Santa Barbara Had A Respectable Batch of Wonderful Bookstores As Revealed in This Old Flyer in our Archives
I went over the list to try to determine who was left, who had moved, who was gone. Here’s what I found:
Again Books: The Phone is disconnected, I assume they are gone.
Andromeda Boookshop: Closed in the early 1990s.
Avalon Books: Now Avalon Comics and Games. Moved to 10 West Calle Laureles, S.B. 93105
The Book Den: Still at the same location.
The Book Loft: Moved to 1680 Mission Dr., Solvang, CA 93463.
Robert Gavora Bookseller: Moved to P.O. Box 448, Talent, Oregon 97540.
Richard Gilbo Books. I believe Mr. Gilbo passed away some years ago. He was a very good bookman.
Hammer Books: Gone around 2013. His collection, or parts of it are at UCSB.
Joseph The Provider Books: Moved to 10 West Micheltorena, Santa Barbara 93101, 805-962-2141.
Kisch Book Shop: Gone, could not find.
Lost Horizon Bookstore: Moved to 539 San Ysidro Rd., Ste 4. Santa Barbara 93108.
Maurice F. Neville Rare Books: Great stock of books, Mr. Neville passed around 1987.
Paperback Alley Used Books: Still at the same location.
Randall House: Still at the same location.
Ted’s Used Books & Collectibles: Gone around 2007.
I could not find any information on the following: ABI Books, The Book Barn, Drew’s Book Shop, Merlin’s Bookshop, and Northwoods Books. Does anyone have any information on any of these? Let me know and I will update this list.
Paul Hunt. unclepaulie@Rocketmail.com
Get Yourself A Quaint Old Book Cart
They Still Read In Europe
It would be fun to have one in Westwood or the Third Street Prominade in Santa Monica, but you would have to be a millionaire to afford the stratospheric rents. There was actually a newsstand on the Prominade years ago, I think it’s gone now. Even Barnes and Noble had to close down.
There are similar book carts in London, but not as oool looking as the ones in France or Hungary. Anybody have any other photos of book carts like this? Email them to me so I can share. firstname.lastname@example.org.
Last Memories of Sam: Johnson’s Bookstore
PhotoStory by Paul Hunt
And so ends the story of the last big bookstore on L.A.’s West Side. All the books have found new homes with loving owners who are grateful and excited to get them. Some folks returned to get some additional shelving. Many thanks to Richard, Janet, Petee, and Julie for help with this story. To Bob Klein and Larry Myers: Salute. You achieved much to educate and change the world for the better.
10,000 Books at $1 each
Sam: Johnson’s Book Store is having a final sale. They are closing within 2 weeks, so all books are now only $1.00 each. They have a great stock of books, and this is a really great opportunity to get the bargain of a life-time. Here’s the flyer:
Large Store Now Open In North Pasadena
Archives Bookstore, a long-time fixture in the Pasadena area has once again been forced to re-locate. The good news is that owner John Wipf found a great location in the warehouse district of North Pasadena. With plenty of free parking and a beautiful large store with great lighting, it is a pleasant place to shop. Archives specializes in Religion, Theology, Philosophy, Christian History and Christian Studies, and many related subjects..
Plenty of parking at the new location at 1232 N. Fair Oaks, Unit 10-B, Pasadena.
The entire long back wall is filled with Bargain Books at large discounts. Plenty of light in this store makes browsing easy.
Another view of Archives massive inventory. Congratulations to John and his crew for creating a great bookstore.
1232 N. Fairoaks, Unit 10-B
Pasadena, Ca. 91103
Website link click here.
Sam: Johnson’s Bookshop To Close Forever May 31
by Paul Hunt
The Mar Vista area Bookstore is the last big used bookshop in West L.A., located at 12310 Venice Blvd., just east of Centinela. The business started in 1977 on Westwood Blvd near UCLA, but moved to Santa Monica Blvd when the high rents drove all the bookstores out of Westwood, including the huge Campbell’s. The travails of being subject to high rent eventually convinced partner Bob Klein to buy his own building, which he did in 1987. I remember that at the time partner Larry Myers did not particularly like the location on Venice Blvd., and would not invest in the purchase of the real estate. Bob passed a couple years ago and left the building to a long-time friend.
Bob Klein was a great guy, full of enthusiasm about books and literature. He and Larry would visit me at my little shop in West Hollywood almost every week when they first got into business. At the time, I had a shop called “Paperback Jack” in West Hollywood, but I was an active buyer and wholesaled a lot of hardbacks to other dealers. Bob and Larry always found things to buy, Afterwards, Bob and I would go down the street to a Shakey’s Pizza for an all-you-can eat lunch and then spend some time on the new video game “Asteroids”. Larry stayed in the car with his home-made sandwich and a pile of books to read. He would rather skip a meal and use the money to buy a book.
Larry is a knowledgeable bookman, and was usually in the shop when his partner Bob was teaching or out looking for book collections. They were totally polar opposites, Larry quiet and reserved, Bob outgoing and energetic.
Since their website could go dark at any time, I’m reprinting below the story of their shop as they tell it on www.SamJohnsons.com. An interesting note is that both Bob and Larry went to Westchester High School. Another bookman, Jack LeVan also went there. His bookstore, Vajra Books, is still open in Inglewood, barely hanging on. I will ask Jack if he remembers Bob and Larry from school days.
The following is from Sam: Johnson’s website, authored by Bob Klein.
Who We Are
Sometime in the `50’s two kids from Westchester High School found joy in ransacking Los Angeles’ second-hand bookshops together
Larry Myers, the precocious kid who knew all about everything.
Bob Klein, the unprecocious kid who didn’t.
Fired by fantasy, they’d root up whole bookshops hunting rarities by H.P. Lovecraft, Arthur Machen, Lord Dunsany, Algernon Blackwood—the list goes on. And what bookshops the city boasted in the 1950’s. Particularly in Hollywood. Pickwick Bookshop had a huge used book section upstairs; Cherokee Bookshop specialized in fantasy; Larson’s, in the ghostly and occult. The magic of THE BOOKSHOP cast a glamour that has not faded.
Some years later Bob went on to become a teacher.
Larry went on to become—but no one quite knows what he went on to become. Probably he is still becoming it.
Years later still, in 1976, in order to augment his meager academic earnings Bob decided to become a bookseller. His girlfriend of the time—the lovely Sheryl (whose hips stopped traffic)—backed him all the way. Otherwise he might have ended up selling aluminum siding. Not anxious to fail alone, Bob browbeat Larry into becoming his partner. For opening stock, each was responsible for amassing 5,000 books—exclusive naturally from the sacrosanctity of their own private libraries.
When their respective closets bulged, their friend Frank Spellman (of Krown and Spellman Booksellers), who had himself decided to decorate the trade, bagged two adjacent empty stores in a building on Westwood Boulevard; one for himself, one for Larry and Bob.
Sam: Johnson’s Bookshop opened to rave reviews (at least Bob and Larry raved) in August 1977 with a stock partially enhanced by generous donations by J.B. Kennedy (of J.B. Kennedy Books), who pitied the two innocents. Another essential bookseller was Andy Dowdy (of Other Times Books), who patiently answered their stupid questions. “Ask Andy,” was their slogan when the boys became pathetically confused, which was most of the time. He never let them down.
What we wanted.
We wanted to sell wonderful books in fine condition and sell them at reasonable prices. And we wanted a constantly renewing stock.
Above all, we sought the Magic of the BOOKSHOP (capital letters all). A place of culture and wondrous surprise. A place to be. The Great Good Place. We wished to have something wonderful for everyone: Affordable rarities for the collector. Solid clean copies of middle priced books for the general good reader. Inexpensive paperbacks for students and the other walking indigent. As well as a Sale Section of good hard bound books, $2 apiece, 6 for $10.
After a rocky week or two, we learned to pay good prices for good books and to have the strength to refuse a book in less than very nice condition.
The Open Boat
The first ten years the bookshop sailed smoothly, except for breakers in the form of landlords anxious to drown. After three years our Westwood landlord amused himself by tripling our rent. So in 1980 we moved to Santa Monica Boulevard, in West LA, two doors from the shop of our friend Gene De Chene, another admirable bookseller. This time two landlords owned the building. So they were twice as eager to raise the rent. After eight years of yearly rising increments, in 1987 Bob decided to buy his own building on Venice Boulevard.
The amenities of Sam: Johnson’s include the owners’ personalities, along with a Steinway piano, a rubber mummy, dummy rats, and a human head emerging from a pot. It is always Hallowe’en at Sam: Johnson’s. In addition we have our own rear parking lot and garden. Above all, we have classical music, sometimes live (remember that piano?), other times recorded. We occasionally offer signings and poetry reading (also mostly live). We’re open seven days and strain to get new stock every day.
To landscape the unparkable parts of the parking lot. To build an arbor with benches for reading. To saturate the area in flowering shrubs and visiting livestock like butterflies.
Addenda and corrigenda
In addition to stocking books we’ve written published by other people, we decided it might be fun to issue our own books.
If sufficiently tantalized, punch up Books we publish.
Bookstores mentioned in Bob Klein’s history of Sam: Johnson’s:
Pickwick Bookshop: The grand bookshop on Hollywood Boulevard. It eventually became a regional chain and was purchased by B. Dalton, who ran it into the ground, all now closed. Check out our stories on Hollywood Blvd. for more background.
Cherokee Bookshop. “The best used book shop West of the Mississippi” according to the great old time book dealer “Doc” Burroughs. Started by Jack. Blum, who like Larry Myers always brown-bagged his lunch, even though near Musso-Franks. Upon his retirement he left the store in the hands of his two sons, Gene and Burt. Burt opened the first comic book store in L.A. in the basement of Cherokee. He and brother Gene got to squabbling and split up their partnership. The shop eventually moved to the Santa Monica Third Street Promenade for a while, but has long been closed.
Larson’s Book Shop. This was L.A.’s premier metaphysical store for some time. It started as mainly a back-issue magazine store, but got into occult and metaphysical. John Larson died fairly early and his wife Louise ran the store. One of our readers recently asked about the store, here’s a link to a rather lengthy reply with some information and gossip about Larson’s:
Frank Spellman (Krown & Spellman). Big Frank Spellman was really a big man, he must have weighed near 350 pounds. His specialty was Medieval History. He later moved from Westwood to the Third Street Prominade into a narrow shop near the south end, where he operated from until his death many years ago.
Other Times Books. Andy Dowdy ran this shop for years on Pico Blvd. His specialty was Theatre Arts and Popular Culture, and he had an amazing stock of books. He was an inexhaustible book scout and about as knowledgeable as anyone I’ve ever met in the book business. He ran the equivalent of a Salon out of his apartment on weekends, where book folks mingled with journalists, screen writers, actors and other literary folk. Gus Hasford often was there while working on various novels and films. Andy took ill some years ago, liquidated the book stock and moved up to Washington to live with relatives. I haven’t heard from him in years. He was a gentleman always and I miss him and his gloriously fun shop.
Gene De Chene. His bookshop was on Santa Monica Blvd. near Sawtelle Ave. At the time, in the late 1960s and 1970s it was a great area for book stores and thrift shops due to the cheap rents. Gene retired and sold the shop to his employee, a nice woman, (whose name I can’t remember), but high rents drove her out. All the shops in the area are now gone, a long list. Even Mrs. Goods Donuts is no longer there. Only the Nuart Theater survives as a monument to the passing of our popular culture.
And now, soon, Sam: Johnson’t will sadly close. The word on the street is that Larry is not in good health and wants to retire. He declined to sign a renewal of the lease, and the owner has put the building up for sale. Larry’s friend David is running the store, and scuttlebutt has it that Larry hasn’t been in the shop for months. Possibly he is unable to do so. There are no plans for a public sale, and there is a rumor that the stock will be offered as one block.
A typed page, a note on the front door tells the last story. A sad ending of not just one used book shop, but of an entire era of culture on the Westside. The Westwood-West L.A.-Santa Monica area was at one time the home to numerious book shops. Most are long gone, pushed out both by attrition and by high rents. One problem is that the younger generation has not gotten into the book business. There’s no young newcomers opening shops. A few places survive, Ken Karmiole still has his rare book business in Santa Monica, but all the used book shops of note are gone, like in other parts of Los Angeles, almost a complete wipe-out. Even the big Barnes and Noble in Santa Monica is gone. What this means in the long term cultural sense remains to be seen. I doubt that anything good will come of it. When a culture loses it’s book shops, its theaters, its art galleries, in effect the soul of its civilization, can it survive?
The Bronze Plate is Still There, Slightly Hidden
by Paul Hunt
A couple of folks went by the site of Baroque Books to look for the memorial plate that was placed there to honor Red Skodolsky, whose bookshop was the model for Bukowski’s last novel “Pulp”. Ed Murray sent a note and asked where it was, so I went by there myself to look for it. I almost missed it as it is hidden at the bottom of the metal grate that covered the windows.
Here’s the Plaque, but notice that the address is wrong. His shop was next to the newsstand, at 1643 N. Las Palmas, not 1843 that is lettered on the Plate. The recent store that was in that location was called Antibellum. It was an Art Gallery run by Rick Castro, and focused on Fetish and Bondage/Domination. Bukowski would get some good material out of there, were he alive, and were the Gallery still open. It closed in early 2017, and still sits empty. Here’s a photo of the store front, I put an arrow showing where the almost hidden plaque is. I hope the next occupant of the store keeps it there.
A close-up of Red. Although at the bottom off the window, he is at least safe and protected from what goes on outside. I swear I heard someone say “Get Out”. Maybe it came from the tattoo parlor on the corner, but it had an echo sound, like from an empty store front.
Bukowski’s Last Novel Pulp and “Skid Row Hollywood”
by Paul Hunt
Bill Nelson from Oddball Books gave me his worn copy of Pulp to read while I was recuperating from a recent medical incident. He knew I was at the old Los Angeles Free Press during the days when Bukowski was writing his column “Notes of a Dirty Old Man.”
A lot of the young writers at the time loved Bukowski. He was a fresh voice and we couldn’t wait to see his latest outrage. Although he was loved by a lot of the writers of that era, none of us thought that the public at large was ready for him. We were wrong, and a few years later, a big chunk of the literary community had latched on to his rising reputation..
Pulp is a fun read, but it is not just another private eye book and Nicky Belane is not just another gumshoe, he is “Hollywood’s greatest private dick.” He is also a world class drunk. He is drinking on every page, everywhere he goes, which includes every dimly lit bar within shouting distance. Bukowski was having fun with this, mocking every private eye mystery in every way possible. Private dick Belane drank so much that about half way through the book I briefly thought about heading out to an AA meeting just to keep my sanity. Luckily, my old friend Sol Grossman was on my mind.
Sol was a partner in the California Book Fairs that I was involved in. He had also operated a mail order business dealing in private eye novels called “Mainly Mysteries”. In his personal life, he was heavily involved in the AA movement. He wasn’t just a friend of Bill’s, he was Bill’s long-lost twin brother. Sol was on my mind as I read Pulp, because he had just died the week before at the young age of 92. I started laughing out loud just thinking about what a gigantic rant he would have gone on if he had read Pulp. He was passionate beyond belief against drunkenness, and would wave his big cane around in a profane-laced rant at anyone perceived by him to be a drunk, even a fictional character. Sol was the main sponsor of AA meetings in Ventura, where he lived.
Even while drunk out of his mind, private dick Belane takes on an odd assortment of clients. One hires him to find Celine, the long-dead French writer, who was seen frequenting a Hollywood bookstore. Belane knows deep down that this is crazy, Celine had been dead for years, but off he goes to Red Koldowsky’s bookstore to check it out.
“You know Red. He likes to run people out of his bookstore. A person can spend a thousand bucks in there, then maybe linger a minute or two and Red will say ‘Why don’t you get the hell out of here?’. Red’s a good guy, he’s just freaky. Anyway, he keeps forcing Celine out and Celine goes over to Musso’s and hangs around the bar looking sad. A day or so later he’ll be back and it will happen all over again.”
Anyone not familiar with Old Hollywood might think that Red’s bookstore is just another fictional creation of Bukowski. Red was, however, very real, and Bukowski knew him well. His real name was Sholom “Red” Stodolsky and his bookstore was Baroque Book Store on Las Palmas Avenue, just a half block south of Hollywood Blvd. An article I wrote back in the 1970s and expanded and printed here on Bookstore Memories, called “Hollywood Blvd. Bookstore Follies” lists most of the bookstores in Hollywood at the time Bukowski was prowling around the area. Here’s the listing:
Lastly, we come to BAROQUE BOOK STORE, which almost adjoins Universal News. Owner Sholom “Red” Stodolsky specializes in modern literature, literary criticism, music theater, film, poetry and first editions. You can get an added thrill to that exciting out-of-print tome you find by reading it while strapped into the electric chair that sits in the middle of the store. Don’t worry about the volts, it’s only a make-believe mock-up from a movie set. (Who said that book dealers are eccentric?)
As I remember Red in those days, he was about 5 ft. 10 in. had thinning red hair, a small red mustache, and a small belly paunch, the kind older men frequently acquire for free later in life.
Some of Red’s remarks from Pulp:
“Can you believe some of them come in here eating ice cream cones.?”
“Hey you” he yelled “get the hell out of here.”
“I can tell when they’re not going to buy.”
Was Red really that way, yelling at potential customers to “Get Out” or was this just a Bukowski exaggeration?. By the late 1970s and into the 1980s Hollywood was declining. This was mostly due to the greed of developers, banksters, and their handy tool, Mayor Bradley. A Redevelopment area was created and plans laid for a billion dollar boondoggle of building, which is still going on to this day. But in order to drive property values down to the low level that they could then be acquired by huge developers, services were cut, the police cut back, and the area of Hollywood got worse every year. Bukowski called it “skid row Hollywood.” By the 1990s the only three places that he thought were still viable were Red’s bookstore, Musso’s (Musso and Franks) and Fredericks of Hollywood. The rest of Hollywood was repulsive even to Bukowski.
As the years wore on and crime increased, the booksellers had an increasingly hard time coping with an onslaught of thieves, the unwashed, the rude and the crude. Some of the book dealers could cope, others like Red were deeply offended at the incivility of it all.
Curmudgeon: a crusty, ill-tempered person, usually an old man.
Bukowski, writing Pulp, certainly was aware of this and described Red that way, maybe actually understating it. L.A.Times writer John McCormick described being booted out of Baroque around the 1980s.
“Are you going to buy anything?” asked Red
“I don’t know” said McCormick.
“Then get out.”
Now retired bookseller Fred Dorsett remembers Red as “curmudgeonly a human as I have ever met. In fact, he is the benchmark against which all curmudgeons are measured.”
Fred tells of a book scout who occasionally would bring in some lit to sell to Red. They had a cordial relationship, until a strange incident occurred. The book scout picked up some signed sports books, totally out of Red’s area of expertise. The scout sold them to Gene at Cherokee Books on Hollywood Blvd. Somehow, during some gossip, Red heard about it, and the next time the poor Book Scout stopped into Baroque Book Store Red yelled at him, accusing him of the grandest and most foul type of betrayal, and told him to get out and never come back.. The book scout was still trying to figure that one out years later.
Trolling through the internet blogs relating to Bukowski and to Baroque sheds some more light. A few remember Red fondly, and said they were always treated with respect, and that Red would often give them something extra with a purchase. Some other comments weren’t quite as kind:
“A cranky old fucker.”
“He was a type of eccentric character that seems to be dying off, along with the rest of his generation.”
“I was treated like shit.”
Bukowski, however, got along just fine with the real Red. He was impressed that Red was a huge fan, and had gone out of his way to stock a ton of both new and used Bukowski material. In 1989 Bukowski wrote a poem about Red, and it was published in a limited edition of 50 copies
Good luck trying to find a copy to purchase, the last one I saw was around $1700. If you are diligent, you can find the actual poem on the internet, but you will have to look hard for it, maybe even hire Nicky Belane, Hollywood’s greatest private dick to give you a hand. Hey, don’t laugh, he found Celine, didn’t he?
Red Skodolsky died in 1998 at the age of 82. The bookstore was closed and the stock liquidated.
Charles Bukowski died in 1994 not long after he finished Pulp. The one case that he had taken early on in the book was to find “The Red Sparrow.” Through thick and thin, he could never solve that until the end of the book. It’s an interesting ending, which you will enjoy, especially when you figure out who or what the Red Sparrow is.
Time for a glass of wine. Cheers to the old Hollywood.
A plaque at the site of Red’s old bookstore on Las Palmas.
High Rents, Competition From Mega-Corps Cited
Store Has Been in Pasadena 29 Years
The wonderful travel bookstore and outfitters in Pasadena, Distant Lands, will close its doors by the end of December, possibly as soon as Christmas Eve. The Store, located in trendy Old Town Pasadena at 20 South Raymond, has faced increasingly high rents since they started in business 29 years ago. As with other bookstores, when the rents go sky-high it is impossible to survive selling general books to the public.
Other factors in the closing this month include the intense competition from huge internet operations in the travel business itself, which has led to many travel agencies around the world to close their doors. The large internet corporations achieve a near-monopoly status and discount fiercely, making it nearly impossible for smaller agencies to survive. Another factor might be that large parts of the world are unsafe for travelers at the moment, due to wars, famine, and political turbulence.
Distant Lands carries a large stock of books on travel, as well as maps and other informative information. Everything is on sale, including travel gear, fantastic back-packs and even some display items like funky old suitcases and trunks.
The store has a Facebook page and also a website, www.distantlands.com. The owner said he will probably continue business online only in some fashion, but right now he is concentrating on their store-wide sale.
For many folks, Distant Lands was the starting point for an adventure of a life time. The store could guide you and help you plan your travel to many remote and exotic places. Your memories of these travels and adventures remain forever. It also attracted a large and constant stream of foreign tourists, who came to get information on where to go in the Los Angeles and Southern California area. Pasadena is a mecca for tourists, the yearly Rose Parade attracts people from around the world.