Reel Culver City
by Marc Wanamaker
THE PLANTATION CAFÉ OF CULVER CITY
Dan Coombs, one of Culver City’s first mayors and a prominent Culver City businessman, was instrumental in the construction of the Cotton Club near National Boulevard. He was then asked to re-open the Plantation Club near the MGM Studios on Washington Boulevard.
The first Plantation Café was opened in 1926 and had a southern plantation style building with an electric sign on the roof and a hedge-sculpture saying Plantation Café behind a white picket fence. (At the time, the Sonny Clays Band was headlining in one of the several nightclub-restaurants that would dominate Washington Boulevard in the 1920s.)
ROSCOE “FATTY”ARBUCKLE COMES ONBOARD
Sometime around 1927, there was a fire at the Club and it closed. It wasn’t until early 1928 that Coombs and others began to consider re-opening the club. By August of that year, famed comedian Roscoe (“Fatty”) Arbuckle was brought in as a final investor with his celebrity status as a selling point for the club’s advertising.
The new club opened as Roscoe Arbuckle’s Plantation Café on August 2, 1928. Mr. Coombs remodeled the building’s interior to Arbuckle’s specifications and the work was carried out in 28 days.
MGM Art Department head, Cedric Gibbons, (who met Arbuckle when he was directing Marion Davies in The Red Mill) did the interior decoration, which was described as stretches of painted canvas suspended from the ceiling and strung with electric lights like stars similar to the interior of the Cotton Club.
OPENING NIGHT FILLED WITH STARS
On opening night, Hollywood star Lew Cody acted as Master of Ceremonies and praised Roscoe, saying “Roscoe “Fatty” Arbuckle was the funniest man in America.” Tom Mix, dressed in his cowboy gear, took over the Red Nichols Band with his cohorts.
Roscoe’s best friend, Buster Keaton, did a comedy bit as did Mary Pickford and Douglas Fairbanks. Others who also did bits included Charles Chaplin, Harry Langdon, Larry Semon, Ruth Roland, Marshal Neilan, Bebe Daniels and the three Talmadge sisters. Roscoe’s old friend Mabel Normand gave Roscoe a life-sized model of “Fatty” made of flowers!
Leatrice Joy gave Roscoe a plaque that read “We owe Mr. Arbuckle a debt of gratitude. He has shown the miracle of patience without bitterness in a world of injustice.” Roscoe came onto the stage to accept and cried with appreciation. He took a deep breath and then went into his comic routine.
In the following months, the film industry, led by friends Leatice Joy and Ruth Roland, performed at the club insuring its success. An advertisement for the Plantation Café announced: “Where the stars come out ● Sunday night. ● See all the stars of stage and screen. ● Leatrice Joy, guest of honor, leads the dance contest for a magnificent trophy. ● Henry Halstead and his recording orchestra. ● It’s the talk of the town.”
Some of the stars that performed at the Plantation included Al Jolson (who sang thirty songs in one evening!). Even Warner Bros. head Jack Warner sang with Jolson that evening. Warner star John Barrymore went on stage with thirteen-year-old Jackie Coogan and performed an act as well.
A HOLLYWOOD MEETING PLACE
The Plantation Café became a ‘Hollywood’ meeting place for the next couple of years. Arbuckle would amble up on the stage and would stamp his foot to get attention and began his comedy routine. He usually started with saying: “I met a girl on a train. She asked me, ‘Excuse me, are you Mr. Arbuckle? I said to her, ‘Why yes I am’. She said, ‘Can you tell me how to get into the movies?’ Pardon ME young lady, but can you tell ME how to get into the movies!’”
The Stock Market crashed in late 1929 and by 1930, Arbuckle sold his interest in the Plantation Café and the café then became known as George Olsen’s Plantation Café. Nine years later, the old Plantation Café became The Plantation Trailer Court and about six years later, it became a place of entertainment again being named, Foreman Phillips County Barn Dance.
By the 1960s the place had disappeared – into a fascinating part of the history of Culver City.