Wrecking Ball Falls on Famed Schwab’s Store

Times Staff Writer

‘All those movie stars weren’t discovered at Schwab’s because they were seen there, but because Leon picked up the telephone.’

--Joe Seide, Hollywood publicist

One of Hollywood’s grandest old legends, Schwab’s Pharmacy, faded out Thursday, to make room for a $40-million shopping complex, which will include a glamorized version of the old drug store.

Schwab’s, located at 8024 Sunset Blvd., has been closed for more than five years, the victim of myriad financial problems. At that time, much of the memorabilia was sold at auction--including the file containing the names of every person who ever had an account with the pharmacy, which fetched $500.


The famous soda fountain went under the wrecking ball while former Glenn Miller Band saxophonist Del Simmons played “Auld Lang Syne” in the dirt parking lot behind the building, and a handful of friends said goodby to the business that once catered to Clark Gable, Marilyn Monroe, Judy Garland, Louis B. Mayer and innumerable others

3-Story Complex Planned

The property was purchased by Condor Wescorp, which plans a three-story complex with underground parking and an atrium. It will include a movie theater, a grocery store, a branch of the famous New York Carnegie Deli, a new Schwab’s and other retail stores. Several homeowner associations initially attempted to block the project, citing traffic congestion, but a compromise plan was finally worked out. The project should be completed in 1990.

The pharmacy was opened in 1935 by Leon Schwab, after he received a pharmaceutical degree from USC. Brothers Bernard and the late Jack Schwab and Martin Schwab were also involved in the business.

Leon Schwab, watching workmen wielding crowbars on the roof of the pink brick building, recalled story after story about the heyday of the drug store: a time when Charlie Chaplin and Paulette Goddard made their own milkshakes after closing hours; when he lent many budding stars, including a young Ronald Reagan, money and free food to keep them afloat while pursuing their acting careers; when Gloria Swanson shopped for makeup at the store and Hugh O’Brian worked behind the counter as a soda jerk. Humphrey Bogart once asked Schwab for something to cure a hangover. Schwab told him: “Stop drinking.” Bogart retorted, “I want a cure, not a lecture.”

Long-time customer Hollywood publicist Joe Seide said: “All those movie stars weren’t discovered at Schwab’s because they were seen there, but because Leon picked up the telephone. All the studio heads got their prescriptions filled there and their checks cashed, and their milkshakes made. So when Leon saw someone of star material, they heard about it.”

One of the most famous Schwab stories is that Lana Turner was discovered there sitting at the counter. While Leon Schwab swears by the story, Turner is said to actually have been discovered at a malt shop across from Hollywood High School.

Schwab said that in the last week he has received dozens of telegrams from former customers, including President Reagan, who said: “Remember Leon, the only running I did in those days was for casting calls. Thanks for your moral support and encouragement.”

Leon Schwab is enthusiastic about the new project. But he added, wistfully, “You can’t change things back to what you had then. . . . Today, you don’t know a movie star when you see one. They are in one movie and that’s that. It’s not like when you saw Charles Laughton, and he’d be there on the screen for years and years. If the new ones walked in now, I wouldn’t recognize 90% of them.”