Hollywood to Wear a New Brown Derby

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Times Staff Writer

In Hollywood, where glamour is old hat, a taste of the past is about to return.

The famous Brown Derby restaurant, a hangout of stars and tourists for more than half a century until its lease ran out in 1985, will be reborn at the corner of Hollywood Boulevard and Vine Street, within a block of its former location, restaurateur Walter P. Scharfe said Thursday.

It will feature a large derby hat, similar to the one that graced the Original Brown Derby, a hat-shaped landmark at Wilshire Boulevard and Alexandria Avenue that closed in 1980. The hat part of the structure is being restored and will be a feature of a new Wilshire shopping complex.

Scharfe said he has spent much of the last two years trying to reopen in Hollywood--ever since the lease ran out on the aged Spanish-style building that had housed the restaurant since 1936.


The site found by the 50-year-old investor, who also runs a Brown Derby in Pasadena, is a former Howard Johnson’s restaurant that closed last week. Scharfe said he will spend at least $500,000 reinstalling the famous black-leather booths, rehanging the familiar ink caricatures of the stars and constructing a huge hat over the second-floor facade.

‘Nostalgic, Fun Place’

The fare--sandwiches and $10 dinners--will be easier on pocketbooks than the cuisine of past Derbys. The idea, Scharfe said, is to bring to the world-famous corner a world-class piece of nostalgia.

“We would like to create a landmark at Hollywood and Vine,” said Scharfe, who ran the former Hollywood Brown Derby for 11 years. “It will be a nostalgic, fun place. Inside it will be the (same) Brown Derby, with all the artifacts we have accumulated over the years. It will cater to people with children who do not want to spend a lot of money. They won’t need a mink or a tuxedo . . . (to) feel comfortable.”

If all goes well, Scharfe said, the restaurant, bar and cafeteria could open in a month, and the entire project--including derby--could be finished by fall.

“I’m ecstatic . . . just ecstatic,” said Marian Gibbons, founder of Hollywood Heritage, a historic preservation group. “The fact there is a commitment to bringing back a part of Hollywood’s history to that famous intersection is extremely exciting and wonderful.”

Bill Welsh, president of the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce, said the Derby would add important impetus to Hollywood’s $922-million redevelopment plan, approved by the Los Angeles City Council early last year.


Welsh said new projects on Hollywood Boulevard have been clustered on the west end of town, near Mann’s Chinese Theatre, where ground is to be broken this year for a $150-million hotel and office complex next to the refurbished Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel. The new Derby will give tourists a reason to see the east end of the street’s Walk of Fame, he said.

Although some of the Derby’s original furnishings were used to establish the restaurant in Pasadena, Scharfe said, many items are in a warehouse in Palm Springs.

Those furnishings gave the restaurant a distinctive, comfortable ambiance that celebrated the stars and also attracted them, Gibbons said.

“The last meal I had at the Brown Derby, the guy sitting in the booth next to me was the famous producer . . . David Susskind,” Gibbons said. “And three booths down was (actress) Janet Leigh.”

Gable. Lombard. Monroe. . . .

“You name it, they were there,” Gibbons said.