Property that Housed Thelma Todd’s Sidewalk Café Sold for $6 Million, Exclusive Look Inside

By JACQUELINE PRIMO | Reporter

Photos by RICH SCHMITT | Staff Photographer

Thelma Todd’s Sidewalk Café and the mystery surrounding the young actress’s untimely death in 1935 at the age of 29 made the property at 17575 Pacific Coast Highway famous.

The building is in the news again because it sold on January 13, 2015 to Hayman Properties, LLC for $6,000,000. Tenants Paulist Productions (in the building for 50 years) and Reef Check were in the process of moving out of the building in mid-March of this year when Paulist Productions assistant and resident historian Mark Ortiz gave the Palisadian-Post an exclusive tour of the property.

The building’s front doors, heavy and wooden, have original stained glass etched with the word “Joya’s” for Jewel “Joya” Carmen. Rich Schmitt/Staff Photographer
The building’s front doors, heavy and wooden, have original stained glass etched with the word “Joya’s” for Jewel “Joya” Carmen.
Rich Schmitt/Staff Photographer

Built in 1928 by Alphonzo Bell, the entire building first operated as a large community center with shops and stalls of goods and merchandise. After the Stock Market Crash of 1929 proved detrimental to business, parts of the building were essentially boarded up, Ortiz told the Post.

A view of the apartment above Thelma Todd’s Sidewalk Café. The apartment once housed Thelma Todd and her lover Roland West who were said to have lived in “separate quarters” in the apartment. Rich Schmitt/Staff Photographer
A view of the apartment above Thelma Todd’s Sidewalk Café. The apartment once housed Thelma Todd and her lover Roland West who were said to have lived in “separate quarters” in the apartment.
Rich Schmitt/Staff Photographer

A few years later, film noir director Roland West bought the building with financial help from his estranged wife, silent film actress Jewel Carmen. West revived the building and turned it into a joint café/restaurant/nightclub with a third-story ballroom during the Prohibition era, complete with heavy door and peephole to keep an eye on nosy police. West remodeled parts of the building to make the transformation. Lovers West and Thelma Todd lived in an upstairs apartment.

The interior of Thelma Todd’s Sidewalk Café as it appeared on March 17, 2015. More than 80 years ago, the window on the right would open for beach-goers and passersby who could purchase drinks and snacks from the icebox below. Customers lounged at the tables and chairs against the wall, or sipped drinks at the bar, likely stealing glances of Thelma in the mirror as she tended to guests. Rich Schmitt/Staff Photographer
The interior of Thelma Todd’s Sidewalk Café as it appeared on March 17, 2015. More than 80 years ago, the window on the right would open for beach-goers and passersby who could purchase drinks and snacks from the icebox below. Customers lounged at the tables and chairs against the wall, or sipped drinks at the bar, likely stealing glances of Thelma in the mirror as she tended to guests.
Rich Schmitt/Staff Photographer

Todd was found dead in a Posetano Rd. garage over an apartment owned by West on Monday, Dec. 16, 1935, according to a Dec. 20, 1935 article in the Palisadian-Post. Her death was attributed to carbon monoxide poisoning but remains the source of much speculation.

A sliding door sections off the “separate quarters” of the apartment above the café where West and Todd once lived. This section houses the living/dining area and kitchen, and the far section has the bathroom and bedroom areas. The original sliding door and thumb latch are still in use. Rich Schmitt/Staff Photographer
A sliding door sections off the “separate quarters” of the apartment above the café where West and Todd once lived. This section houses the living/dining area and kitchen, and the far section has the bathroom and bedroom areas. The original sliding door and thumb latch are still in use.
Rich Schmitt/Staff Photographer

Was West involved? Did Todd’s reportedly abusive ex-husband Pat DiCicco have a hand in it? Was Lucky Luciano, a mobster Ortiz said wanted to bring gambling into the restaurant to Todd’s dismay, involved? Or was her death an accident—Todd getting locked out of the apartment and attempting to warm herself in the garage by turning on the car, with an unfortunate lack of awareness regarding the dangers of carbon monoxide poisoning?

When the building operated as a community center, this area served as an open-air-market where vendors sold items and treats to the public, the archways once opened to the street. West later closed off the building with a wall. Under West and Jewel Carmen’s ownership, this room served as a dining room called Joya’s Dining Room with private booths by the windows where dinner dates could close the curtains for privacy. Rich Schmitt/Staff Photographer
When the building operated as a community center, this area served as an open-air-market where vendors sold items and treats to the public, the archways once opened to the street. West later closed off the building with a wall. Under West and Jewel Carmen’s ownership, this room served as a dining room called Joya’s Dining Room with private booths by the windows where dinner dates could close the curtains for privacy.
Rich Schmitt/Staff Photographer

Take a look into the fascinating history of the building that housed Thelma Todd’s Sidewalk Café and the thwarted lovers at the center of one of Hollywood’s greatest murder mysteries.

This stairway behind a heavy door near Paulist Production’s offices leads up to the restaurant’s original grill. A dumbwaiter (now closed off for fire code) would send the food down to servers on the first floor where Joya’s (Spanish for Jewel) Dining Room was. Rich Schmitt/Staff Photographer
This stairway behind a heavy door near Paulist Production’s offices leads up to the restaurant’s original grill. A dumbwaiter (now closed off for fire code) would send the food down to servers on the first floor where Joya’s (Spanish for Jewel) Dining Room was.
Rich Schmitt/Staff Photographer

 

This stairway (now closed off and ending at the ceiling) once led up to the second level when the first floor operated as a marketplace. The stairway was closed off when West turned the space into a restaurant. Rich Schmitt/Staff Photographer
This stairway (now closed off and ending at the ceiling) once led up to the second level when the first floor operated as a marketplace. The stairway was closed off when West turned the space into a restaurant.
Rich Schmitt/Staff Photographer