Bookstores on Hollywood Boulevard in 1976 – Continued
by Paul Hunt
Walking to the next block, we now arrive at what can loosely be called the Cal Worthington of the used book business, HOLLYWOOD BOOK CITY. This store has the largest stock of used and out-of-print books in Los Angeles, somewhere around a quarter of a million books if you care to count. The store is co-owned by Alan Siegel and Jerry Weinstein. And here we must pause and say a few words about Los Angeles’ first family of books, the Weinsteins. They are to books what the Kennedys are to politics, there seems to be a never-ending supply of them. As far as I can tell, each and every Weinstein is a bibliophile at birth, having both ink in the veins and a natural instinct for buying and selling books.
The Weinstein dynasty is particularly strong at this location, as Jerry’s sister is married to partner Siegel.
Now where were we? Oh, yes, BOOK CITY. The store has a large general stock of just about everything you can think of, including one of the largest sections of books on art and books on the arts, cinema, theater, graphic arts, architecture, television and radio history. The store is well laid out, with different sections clearly marked, and even an upstairs balcony to rummage through. Book City seems to agree with my theory of constant expansion to avoid overcrowding. It was not too long ago that a large hole was made through the west wall, adding on what is now mainly a section of new books at discount, and remainders. Now it seems that the east wall is going to get the same treatment and on or about June 1st the book hunter will find a new doorway leading into the “scarce, rare and antiquarian department.”
Walking on a few doors will bring you to HOLLYWOOD BOOK SHOP. This store has been here about three years, although one of the owners has been in the book business in Hollywood about 10 years. They carry a large general stock of used and out-of-print books. The partners, Jack Garvin and Ray Cantor are polar opposites, at times engaging in bitter quarrels. Garvin, a stocky man who resembles Nikita Khrushchev, started as a book scout, operating out of a garage behind some storefronts on Adams Avenue, east of Western, a once rich area that has seen better days. He is also into minerals and geology, and this specialty led him to buy equipment to cut geodes and polishing machinery to further enhance specimens that he buys. Jack is a chain-smoking, gruff man to deal with, Ray the nicer of the two, but they have built up an excellent stock of books.
Recently they purchased a large warehouse stuffed with magazines and pamphlets. The story behind this is an odd one. There was a periodicals dealer down in the South Los Angeles area by the name of Nick Kovach, who was dealing in scholarly periodicals back in the 1950s. When the Russians launched Sputnik, it was a big kick in the rear to the U.S. educational system, which all of a sudden woke up to the sad fact that this great country was falling behind in science and technology. Kovach found himself to be center stage in the arena of scientific and mathematical periodicals, courted by libraries across the country who needed this material. He bought and sold enormous quantities of paper goods and magazines, filling up many warehouses. In later years he realized that the collections included a lot of non-scientific stuff that was of no use to the libraries at the great universities and corporations. So Kovach started to dispose of tonnage of this stuff, which was mainly popular culture and mainstream magazines.
Along came a roving dealer named Mark Trout, who traveled around the country in a van, looking for this kind of material. He “leased” the rights to an old, long closed-down bowling alley in South Los Angeles from Kovach that was jam packed with just the right stuff that he wanted: popular magazines, like Life, Time, Fortune, and the such. Trout made a great amount of money over the years selling this at flea markets. One time, at the Rose Bowl flea market, Trout showed up with a stack of over 50 Number 1 Life magazines in mint condition. The collectors went berserk. After milking the contents of the bowling alley for a number of years, Trout offered to transfer the “lease” to Jack Garvin and his partner. All the great popular magazines had been removed and sold by Trout, but the place was still jammed with pamphlets, ephemera and lesser-known periodicals. Garvin pulled out van loads of great stuff, including a world-class collection of pamphlets and rare broadsides on the subject of American radicalism, which he is selling to libraries at big prices. Garvin and Canter go down to their bowling alley once a week and pack their old van full of paper goodies and rare ephemera. “It’s like owning a gold mine,” Jack once told me. “Every once in a while we hit a particularly good vein!” And it is enough material for years to come.
A couple of doors further we arrive at one of the finest book shops in the world. CHEROKEE BOOK SHOP. Established about 25 years ago, it has a large selection of Americana, occult, fine bindings, first editions, fine illustrated books, military history, and so on without end. Upstairs is the famous comic room with 200,000 comics. They also now have about 20,000 old Playboy Magazines. Browsing through the store I noticed a couple of interesting items in a glass case near the counter. One was a large folio Bible printed in London in 1683. I’m not much for buying and collecting old bibles, but this one was quite unusual. I am not referring to the fact that it is bound in a rich, glistening morocco, or that the morocco is covering heavy oak boards. It is the fore-edge painting that attracts attention, mainly because it is an “open” painting, clearly visible where the book is lying on the table.
Another interesting item (among thousands) is a limited edition of “The Life of Our Lord,” by Charles Dickens, published by Merrymount Press in 1934. This also is in full red morocco.. Laid in the front inside cover is a cancelled check that Dickens made out to “self” for five pounds, not a small sum when you glance at the date August 27, 1864. One can’t help wondering what that illustrious gentleman spent the money on: was it something special or just enough to cover some day-to-day expenses? Curious as we are, we will never know. Also to be found inside this volume, placed loose between two pages, is an old invitation to a dinner on November 2, 1867, in honor of Dickens’ “forthcoming” departure on a trip to the U.S. The banquet took place at Freemason’s Hall, Great Queen Street, London. Ahh, if we only had a time machine, we could put that invitation to good use. And don’t forget to take along some items for Mr. Dickens to sign, maybe even the Merrymount edition of “The Life of Our Lord.” Now that would be a rarity, having a signed edition of a book that was printed sixty-five years after the author’s death. Since we don’t yet have a time machine, if you see a copy, be advised that it is either a “spirit signature” or a forgery.
Leaving Cherokee, we go down the Boulevard a couple of blocks to ATLANTIS BOOKS. This is one of those secret bookstores, one that you have probably walked past and never seen because it sits well back from the Boulevard, tightly packed into the rear of an alcove. Even if you have the exact address you may miss it, so I’m going to give you two important landmarks. The first is Mr. Howland’s miniature jewelry store and watch repair stand, which sits at the front of the alcove. The second landmark is to watch the names of the stars embedded in the famous sidewalk. When you see the name “Rochester” (Legs, do yo’ stuff!) you will be there.
The store itself is deceptively large, but not large enough for the seventy thousand volumes nestled into every nook and cranny (no lie, the store actually does have little nooks and crannies.) Sometimes the new arrivals are piled so high on the counter that the only thing visible of the owner is an occasional puff of smoke from his pipe that drifts over the top of the stacks, lazily floating up toward the ceiling. You know right away that this is your kind of store.
More often than not, there is a book scout leaning on the front counter, trying to sell some books to owner “Doc” Burroughs. One can always tell how tough is the haggling over price by the amount of cigarette butts the fearless scout has deposited in the ashtray. Dr. Burroughs always wears a suit and tie, not to be flashy, but he is a Veterinarian who makes house calls only, he does not have a clinic. In between the stops to treat sick dogs and cats, he stops at thrift stores, estate sales, and other bookstores to pick up some good inventory. His Volkswagen station wagon is always piled with coolers full of medicine for the animals, surrounded by boxes of books, filling up the rest of the space. It’s a winning combination because even if book sales are slow, sick animals abound, so the rent will always get paid.
The real fun at Atlantis is to slip towards the back aisles and dig around in, say, the Russian History section, or root through one of L.A.’s best World War 2 collections. On the way out (or in), don’t forget to check out the three bargain carts that are dutifully wheeled out into the alcove each day.
Leaving Atlantis, walk up to Argyle and cross the street to the south side of Hollywood and work your way back. The first stop is right on the corner of Hollywood and Argyle, MARLOW’S BOOKSHOP. Owned by -you guessed it – a gentleman named Marlow, this store has been open about five years. It has a general stock of used books, but specializes in back issue periodicals and in research (mainly for the film industry). A graduate engineer before he got into the book business, Marlow said he recently got a call from the filmmakers of All The President’s Men. They needed to duplicate the library of The Washington Post for some of the scenes, so Marlow rented them an entire set-up of 10,000 books. It was a rush job , he put it together overnight so the film company could start shooting the scene the next day!
Notice the 50% off sign in the window. This came about when Marlow had stopped over to Hollywood Book City. While chatting with Book City owner Alan Siegel, he complained that business was a little slow. “Why don’t you have a sale?” said Alan, “It’l bring in some new business.” Marlow said he would try it, but didn’t know how to start. Alan generously loaned Marlow a beautiful large banner that said “Anniversary Sale, 50% Off”. Marlow borrowed the banner and put it up on his shop (not shown in the photo). It worked so well that he kept the banner up there permanently, and refused to give it back to Alan. “That damned banner cost me over a $100,” said Siegel. “No good deed goes unpunished on this street” he said sadly. To make matters worse, a couple of Marlow’s customers claim that he doubled the price on most items in order not to sell too cheaply. I can only say that these are at the moment unsubstantiated and unproven claims, but certainly in the realm of bookstore lore.
A few doors west is UNIVERSAL BOOKS. This store has been in business for about 10 years. The present owner is a former insurance agent who got into the book business “because of the easy pace and the interesting people.” Universal carries a general stock, specializing in first editions, rare and scarce books and occult.
“I really like book people,” says the owner Jules Manasseh,, “but once in a while you get a nut in. Like once a guy came in and went back to the shelves and started looking around. Before long he starts goose-stepping around the store yelling ‘Sieg Heil’ and giving the Nazi salute. I had to ask him to leave, he was bothering the customers. Then, a couple of weeks later he came back in, tried to sneak past me wearing one of those pair of phony glasses with the big nose attached. I guess he thought I wouldn’t recognize him. I threw him out again. He was a real nut.” Well, that’s Hollywood, folks!
Next is GILBERT’S BOOK SHOP, the oldest book store in Hollywood. It has been there since 1928 (although not with the same name), it was formerly The Satyr Book Store and began life actually around the corner on Vine Street. They carry new and used books, mainly in the fields of metaphysics and astrology, and also push best-seller novels, first editions and fine sets. You can also buy old movie lobby cards for $1.00 each on a bargain table near the door. During World War II Henry Miller used to receive his mail here. Mr. Gilbert, the owner, is married to one of the daughters of Edgar Rice Burroughs. Don’t even think about finding any rare Tarzan books, Mr. Gilbert keeps them all at his house.
Proceeding west to Cahuenga and then taking a few steps south to 1952, you will find WORLD BOOK AND NEWS, a 24-hour newsstand. The large display room also offers magazines and pocketbooks, with a generous selection of the latest comics stretching along the outside wall of the building.
A block away at 1638 N. Wilcox is BOND STREET BOOKS. Owners Steve Edrington and Jim McDonald maintain a large stock of used and back issue comics, back issue magazines, and a good selection of movie stills and posters. They’ve been in business here eight years and their crowded store contains lots of goodies.
HOLLYWOOD BOOK SERVICE is also just south of the Boulevard, at 1654 Cherokee Ave. The owner, Helen Hall, is the only woman bookstore owner in the Hollywood Boulevard area. She started as a book scout but found that she had accumulated so many books that she had to open a store, which was in 1965. With over 20,000 books, Ms Hall specializes in searching for out of print books, movie stills, posters, and magazines, used encyclopedias and sets of The Great Books of the Western World. There is a good stock of autographed movie stills, including George Raft, Cagney, Errol Flynn, Bette Davis, and Edward G. Robinson.
Ms. Hall fondly recalled one of the most pleasant moments in her career as a bookseller. She had once bought some books from a private school library, and as she was leaving the librarian gave her, free of charge, about 30 bound volumes of Railroad magazine She took them back and set them on the floor of her shop, near the door, and the next day a customer walked in and purchased them for $250. Now, if you could only have a windfall like that every day!
Back on the Boulevard again, we go into LARRY EDMUNDS BOOKSHOP. This has the world’s largest collection of books and memorabilia on cinema. Larry Edmunds died about 1941. He had originally worked for the Stanley Rose Bookstore, but left Rose and went into partnership with Milt Luboviski, the present owner.
For you bookstore history buffs, Stanley Rose’s shop was across the street from present day Edmunds, in what is now a part of Musso & Frank’s Grill. At the time, the 1930s, Rose was known as one of the most flamboyant of the Los Angeles booksellers. He was a friend of the famous: Cagney, Faulkner, Thomas Wolfe were among his friends. Rose was known to carry his satchel of fine books around town to personally show them (and sell them) to his high rolling customers, the movie producers, directors and stars. He was also known to spend a lot of time at Musso’s, where he held court daily, as the expression goes. Rose died after the war.
But back to Edmunds. The shop has over one million items, including antique cameras and movie paraphernalia. It is here that you will find the literature of the cinema: books, biographies, sheet music, scripts, magazines, posters, press books, lobby cards, and so on. A nice place to spend the summer!
Our last two stops are both on a side street, Las Palmas, a few steps south of Hollywood Boulevard. The first is UNIVERSAL NEWS, another 24 hour newsstand. They stock everything fro current magazines to out of town newspapers. If they ain’t got it you’re in trouble! A lot of Hollywood industry people stop here to pick up the latest copy of Hollywood Reporter, or the Racing Form.
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?)
Now that you have the list, the only thing left to tell you is “Happy Hunting”, and I hope you are fortunate enough to have a bank account much larger than mine!