Caricatures won't be making the trip when Palm restaurant relocates

WeHo's Palm is moving to Beverly Hills this fall, but most of its iconic caricatures won't be coming along

Bruce Bozzi Jr.'s great-grandfather knew how to draw attention after he opened a restaurant in an Italian section of New York City in 1926.

Pio Bozzi and his friend John Ganzi had arrived from Parma, Italy, and intended to name their restaurant after their hometown, but their thick accents made it sound more like "Palm." So they shrugged and named it that.

During the Depression, the Second Avenue steakhouse in Manhattan was popular with artists who worked nearby at King Features syndicate and cartoonists from the Hearst Corp. Because of the bleak economy, some came in without enough cash for lunch or dinner.

So Bozzi and Ganzi let the starving artists swap hand-drawn caricatures of local celebrities that they could mount on the Palm's walls in exchange for free food.

That decorating motif was continued in 1972 when Palm opened a second location in Washington, D.C., and again in 1975 when the West Hollywood restaurant opened.

And that explains why some 2,300 local celebrities' sketches are painted and glued onto walls and ceilings of the Palm Restaurant on Santa Monica Boulevard, and the dilemma that Bruce Bozzi now faces.

Because of redevelopment plans, Palm is moving in early November to Beverly Hills. Unfortunately, the celebrity caricatures won't be making the move.

After the Sept. 30 closing, workers will take jigsaws to the plaster drywall and carefully cut out as many of the 2,300 drawings as feasible and give them to the stars and industry executives who inspired them.

"We'll have them wrapped up in butcher paper for people to take," Bozzi said.

Bozzi, 48, is a fourth-generation co-owner of the family-run, 28-restaurant chain in the U.S. and Mexico City. His business partner is Wally Ganzi, a third-generation family member. "It's still a mom-and-pop business," Bozzi said.

Some of the caricatures overlap and likely can't be salvaged, Bozzi acknowledged. And those that aren't retrieved by their subjects may be auctioned off for charity. A couple will be framed and displayed in the new restaurant.

Bozzi's personal favorites depict former customers Farrah Fawcett and Lee Majors. He also has a photograph of Fawcett and Majors taken by pioneering paparazzo Ron Galella of the pair walking out of the Palm in 1978, toting one of the restaurant's to-go bags.

Near the Fawcett and Majors caricatures are two of O.J. Simpson, though both have been altered with the placement of others' faces on Simpson's likeness.

"We covered his face after somebody put a steak knife into O.J.," Bozzi explained.

As word has spread that the Palm is closing, employees have begun compiling a list of sketches that are being claimed by celebrities' families.

Relatives of James Garner and Telly Savalas frequently dine at the Palm, and will likely be given the actors' caricatures. Bozzi said that the late singer-actor Al Martino's daughter Alison Martino celebrates her father's birthday there each year. She'll likely claim her father's caricature, he said.

Though some of the sketches will find their way to Beverly Hills, the motif at the new location will be more of a "1970s California look," Bozzi said.

"We'll pay homage to the city with a whole wall highlighting iconic spots in L.A., from the Santa Monica Pier to downtown's Disney Hall," Bozzi said. "It will be a living wall."

bob.pool@latimes.com
Twitter: @BobsLAtimes

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