Chasen’s, Venerable Eatery to the Stars, Will Close : Landmarks: Developer says symbol of Old Hollywood will reappear in some form at new shopping center.


Chasen’s, the venerable West Hollywood restaurant that has fed more than half a century’s worth of Presidents and movie stars, will close April 1 to make way for a shopping center, the developer confirmed Wednesday night.

Ira Smedra, head of the Downtown Los Angeles-based Beverly West Square Associates, said that a two-story, 89,000-square-foot retail center--with a supermarket, a drugstore and a new, streamlined incarnation of the eatery--is expected to be constructed sometime in late 1995 on the spot where Chasen’s has stood for 58 years.

Smedra would not disclose the selling price, but said the long-rumored sale of the family-owned institution has been in the works for at least three months, and a formal contract has been signed.


The owners--who declined comment--had asked that the deal be kept quiet until after Jan. 1, when a letter from proprietor Maude Chasen was scheduled to go out to longtime clients announcing the “sad and exciting news,” according to their real estate agent, Darrell R. Levonian.

But word of the impending sale leaked out in the wake of a meeting Tuesday night at which a group of incensed West Hollywood homeowners met with Smedra to air concerns.

The residents said that, although Smedra had discussed the proposed development in detail with various city officials and one homeowners group, their organization had not been contacted until after members had heard about the project.

“Chasen’s is only one restaurant, but he wants to build a huge mall,” complained F. Reuveni, a 39-year-old homeowner who lives a half-block from Chasen’s on Rosewood Avenue.

“We already have the Beverly Center nearby, and Cedars-Sinai (Medical Center) and the Beverly Connection. And now this. We’ll be suffocated by development.”

Moreover, opponents said, shutting down Chasen’s means the end of a landmark--and an era.

“Movie stars, heads of studios and Presidents were regulars,” said Kay Cantuo, a 70-year resident of West Hollywood who contended that the chateau-style building “represents Hollywood like no other establishment and should be preserved.”


Founded Dec. 13, 1936, Chasen’s got its start when Harold Ross, then editor of the New Yorker magazine, had a fateful conversation with a comedian friend. As the story goes, the comic, a moon-faced actor named Dave Chasen, had worried aloud about his future to Ross, and Ross urged him to get out of show biz and into the kitchen, where he felt Chasen’s true talent lay.

“You are a wonderful cook, a wonderful host. Why not a restaurant?” Ross reportedly suggested. When Chasen agreed to take him up on it, Ross wired $3,500 to his pal, and Chasen’s Southern Pit Barbecue was opened at Beverly Boulevard and Doheny Drive in what was then a Los Angeles County cornfield.

The menu consisted mainly of ribs, broiled chicken, hamburgers and chili, but because of Dave Chasen’s popularity in Hollywood, it quickly became the stuff of Tinseltown legend. Director Frank Capra, who once directed Chasen in a film, ate there on the restaurant’s opening night. So did Jimmy Cagney and Pat O’Brien. Alfred Hitchcock had his own booth, and Bob Hope, Grantland Rice and Randolph Scott once rode a horse into the eatery.

As the years passed, the prices rose and the restaurant grew. Soon there were those staples of all hot spots--the good room and the better room. A special door was added for dignitaries, as politicians swarmed to the place. By 1985, Chasen’s wife and hostess, Maude Chasen, was able to boast that she had entertained “every President since 1936, except Roosevelt--and Mrs. Roosevelt came.”

But the passing years also cemented the restaurant’s reputation as a hangout for Hollywood’s older set, as did its popularity in the 1980s as a favorite watering hole for President Ronald Reagan and his friends.

By the end of the Reagan era, Chasen’s was viewed mainly as gathering place for the sentimental--the sort of place where you might run into George Burns and Joe DiMaggio, and, of course, the Reagans, but not the sort of place where you might overhear the next big movie deal being cut.


Business declined badly. Moreover, friends of the owners say, there was some question over who would run the restaurant for the family. After Dave Chasen died in 1973, his widow took over, but she is now in her 90s and the restaurant has became too difficult for her to manage, friends said.

In recent months, her daughter and son-in-law, Kay and Tom McKay of Bel-Air, have been overseeing the restaurant. But for at least the past year, rumors of its impending sale have circulated among local restaurateurs, many of whom have expressed interest in taking over such a well-known place, only to end up discouraged by its sprawling size.

“Everyone has known for a long time that it was on the block,” confided one regular. “But it has been risky for another restaurant to go in there.”

“Maude always used to go out and visit with everyone, every night, at every table, always dressed immaculately in her Adolfo suits. Maude was Chasen’s, and the daughter and son-in-law are just not Maude. They’re quiet people. Maybe they just figured that they should sell it now, because, with anyone else, it just wouldn’t be the same.”