CC reader Rob O. turned me on to what is undoubtedly the ultimate vintage photo CC car-spotting treasure trove. In 1966, artist Ed Ruscha drove along the Sunset Strip in West Hollywood, Los Angeles with a motorized camera mounted on the back of a pickup truck. His intent was to photograph all of the buildings on each side of the street, which were then assembled in the book Every Building on the Sunset Strip.
Rusha did this more than once; twice in 1966, then again in 1973, 1974, 1975, 1976 and either he or some of his students did it again in 1990, 1995, 1997, 1998 and 2007. The result is over a half-million negatives, of which the Getty Museum has digitized some 60,000 to date. They are now available here. But Ruscha’s objective was the buildings, not the cars, so many of the images in the somewhat clumsy interactive format are of just buildings, as he obviously did this on Sunday mornings when traffic was at a minimum.
So I’ve started going through them and picking out the ones with the cars, and what a CC cornucopia it is. I’m starting with the first drive in ’66, heading east a bit east of Fairfax to near Gower St. It’s actually more old Hollywood than what is typically referred as “The Strip”; the next episode will be there, and of both sides of the street. So get ready for a ride down Sunset Boulevard in 1966, looking strictly to the north.
Continued on Page 2:
What a fabulous find! The framing of the third to last photo (the one with the square bird in front of the apartment building), while purely serendipitous, is almost artistic.
To think they cursed the Bird driver for cutting in. lol
For people of my generation, Sunset Strip will always be synonymous with the ‘T’ Bird, Efrem Zimbalist Jr, and Cookie Burns.
This is a veritable list of my favorite cars: T-Birds, Rivieras, Catalinas, Grands Prix, Toronados, Triumph TRs, Mustangs, Darts, Cadillacs, Continentals. It’s probably more accurate to ask what doesn’t make an impression on me! 🙂
I’m loving this!! Funny how this all looks more like the 50’s to me than ’66. Perhaps it’s the B & W. I see the Mustang had lost it’s hubcaps already, or maybe it was a rally cross thing..
Hubcap theft used to be an issue back then.
I love the shot of the typewriter store – Acme Typewriters! (Twelfth photo from the top). How cliche for a name! Great placement in the Yellow Pages though!
These are fantastic.
…with another old-timey store next to it: Organ Center. Hammond! Lowrey! (I’ll take one of each, thank you!). Can’t make out the third brand next to it.
“Gulbrasen,” I do believe…..
Thanks for pointing those organ dealers out—that home-organ thing had about a 30-year peak (1950s-60s-70s), and then started slowing down….very cheap on eBay now, except the spiffiest Hammonds, it seems…
Yep, that’s it! Gulbransen, totally forgot about them. Besides organs, they also made the very first transistorized drum machines way back in 1964. Home organ sales fell drastically once synthesizers and other digital keyboards became affordable in the 1980s.
There seem to be an inordinate amount of dry cleaners back in those days. Maybe their clothes got stained using all those typewriter ribbons?
Well, office folk (teachers, too) dressed more formally for work, so plenty of non-washable outfits that needed attention. Also, many dry cleaners offered laundry service, too, for the (presumably bachelor gents) folks who didn’t always visit the laundromat. That’s my guess, anyway….plus I’m remembering when dress shirts always needed some pressing, “permanent press,” really, was just coming to market then: https://www.nytimes.com/2013/10/08/business/ruth-benerito-cotton-chemist-of-permanent-press-renown-dies-at-97.html
I believe that’s a Mercedes in front of Empire Studios, sandwiched between what I believe are a Mercury and a Buick. Which makes me realize that I have no idea who might have bought a Mercedes before they were thought of as a luxury car and a status symbol. What was the value over, say, a Borgward?
The owners of Mercedes Benz of Hollywood on Sunset must have thought there was a market there for the cars. I think it has been said that American culture is presaged by what happens first in California.
Looking at the Mercedes, I am seeing a car that could easily have been a similar Volvo. Both were available, for owners seeking different yet practical cars,
They were some of the finest imported luxury cars starting in the 1920s. Hollywood stars bought them, like Al Jolson, below:
here’s Lillian Harvey and hers:
Mercedes was one of the very few international luxury brands to survive the Depression and WW2. And they offered a wide range of cars. So it was oly natural that they were desirable and prestigious.
I guess you missed the big Mercedes of Hollywood dealer in the pictures.
Pep Boys right next door to the Mercedes dealer. One won’t see that sort of juxtaposition any more, MB will make sure of it.
Was she living in Berlin at the time?
I don’t know. But I can absolutely assure you that Mercedes was a highly desirable and very exclusive brand that was sold to the rich and famous in the US in the ’20s, and ’30s. And after the war, the 300S Coupe and cabriolet was also in that league with the glitterati. And then the 300SL.
Their image and prestige (as well as their intrinsic quality) are what made the brand desirable, and increasingly so during the 50s and 60s and explosively so in the ’70s.
Funny you should make that comment, Evan, as the guy across the street from us replaced his Borgward with a Mercedes (fintail) sometime in the late ‘60’s. Of course by that time the Borgward was an orphan. Mercedes weren’t as common then as now in my part of California, but hardly exotic. My friend’s parents had two, both 4 cylinder, and I recall riding for a few days in a Ponton 219 that was a loaner while our Volvo was in the shop. My mom didn’t like the 4 on the tree; even more unwieldy than the wobbly but direct 3’ long Volvo stick.
My dad bought them from the early Sixties on; he was a mechanical engineer. My impression from hanging around the dealership (in Tennessee) was that a lot of them were sold to doctors.
Simply superb! This is the world I was born into (1966). Closest I’ll probably come to going back for a visit! In many ways, “the best of both”: still lots of ’50s Gorp-mobiles together with the clean auto designs of the ’60s. Also we have High Victorian street lamp standards set against Mid-Century Modern commercial buildings.
The stores and their signage are interesting too. When was the last time you saw a sign, “GAS WAR”? Love the dog house–is it still there? Is that the original Denny’s?
Just 4 years after “It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World” was filmed.
“Is that the original Denny’s?”
Denny’s appears to have started in Lakewood California, but that is the original Norm’s restaurant at Sunset and Vine (an iconic So Cal chain, but I don’t recommend the food).
Some great shots here. And the vintage Honda billboard is a bonus!
Fantastic find! One is reminded of GM’s dominance in that time.
I did find it better to scroll through the images backwards, as though a passenger looking out the right side of a vehicle. Easy enough to do and only a personal preference.
The pictures were obviously shot from the other lane, going the other direction. Imagine you’re going to your right, and seeing the cars in the other lane between you and the buildings. Does that not make sense?
Yes, it does…and if shooting out the passenger side, the buildings that were the intended subjects of the project would probably have been too close.
This is going to be an interesting series.
As much as I’m enjoying the cars, I’ll also be keeping an eye on the buildings. Not just the evolution of the architecture, but how many of the older buildings will survive.
* One suggestion: The photographs appear to be in reverse order, so it looks like we’re traveling backwards. It would flow better if the order of the photographs was flipped in future installments.
(Looks like someone beat me to it by one minute! )
The pictures were obviously shot from the other lane, going the other direction, right?
Of course, makes sense. I guess my original expectation was that I was viewing the sequence from the passenger seat, as pointed out by G. Poon, above. But it makes more sense for someone photographing the buildings to prefer a wider view, from the opposite side of the street.
Once you realize that, the flow is perfectly natural…
A perfect (but harmless) demonstration of how one’s prejudice, viewpoint, or skewed expectation can lead to wrongful conclusions. Mea culpa.
On a quick run-through, the only British non-sports car I noticed was an Austin America in the parking lot of the Texaco station in the second to the bottom pic on page 3.
Somehow, based on reading road tests from Sixties magazines, I had an idea they would be more common, at least in California.
Of course, there aren’t that many Japanese cars visible yet, either.
It’s an MG 1100, as the America didn’t come out until 1968.
Stay tuned for Part 2; there will be more.
Yup, same MG 1100 my father had. His was a ’64, blu-ish gray. He kept it until 1974.
Goodness gracious. I have no memory of ever seeing an MG 1100.
Hoping one of the later pics captures the elusive Humber Snipe.
It was the only ADO 16 sold in the US, until the America in ’68.
It is a bit interesting that there is nothing exotic – mostly cars that would also be seen in Sacramento or Phoenix. Today on Sunset you likely would see a few cars like McLaren, Lamborghini, Rolls Royce. But these shots from ’66 don’t seem to have cars that might have been special back then – Cobra, Mercedes SL, XKE, Rolls/Bentley.
This is the old Hollywood section, and that’s why. Stay tuned to the next drive through “the strip” further to the west. Sure, not as many exotics as one might see in Beverly Hills. This section of town was rather gritty and not an expensive neighborhood at all. And it was Sunday morning, FWIW.
Trust me, in later years, there are some automotive sights to make your head explode. (I‘m the one who found this and it ate up most of my last Sunday…)
First, this shows how popular the Mustang was – look how many of them there were after only maybe a year and a half in production (depending on when these were taken in 1966).
Second – how few independents were on the road. True, the Sunset Strip was naturally Rambler territory, but still. I counted maybe 3 Larks (2 in the background) and how dumpy they looked in that world. Whatever older stuff from the 50s was still going it was mostly Big 3.
Finally, I laughed out loud at the parking lot outside of the Dog House – way in the back is a 53-54 Stude Starliner – complete with a Continental kit. Whatever little aesthetic respect that car may have been entitled to in 1966, that spare hanging off the back removed even that.
I would say the black Ambassador has to be the least “Hollywood” car here, even more so than the Aero Willys which would’ve fetched a two-figure pricetag in ’66. That Ambassador was brand new, someone plunked down good money to cruise the Sunset Strip in a fancy Rambler.
AMT tooled up a ’53 Stude model kit in the early/mid ’60s so it had to have had a following but I don’t think it includes a Continental kit among the many build options.
I’m not sure they bought it “to cruise the Strip” as it’s in front of a hotel, but it does brings home the point of what a handsome car it was, in international terms and size. It compares favorably with a Mercedes sedan of the times. Too bad it didn’t catch on more. It could have been the gen1 Seville of its time.
I was hoping you’d spot that poor Starliner.
Given the territory, the preponderance of 2-door hardtops and convertibles is also noteworthy but not surprising. This was not a “family” neighborhood. Cadillacs, Lincolns, T-Birds and Riviera are obviously over-represented. This will become even more apparent in Part 2.
There’s a ’63 Lark in front of the Mercedes-Benz of Hollywood dealership. Any chance it was purchased there new, given MB’s dealership agreement with Studebaker at the time?
Very interesting shots from perhaps the one street in LA most familiar to me. Two observations immediately leapt out to me:
1) the sheer dominance of GM in the mid-sixties, with about half the cars in these pictures (and virtually all the newer full-size cars) various GM makes. Chrysler is well-represented with lots of second-gen Valiants and Darts while Ford seemed to sell only Mustangs and Thunderbirds (with the exception of that gorgeous ‘65 Galaxie two-door hardtop).
2) the relative youth of the fleet, with most of the cars shown built in 1960 or later. There is virtually nothing built before 1955, the benign Southern California climate notwithstanding. Cars just didn’t last long back then.
A good part of the reason for the “youth of the fleet” is the incredibly dynamic post-war prosperity of Southern California, the planned obsolescence of annual model changes, and the 60’s obsession with “the new.”
Also, when I moved here in 1972 there were plenty of older cars in beautiful condition still prowling the streets, especially in the old and somewhat run-down coastal areas like Santa Monica – which at that time was not at all expensive or chic. The newly built westside freeways were only just beginning to bring these areas out of isolation from the commercial and housing booms of the city and its newer, modern suburbs.
If this was photographed on a Sunday, you may be seeing a higher percentage of “Sunday best”, driving the newer car, rather than the second car, the “weekday beater”, to work.
That didn’t exist in LA. You’re projecting something from another part of the country, perhaps. If you had a sense what Hollywood was like…it wasn’t like Michigan where folks had winter beaters.
Keep in mind that folks in SoCal tended to have long commutes, and drove a lot. You’re not going to risk breaking down on the freeway in your beater if you have a newer car at your disposal.
Nice! As a young boy in the Sixties (born in 1963) I remember seeing many of those cars on the street here in Ontario as well. My favourites were the big Pontiacs, and it’s great to see them represented. The cars from the Fifties, though, were a lot less common thanks to our well-salted roads and most of them would have been considered rusty old beaters.
The more unusual cars to me; Page 1, a small Willys driving in front of the park; Page 3, a Volvo wagon, and the front of a Sunbeam Tiger in the last shot (chrome side trim); Page 4, a Mustang fastback with a crunched rear corner. Quite a few of the cars have crunched corners and dings in the sides…
As to business names, “Fred’s Beauty Harem” and “Drossie’s Continental Cuisine” stand out.
WOW! A few views I just remember, as I was a young Marine “flying” up and down Sunset on my ’65 Honda 305 Super Hawk; purchased in Huntsville, ALA in Sept ’65. I only saw the area on weekends when I would ride in from MCB 29 Palms, a 160 some miles E/NE. However, all those neat old cars…mm MM GOOD!
That 65-66 Caddy coupe and the ’64 GP really caught my eyes; wouldn’t mind either one. Of course, my 2 car garage would be hard pressed to fit either without some cleaning out!
I do hope Bullwinkle and Rocky show in 1 of the views; think I remember their TALL visages better than anything else…..or was that later in the early 70s? Time does fly by! DFO
One more–check out the chicks standing on the corner in front of Hollywood High. That hairstyle was sometimes called “The Teenage Vulgarian Look”. It was adopted by a lot of girl singing groups at the time.
For tickets to the high school production of “My Fair Lady”, “call HO5-7301”.
No way that’s not a synthetic wig. I’d bet money on it.
Growing up 400 miles to the north, in a part of California that we considered to be the cultural polar opposite of LA, these cars seem very familiar and reflect and reinforce my memories of the streets ape of the time. Far fewer cars older than 10-15 years old than one sees now, and a variety of imports. I’m sure Paul has been a bit selective in his choices but though there’s are fewer Beetles than I would have expected, the TR3’s, Volvo 544, 122S and even 210, and the various Mercedes would be daily sights in my town. The Fiat Spyder, the Opel and (in 1966) the Corona would be a little more unusual. I actually would have expected to see even more Mustangs; by ‘66 they were already everywhere.
I wasn’t selective at all; these are all the shots with cars in them.
It all depends on a number of things. This is in old Hollywood, which was more of a working-class area, and probably a bit slower on the import adoption rate than other parts of town. Also, it was clearly an area where folks liked to show off a bit; big expensive American cars were still the thing to be seen in.
You’ll see more VWs in Part 2 & 3.
I like the Flxible.
Looks to be a tourist tour bus, with those roof windows.
Thanks for sharing! Fantastic time capsule of photos!
It has to be remembered that even in California, in 1966 all these cars’ exhausts stank. The only antipollution device on newer cars was an EGR valve.
(That’s not to say I don’t admire some of them. I myself drove a 1966 car for 17 years, a Bonneville convertible.)
The setting: On page 4, tenth shot from the end, in front of the Sunset Beauty Supplies Store.
The line up: A 1961 Dodge convertible, an early 60’s Dodge Hardtop and a 1956 Pontiac.
The Story: Three aging beauty queens anxiously await their supplies of youth extending treatments.
The ’61 Dodge is a car that I’ve always considered ugly, as I only knew it’s plain Jane sister. The convertible was the Belle of the Ball, at least for an instant. After that, it was all downhill. Typical Hollywood Story.
I see a couple of buildings at which I worked in these photos.
On page 2, north of Hollywood High, the First National Bank is the tower a couple blocks to the north at Hollywood & Highland. I was there working in a suite of offices for about four days in the mid or late ’80s. It was next to the Pantages Theater. I’d park my rental car one block north on Yucca.
In about 1990 I worked one day at the Hollywood Palladium. On page 4 the very southwestern corner of it is illustrated (with the Rambler American and the Palladium Barber Shop).
The bank building was in pristine shape in the ’80s; now I believe it is vacant. The historic Palladium was a dump by 1990; it may still be.
The only vehicle still seen today is the Chevy pickup. Still doing landscape work.
The amount of Mopars is fascinating, especially the compacts in these shots.
That was one of my key observations too. Especially ’63 – ’64 Dart GT.
But that was a bit of a minor hit in its day, and I’ve come to see it as a precursor to the Mustang. A stylish bucket-seat coupe, at an affordable price. Same formula as the Monza, but in a different configuration.
I was also a bit surprised at the number of GM Y-Body compacts (’61-’63), and especially the coupes. Another Mustang precursor. As well as A-Body coupes to come.
“It has to be remembered that even in California, in 1966 all these cars’ exhausts stank. The only antipollution device on newer cars was an EGR valve.” Actually starting on 1966 model cars in CA., the ever so lovely “smog pump” made its first appearance. Despite that, the air in L.A. did REEK and was mostly a red-brown hue unless it had just rained!
The ’66 327 I put in my ’56 Chevy was missing its expen$ive smog pump when I bought the engine; therefore I solved the problem with 8 little screw in inserts into the exhaust manifolds! The car ran better and that was ok……..as long as no LEO looked under my chained and locked hood!!! Curiously with the twice a year super tune ups my ’56 got she EXCEEDED CA. smog standards for ’71 model cars even tho she was “illegal”. 🙂
Nothing like a run up and down Sunset Strip on a Friday or Saturday night for cheap entertainment. DFO
Thanks for the clarification.
My favorite was your photo of mid-1960s Denver Colorado downtown strip with 100s cars on street. So few imports – maybe 10 – few compacts – no vans. A deferent world – billchrest
Most of those shots all exhibit the perpetual haze (smog) present in the 60s in the Los Angeles region. I moved to the San Fernando Valley in June 1966. I wasn’t aware it was really a valley until a September Santa Anna came through and it was then that I saw mountains that made up the northern end of the valley.
Where we lived was the far west end at the time right where Roscoe Blvd. ended. I could hike up into the hills a little more west and look back towards the east over the whole valley. Only problem was that you couldn’t see the whole valley as there was a solid yellow wall of smog half way down. The wall was roughly where 405 went through the valley. Looking at the map just now I can see that the swimming pool my father put in, back in 1966, is still there today along with the pool four houses up that I swam in many times.
At that time the smog in LA was easily visible when looking at trees or buildings a half a block away and made your eyes sting and water on the worst days, which was a lot of them. Besides EGR valves with recirculating crankcase blowby in about 1963, previously backyard incineration was outlawed and maybe other measures. But most of industry and car pollution regulation was still in the future.
Initially I was introduced to Ruscha’s work via his gas station series. Funny how all his works seem to purposely exclude cars. I was unable to find any in his paintings via google images. His painted text series with unique fonts is what captivates me the most.
and this must be on deck for Part 2? But I don’t expect number 77 to be next door.
Born in ’67, I’d never really had a good impression of the Mustang around its time of introduction. Seeing the shape and styling against the carscape of its time it’s not hard to understand what a breath of fresh air it was, or why it was so immediately successful.
I’ve never been particularly enamored by the Mustang, but I have to admit it was clearly a standout in its day.
The 60s cars look so much sleeker and more compact than the 50s models;
The lack of imports – one Japanese car, a few VW, 1 Austin America, a Volvo and a couple of elderly TR2s are the only ones to have made any impact on me
And some great looking buildings
Love the “Swiss Cleaners” photo—-Fairlane with (it seems) the V8, Mustang at the curb.
The Honda billboard snags the image from this 1966 ad (same $215 starting price), with South Gate HS band uniforms (even if the couple are probably pro models). I belong to a Facebook group that can tell you who the maker of the French Horn is, our wondrous age being what it is….
My resident French horn expert says she remembers seeing that ad followed by a long discussion on the horn Facebook group (though she can’t ID the brand). That group is like the Curbside Classic of French horns; people go into infinite detail and discussion about things that make most folks glassy-eyed.
There was one comment thread where people compared various horns to car models — that was amusing.