April 21, 1921 was the opening date of the legendary Los Angeles nightclub the Cocoanut Grove, located in the Ambassador Hotel.
For some context and clarification: the Florida city of Coconut Grove had been incorporated in 1919; it was absorbed into Miami as a neighborhood in 1925. The famous Florida Land Boom lasted from 1924 to 1926, inspiring the 1925 Marx Brothers musical The Cocoanuts, set at the fictional Cocoanut Beach. It was later made into a 1929 movie. In 1927, Boston got its own Cocoanut Grove nightclub. This is the one that burned down in 1942, not the L.A. one. In 1956, the original Miami neighborhood got a Coconut Grove Playhouse, which adds to the potential confusion.
Obviously there is much that is exciting, exotic and festive about images of beaches filled with palm trees, though it seems funny to open a Florida themed venue in California, which is every bit as glamorour. The artificial palms that were installed at The Cocoanut Grove were famously sourced from the Valentino movie The Sheik. The club seated 1000 people, with dining and a large ballroom for dancing to the music of big bands like those of Abe Lyman, Gus Arnheim, Xavier Cugat, Harry James, Horace Heidt, and Guy Lombardo. Bing Crosby, Kenny Baker, Pinky Tomlin, Blossom Seeley and Bennie Fields, Judy Garland, Dean Martin, Tony Bennett, Harry Belafonte, and Sammy Davis Jr all sang there. Flo Ziegfeld produced floor shows there. Patrons included the likes of Charlie Chaplin, Marion Davies, Joan Crawford, John Barrymore, and W.C. Fields.
The 1934 MGM film short Star Night at the Cocoanut Grove showcases Leo Carrillo, Leo Durant’s Rhumba Band, El Brendel, Mary Brian, the Fanchon and Marco Girls, Candy Candido, Bing Crosby, Gary Cooper, Johnny Mack Brown, Arline Judge, and Lloyd Hamilton. In 1938 came the Paramount feature Cocoanut Grove with Fred MacMurray, Harriet Nelson, Ben Blue, Eve Arden, Virginia Vale, Harry Owens and His Royal Hawaiians, and the Yacht Club Boys.
In later decades rock and pop acts continued to perform there, though by the ’70s and ’80s its doors were closed much of the time except for private functions. It finally went the way of all things in 1989, a good long run for a night club, as anyone can tell you.
For more on show biz history please read No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous.
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