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.
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 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.
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.
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?
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.