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Gary US Bonds relaxes pool side at the Sunset Marquis Hotel West Hollywood. Photo Richard Aaron

West Hollywood – The 1960’s & Life on the Sunset Strip

Discovering the Sunset Marquis felt like the final unturned stone in my efforts to become an expert historian of West Hollywood and the infamous Sunset Strip. As a self-proclaimed (and also fairly bonafide) nerd, I have thoroughly walked the Historical District of West Hollywood, accompanied by various blogs and other unofficial “historical walks” I scoured the internet to find.

West Hollywood Has History

Samatha and Corey recreate the iconic Gary US Bonds photo
Samatha and Corey recreate the iconic Gary US Bonds photo

I have become so good at my own historical district of West Hollywood walk that various family members, friends, roommates, and roommates’ mothers have requested I lead them on my tour. I gladly do! It’s a blast.

Deeply surprising to find that the Sunset Marquis had avoided my penetrative internet searches and remained an unknown historical location to me, until recently. However, that is one of my favorite things about West Hollywood!

Despite having outstanding historical gems like the Tara House and former home of F. Scott Fitzgerald, West Hollywood doesn’t want its neighborhoods to be flooded and keeps these buildings’ profiles covert. The Sunset Marquis achieves this best, keeping its history and presence very private for its guests’ enjoyment.

The History of the Sunset Marquis Hotel

In looking for historical information on the Sunset Marquis, I didn’t have to look further than “If These Walls Could Rock,” a thorough, heartfelt coffee table book, brimming with anecdotes, loving quotes by your favorite rock stars in music and film, and photos – stellar photographs!  One of my personal favorites is the shot of Barry U.S. Bonds poolside so we decided to do a new version!

Excitedly, I am going to share a history of the Sunset Marquis with you! Decade by decade. As with “If These Walls Could Rock” and history books alike, we are going to start at the beginning, the hotel’s first decade: the 1960s.

The 1960’s

The Sunset Marquis opens in the same year that Martin Luther King Jr. is imprisoned, President Kennedy assassinated, The Feminine Mystique published, “Beatlemania” coined, and a new band, The Rolling Stones, is signed for the first time; it is 1963, and the inter-related sociopolitical and cultural zeitgeist is experiencing its full-blown 1960s revolution.

George Rosenthal’s Vision

If these walls could rock - book cover
If these walls could rock – book cover

George Rosenthal, a self-made man from a meager background, built his life and successes around his individualistic entrepreneurship. From creating his first company Raleigh Construction Company, which would bloom into Raleigh Enterprises as the decades boomed on, to pitching himself as the man to build the Playboy Club and Hotel, Rosenthal’s business mind was highly intelligent and gutsy. After audacious decisions allowed him to foster a personal relationship with Hugh Hefner, the men infamously turned down a twelve million dollar loan from Jimmy Hoffa for the construction of the Playboy Club and Hotel in West Hollywood. While the Playboy offices moved in with Raleigh’s, Rosenthal’s vision of a hotel on the Sunset Strip for the club’s guests and performers only became grander and more passionate. This vision would become the Sunset Marquis.

The Gardens of Allah Inspiration

Rosenthal’s dream menagerie looked like The Gardens of Allah, a now demolished personal home turned apartment-style hotel for artists and ghouls of the Sunset Strip. “It was a no-holds-barred kind of place where everyone there was part of this family. That’s how I wanted the Sunset Marquis to be,” said Rosenthal. “Family” has been the cornerstone of the Sunset Marquis for the past fifty years.

West Hollywood is an almost two-mile stripe of Los Angeles County that was unincorporated until 1984, thus allowing extraneous, outrageous, antithetical lifestyles to flourish. The Sunset Strip is the mile and a half trek through this alternative land, and the Sunset Marquis stands exactly halfway – 0.75 miles – between Crescent Heights and Doheny Drive. The hotel is literally and figuratively in the middle of it all!

$19 a Night

In 1963, the Sunset Marquis opened. At $19 a night (or whatever a young artist could pay), Rosenthal began corralling the 60s musicians into West Hollywood’s first purpose-built, all-suites infantile hotel.

The three-year-old hotel’s first run-in with history was The Sunset Strip Riots of 1966. While West Hollywood cajoled its community into and through the riots, Rosenthal’s response was expansion. Four new villas were acquired, including the home of dance partners Valor & Yolanda, as well as a pool and villa that were part of the original Barrymore Estate.

Rolling Stones, Laurel Canyon, Los Angeles, CA 1969. Photo: Henry Diltz
Rolling Stones, Laurel Canyon, Los Angeles, CA 1969. Photo: Henry Diltz

While the novelty celebrity – rock stars – were cascading furniture on LAPD out of the windows of other Sunset Strip hotels, the Sunset Marquis became a home for established musicians; “Rock and rollers were tearing the hell out of hotels, but they weren’t tearing the hell out of ours” remembered Rosenthal. The Sunset Marquis was the place for talents, such as Billy Gibbons, Tiny Tim, and David Montgomery, to find quaint, personalized privacy amidst the kaleidoscope of characters that made up the Los Angeles music scene.

An Historical Destination

The Sunset Marquis: West Hollywood’s premier Historical Destination – is that the first tagline that comes to mind when thinking of this luxury hotel? In fact, is “historical destination” at the forefront of anyone’s mind when planning a visit to Los Angeles? As you are coming to learn, the resounding answer should be: YES.

It’s natural to be inundated with flashy, sparkly dreams of celebrities and red carpets when thinking of L.A., but as with many things twentieth century and also historical – Apollo 11, the Fall of the Berlin Wall, Marvel Comics, and more – our recent past most directly and powerfully influences the now. The stimulating history of West Hollywood is wonderfully mirrored in the Sunset Marquis’s past fifty years of presence and prominence in the entertainment industry community. And the 60s were just the beginning!

If your travels include Los Angeles, pick West Hollywood as home base and check out some of this history in person. This postage size city is exploding with creativity and the Sunset Marquis is still very much in the middle of it all so I’ve now adopted this as my second home.  As an aspiring writer, this is the place where my next project will be born so stay tuned for updates!

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