Former Thelma Todd Building
On PCH Ready for its ‘Close-Up’
By LIBBY MOTIKA
Special to Circling the News
One thing is certain, the highlight of the remodeled Thelma Todd Café (Paulist Productions) on Pacific Coast Highway remains the drama outside, whether a crystalline morning or a moody sea.
The historic building now emerging from a two-year renovation undertaken by Hayman Properties is hosting an open house on Saturday, February 2, 9 a.m. to 2 p.m., at 17575 PCH (just west of Sunset).
Robert Hayman bought the three-story 16,000-sq.-ft. building in 2014 for $6 million, imagining a creative office compound, renamed Vibe Surfside.
The building, designed in 1928 by noted Westside architect Mark Daniels (Villa Aurora, Mount St. Mary’s College), was originally constructed as the business block for the Castellammare tract, developed by Alfonso Bell, Sr. in the late 1920s.
A rare example of a 1920’s neighborhood commercial building in Pacific Palisades, it shares the same Spanish Colonial Revival-style architecture Bell favored in his other projects, including the Riviera Country Club and the Bel-Air Bay Club.
The building was strategically located adjacent to the highway pedestrian overpass, and was also the terminus for a bus stop for residents and beachgoers. At one time, in fact, it was the home of a community beach center, providing locker rooms for bathers to change.
The building is most famously remembered as the Thelma Todd Café, located on the ground floor, which served as a hangout for the rich and Hollywood types who enjoyed the exotic location minutes from the surf.
Film director Roland West operated Joya’s nightclub on the second floor, named for his first wife actress Jewel Carmen.
Todd, the popular actress and comedienne in the 1920s and early ’30s, and her on-and-off lover director West lived in side-by-side apartments, also located on the second floor.
After Todd’s mysterious death in 1935–she died from carbon monoxide poisoning in West’s garage, which was located up the hill from the café–West continued to own the building until his death in 1952. His second wife Lola Lane inherited it, and later deeded it to Paulist Productions, which sold it to Hayman.
Hayman has upgraded the building as necessary to support the activities of a modern commercial enterprise, installing LED lighting, HVAC double-pane windows, and an elevator providing access to the upper floors, to meet ADA requirements. Valet parking will be provided at the landlord’s cost until the completion of onsite parking.
Fortunately, the intention to be as faithful to the original architecture has been accomplished.
The façade on PCH features the same arrangement of windows, although the panes have been enlarged to maximize the spectacular 180-degree panorama. Original sconces inside have been duplicated. The bathrooms retain the Malibu Tile decoration. Most spectacular is the third floor rotunda, where paneling on the ceiling has been removed to reveal the dramatic network of exposed beams.