful and hopelessly nostalgic to be able to say... I remember when... <3 VLA

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    1. I also remember the pony rides, my Dad took me there on the weekends. The La Brea Tar Pits was also a fun place to visit.

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  3. Amazing! I remember all of these places. I was a regular at Ponyland and Beverly Park. And spent New Years Eve at Alan Hales Lobster Barrel with my parents probably 1972ish!! Too bad things have to change.

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  4. As a child born in 1960, I do remember most of these iconic memories and several of the exact locations. I think the population of LA proper has doubled since my youth, what a wonderful memory growing up here. Thank You for the enlightening post that I remember fondly. Will W.

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  5. When you go into that stand alone coffee shop for a cup a and pie, appreciate it like it's already gone. It will be soon. Coffee shops are next to go. They're already going down fast. They may outlast deli's but not by much. Take pictures. You will be glad you did.

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  6. I was born lived off La Cienega and Melrose for 19 years (1971-1990) then I finally moved out of the house at 19. I went to almost everyone of these restuarants. And yes I rode the famed "popcorn" at the pony rides and kiddie land. I played in the boot. My parents took me to all of these restuarants as a kid. Our favorite was Casa Cugat though. My parents met at P.J.'s and will be married almost 50 years. Wow - great article!

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  7. I remember most of these businesses. They were magical to me as a kid and the food always tasted better than it actually was... Sad that originality has left our great city, replaced my cold corporate boring. Old LA will never be back, perhaps it's time to move.

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  8. Moved into this dull area in 2009. Nothing like this remains although it is nice to have a Trader Joes within walking distance. Must have been amazing back in the day!

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  9. it was an amazing place--not dull---i have memories of this wonderful place and more stories than you could ever know of what this city was like way back when--when disneyland was surrounded by orange groves--when freeways weren't built yet and many other things

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  10. There was also a Chicken Delight restaurant at 2921 S. La Cienega...in 1963 it was given away as a prize on the original version of THE PRICE IS RIGHT (it and a set of World Book encyclopedias were worth $15,000)

    Paul Duca

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  11. Ricky Hanson says, there will probably never bee places as unique and beautiful as these historic photos you have shown us. The world of celebrities and dining out will never be the same as the good old days. It is great fun to look back and see the way things once were and remember the good times had by all.

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  12. Growing up in WLA ('65-"83) I remember all of this and a wonderful walk down memory lane it was, and still it lives on ... in our minds and your page (s) . Oh and those rabbits at the Tar Pits,,,? They got tired of us teens drinking cheap wine and chasing them in the dead of night. They musta moved to a kinder gentler neighborhood.

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  13. Charo is a very mysterious person. i feel like i've never seen beyond her schtick. I'd love to see the real person under all that.

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    1. Charo is a very nice person. She is animated most of the time, that's just her personality. A lovely person, too.

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  14. Lobster Barrel was fabulous. Went there many times and never found anything but excellence. Always enjoyed chatting with Alan Hale. He was one of the few celebrity's who took the time for fans

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  15. I was the last waitress to work there...it was so so great...gail sturla

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  16. After going broke trying to get (Los Angeles) Rams Football News off the ground - we made it through the entire 1972 NFL season - I was the Weekend Manager at Dollar A Day for 6 months. Many interesting customers/couples arriving on Saturday...discretion advised.

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  17. After going broke trying to get (Los Angeles) Rams Football News off the ground - we made it through the entire 1972 NFL season - I was the Weekend Manager at Dollar A Day for 6 months. Many interesting customers/couples arriving on Saturday...discretion advised.

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  18. This was a wonderful journey down my younger years indeed how lucky it was to grow up surrounded by all of the imaginers of west los Angeles as we entered into this world, the impact of thematic WLA has influenced my entire life thank you for this blog that for those of us that where part of it feels more like a family album.

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  19. The writer forgot, Smokey Joe's in kiddietown that was across the street from the Rexall, [advertized as the biggest drug store in the world]

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  20. This entry was just terrific. As a relatively new Angelino (y2K), I love being able to see what I've missed out on.

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  21. Used to shop at Standard Shoes; my sister had a bridal shower at Tail O' the Cock, we went to Lawry's, absolutely remember, "The fish Shanty," spent wonderful times at KiddieLand! The good old days, indeed!

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  22. Los Angeles was a lot of fun in those days. Still is, just different.

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  23. This is so fantastic! I love being able to track a city's history!

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  24. Minor correction...the picture titled "Beverly Park 1970" says, Corner of 3rd & La Cienega looking west. It's actually corner of Beverly Blvd and La Cienega looking west. I used to work at Beverly Park. Excellent reading - well done!

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