Schwab’s Pharmacy was a place Hollywood dreams could come true. Hollywood heroes and out of work actors would converge at this Sunset Boulevard drugstore to eat, mingle and possibly be discovered by a Hollywood producer, like Lana Turner supposedly was (we’ll get to her a little later).
Schwab’s opened in 1932 at 8032 Sunset Boulevard in Hollywood. The Schwab brothers (Bernard, Leon, and Martin) opened a pharmacy in this location due to its close proximity to the movie studios. A drugstore had been at this location previously so it required minimal investment on their parts.
In addition to being a pharmacy, Schwab’s also had a lunch counter which was good for business. As word of mouth grew that Schwab’s catered to its movie industry patrons they added a mail service, a check-cashing service and a paging service so agents could easily locate their clients.
This was the 2nd location for the Los Angeles based chain. The first was in downtown Los Angeles on 6th Street. Other locations were at 6255 Hollywood Boulevard, 430 N. Roxbury Boulevard and 401 N. Bedford Drive.
What set the Sunset location apart from the other Schwab’s Pharmacies that dotted the landscape of L.A. is that it was known a meeting place for actors both famous and failures. It was a place that stars like Judy Garland, Mickey Rooney, Orson Welles, Clark Gable, and the Marx Brothers were frequent customers who would sit next to some never-will-be nursing a 40 cent cup of coffee for hours on end hoping that day was when their ship came in.
Legends grew about Schwab’s over the years. Ava Gardner liked to go behind the counter and take orders. F. Scott Fitzgerald had a heart attack there. Humphrey Bogart came in and asked for a cure to the hangover and was told the cure was to quit drinking. Charlie Chaplin and Harold Lloyd would play pinball.
One legend that wasn’t true was that Lana Turner was discovered drinking a milkshake at Schwab’s while attending school at Hollywood High. She was actually discovered at the Top Hat Cafe only a block away from Hollywood High School, by Billy Wilkerson, the publisher of the Hollywood Reporter.
When Sunset Boulevard was produced, an exact replica of the Sunset Schwab’s was built on the Paramount Studios lot. William Holden’s Joe Gillis even remarks in the movie:
“Schwab’s was kind of a combination office, coffee klatch, and waiting room. Waiting, waiting, waiting for the gravy train.”
Sunset Boulevard isn’t the only Hollywood production with ties to Schwab’s. Harold Arlen, the composer, is believed to have written the lyrics to “Over the Rainbow” from the Wizard of Oz outside Schwab’s in his car one night. Feeling inspired, he pulled over, grabbed a napkin from inside and wrote it out on his dashboard.
As the years passed the celebrity clientele evolved to include people such as Goldie Hawn, Al Pacino and Sylvester Stallone. Despite the influx of new blood into the customer base, by 1983 the Sunset location was in dire financial straights and closed down permanently.
For a short while after Schwab’s closed it was a dance club called L.A. Heartbreakers. The building was demolished in 1988 to make way for a shopping center. However, plans fell through for this and a Virign Megastore was on this site for several years.
Still, the legacy of Schawb’s and its connection to old Hollywood lives on.
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