|Location||8358 Sunset Blvd., West Hollywood, California|
|Architect||Bryant, Leland A.|
|Architectural style||Art Deco, Other|
|NRHP Reference #||
|Added to NRHP||May 30, 1980|
Sunset Tower, previously known as The St. James's Club, The Argyle, and The Sunset Tower Hotel, is a historic building and hotel located on the Sunset Strip in West Hollywood, California. Designed in 1929 by architect Leland A. Bryant, opened in 1931, it is considered one of the finest examples of Art Deco architecture in the Los Angeles area. In its early years, it was the residence of many Hollywood celebrities, including John Wayne and Howard Hughes. After a period of decline in the early 1980s, the building was renovated and has been operated as a luxury hotel under the names The St. James's Club, The Argyle, and most recently the Sunset Tower Hotel. The building was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1980.
The art deco Sunset Tower is considered one of the finest examples of the Streamline Moderne form of Art Deco architecture in Southern California. In their guide to Los Angeles architecture, David Gebhard and Robert Winter wrote that "this tower is a first class monument of the Zig Zag Moderne and as much an emblem of Hollywood as the Hollywood sign." It is situated in a commanding location on the Sunset Strip with views of the city and is decorated with plaster friezes of plants, animals, zeppelins, mythological creatures and Adam and Eve.2 Originally operated as a luxury apartment hotel, it was one of the first high-rise reinforced concrete buildings in California.3 When it was completed in August 1931 at a cost of $750,000, the Los Angeles Times reported: "What is described to be the tallest apartment-house in Los Angeles County, rising 15 stories or 195 feet, was completed last week at Kings Road and Sunset Boulevard by W.I. Moffett, general contractor, for E.M. Fleming, owner."4
Marketing the building to Hollywood celebrities, an advertisement in the February 1938 issue of the Screen Actors Guild magazine read: "Faultless in Appointment-The Ultimate in Privacy . . . Hollywood's Most Distinguished Address."5 In 1933, the Los Angeles Times ran an article about the trend toward luxurious penthouse apartments in the city and noted that Sunset Tower boasted the city's highest penthouse: "It is the highest in the city and due to the location of the fifteen-story structure that supports it, its tenants live on a level with the tower of the Los Angeles City Hall. Imagine the view!"6 John Wayne, Howard Hughes, Frank Sinatra, Jerry Buss and novelist James Wohl lived in the penthouse at different times,7 and Hughes reportedly also rented some of the lower apartments for his girlfriends or mistresses.58 John Wayne reportedly once brought a cow up to his penthouse apartment at 3 a.m. telling his party guests who were gathering for coffee that they would have to go directly to the source if they wanted cream.9 Other former residents include Clark Gable, Errol Flynn, Marilyn Monroe, Michael Caine, Quincy Jones, Roger Moore, Zsa Zsa Gabor, Billie Burke, Joseph Schenck, Paulette Goddard, Zasu Pitts, George Stevens, Preston Sturges, and Carol Kane.23591011121314
In 1944, resident Bugsy Siegel, described by the Los Angeles Times as a "Hollywood sportsman", was charged with running a bookmaking operations from his apartment at Sunset Tower.15 Siegel called it "a bum rap," and witnesses testified that Siegel and his friends were only playing "a friendly game of gin rummy."5 Siegel later pleaded guilty, paid a $250 fine, and was "asked" by management to leave his apartment at Sunset Tower.5
The building was also the site of a publicized "Battle of the Balcony" involving bandleader Tommy Dorsey in 1944. Dorsey became involved in a fistfight with actor Jon Hall after the actor "paid undue attention to (Dorsey's) actress-wife Pat Dane" at a party held in Dorsey's apartment. The Los Angeles Times reported that actor Eddie Norris "darn near got killed . . . during the celebrity-infested brawl . . . when he tried to act as peacemaker" between Dorsey and Hall, who "came out of the fracas with his classic nose almost severed from his suntanned face."5
In 1947, Truman Capote wrote in a letter: " I am living in a very posh establishment, the Sunset Tower, which, or so the local gentry tell me, is where every scandal that ever happened happened."16 Others report that the Sunset Tower was "notorious for having the best-kept call girls in Hollywood."5
By 1982, a plan to convert the building to condominiums failed, and construction was halted abruptly with residents still living there. The building had deteriorated and was described as "like something from a war-ravaged land."1117 At the time, resident Werner Klemperer (Col. Klink from Hogan's Heroes) said of the building: "Welcome to Beirut West."11
The building was saved from deterioration and possible demolition when it was purchased in 1985 from architect David Lawrence Gray, FAIA by Peter de Savary who promised to "lovingly restore" the building to its former glory by spending $25 million to convert the building into the first American branch of his luxury hotel chain, the St. James's Club.1218 David Gray's firm handled the historic restoration of this treasure and in 1988, the Los Angeles Conservancy gave the owners an award for their work in preserving the Sunset Tower.19 The St. James's Club operated an upscale hotel for several years, popular with celebrities, including David Bowie.2021
The Lancaster Group purchased the hotel from de Savary in 1992, renaming it the Argyle. In 2004, Jeff Klein purchased the hotel.22 Klein hired designer Paul Fortune to renovate the hotel, adding more modern amenities, and restored its original name.23 In 2006, Toronto's The Globe and Mail reviewed the renovated Sunset Tower and noted: "This isn't a place that needs to declare itself 'hip' because its grand history speaks for itself—and has been successfully carried forward to the present."24 London's Daily Mail noted: "Bill Murray and Penélope Cruz are often spotted in the restaurant, where, on most nights, you can hear 84-year-old Page Cavanaugh, who played for Sinatra and Doris Day in the 1940s, tinkle the ivories."25
As part of the 2006 restoration, the Tower Bar was reconfigured to have a more turn of the century ambience. After the Tower Bar opened in 2006, the Los Angeles Times reported that it had become one of the trendiest in Los Angeles: "On a recent night at the intimate Tower Bar, Jennifer Aniston dines 10 feet away from Joaquin Phoenix and white-coated waiters weave between tables like players in a Broadway musical. A $155 bottle of Pinot Noir is uncorked here, chilled oysters delivered there and a bow given every now and then."26 The New York Times also reported on the transformation of the hotel: "The striped silk-and-walnut Tower Bar restaurant is already a retro clubhouse for the mature Hollywood set (think Brian Grazer and Barbara Walters), complete with $13 martinis and the octogenarian former Sinatra pianist Page Cavanaugh tickling the ivories. On a Friday night in mid-December, Anjelica Huston and Courtney Love swanned by to dine with a 30-something crowd far more sophisticated than the teenyboppers roaming Sunset Boulevard outside."27 Other celebrities visiting the Tower Bar include Sean Penn, Victoria Beckham, Tom Cruise and Jennifer Lopez.282930 Dmitri Dmitrov, a 60-year-old Macedonian immigrant with Rudolph Valentino hair, is the Tower Bar's maître d’hôtel. Dmitrov is a sphinxlike figure who knows everything and says nothing. In the six years since Klein, following a suggestion from the designer Tom Ford, rescued Dmitrov from a fading career at drearily elegant places like a local Russian restaurant that featured a harpist, ice swans and a caviar menu, he has become a Hollywood institution.31 In February 2007, the New York Post reported that the hotel's front desk manager was nearly fired when Britney Spears tried to book three rooms. Owner Jeff Klein was reportedly overheard yelling at the manager, "If that piece of trailer trash so much as enters my driveway, you are fired. She can't come here with all my chic guests, she'll ruin the place."32 Also in 2007, Sean "Diddy" Combs showed up with an entourage to attend a Golden Globes party, and was told his name wasn't on the list. When Combs was reported to have become "verbally abusive," owner Jeff Klein personally asked Combs to leave. When Klein said he would call the police if Combs did not leave, the New York Post reported that Combs was heard shouting, "Just try it - I'll spend the rest of my life hunting you down!"33 In February 2009, Vanity Fair hosted its Oscar party at the Sunset Tower.34
The building was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1980.
- "National Register Information System". National Register of Historic Places. National Park Service. 2008-04-15.
- Daniel Hoye (1988). "Art Deco Los Angeles". Los Angeles Conservancy.
- Ruth Ryon (1985-05-12). "Fate of Old Buildings Has No Certainty: Glamorous Past Doesn't Prevent Neglect, Razing". Los Angeles Times.
- "Tallest Apartment Unit Completed". Los Angeles Times. 1931-08-23.
- Laurie Ochoa (1988-06-19). "Tawdry Tales of the Sunset Tower". Los Angeles Times.
- R.P. White (1933-04-23). "What! Penthouses Here? First One Was Built Twenty Years Ago to Perpetuate Real Living". Los Angeles Times.
- Ruth Ryon (1982-08-15). "Pride of Sunset Towers Hangs by a Thread". Los Angeles Times. ("At different times John Wayne, Frank Sinatra, Jerry Buss and James Wohl lived in the penthouse ...")
- William Overend (1981-11-26). "From Poinsettias to Punk: A History of the Sunset Strip". Los Angeles Times.
- Ruth Ryon (1981-03-22). "Stars Rented at 'Emblem of Hollywood': Sunset Towers to Be Turned to Condos". Los Angeles Times.
- Jody Jacobs (1985-08-02). "New Life for Sunset Towers". Los Angeles Times. ("Errol Flynn, Clark Gable, John Wayne and Howard Hughes were just a few of its former tenants.")
- Ruth Ryon (1982-08-15). "Pride of Sunset Towers Hangs by a Thread: Tenants Still Living in Partly Demolished Historic Monument". Los Angeles Times.
- Jody Jacobs (1985-08-02). "New Life for Landmark Sunset Towers". Los Angeles Times.
- David Landis (1988-07-01). "Real Estate: Posh Sunset Towers rises again in L.A.". USA Today.
- "A Hollywood Landmark". Sunset Tower Hotel.
- "'Bugsy' Told to Face Trial: Justice Convinced 'Bookie' Operating at Sunset Tower". Los Angeles Times. 1944-07-21.
- "Sunset Tower Hotel web site". Sunset Tower Hotel.
- Bevis Hillier (1984-07-08). "Taste/Trends: Deco in Danger; The Future of the Past". Los Angeles Times.
- James Rainey (1985-11-28). "West Hollywood OKs Conversion of Sunset Towers to Luxury Hotel". Los Angeles Times.
- Sam Hall Kaplan (1988-06-18). "Awards for Making the Old New". Los Angeles Times.
- Christine Pittel (1988-12-03). "The black tie of Sunset Boulevard -- that's St. James". The New York Times.
- Ruth Ryon (1988-02-21). "New Day Dawns for Sunset Tower as a St. James's Club First in U. S. to Open This Week in W. Hollywood". Los Angeles Times.
- Frances Anderton (2005-12-15). "Act III, Scene 1 for a Sunset Strip Landmark". The New York Times. ("This Hollywood classic has been through more facelifts and name changes than many of the town's denizens.")
- Sarah Ferrell (Winter 2005). "Sunset Revival: The Old Hollywood Made New". New York Times Magazine.
- Chistine Samuelian (2006-04-19). "Sunset Tower Hotel Los Angeles". The Globe and Mail (Toronto).
- Jane Slade (2006-03-11). "Hollywood's little black book; Hollywood is best known for making movies, but Jane Slade discovers that even if you didn't attend last week's glittering Oscar ceremony, you can still enjoy the all-star treatment". Daily Mail (London).
- Jessica Gelt (2007-04-29). "A Day in Sunset Strip". Los Angeles Times.
- Janelle Brown (2006-03-05). "West Hollywood: Sunset Tower Hotel". The New York Times.
- "Going Out; Buzz Clubs". Los Angeles Times. 2006-12-14. ("Word on the street is actor-vist Sean Penn's favorite new hang is the Tower Bar at the Sunset Tower Hotel, formerly the Argyle.")
- Heidi Siegmund Cuda (2007-03-29). "Buzz Clubs". Los Angeles Times.
- "Posh makes her mark in Tinsel Town". Daily Record (Glasgow). 2008-01-17.
- "Sightings". New York Post. 2007-02-24.
- "Diddy Delisted from Party". New York Post. 2007-01-19.