By Hillel Aron
By Joseph Tsidulko
By Patrick Range McDonald
By David Futch
By Hillel Aron
By Dennis Romero
By Jill Stewart
By Dennis Romero
That's where you would go to look and go to be seen and go to talk and exchange the joy of being alive and having the privilege of being part of the audience and being onstage. The sharpies would take turns holding forth and being in charge. And the physical appearance of these men - I don't see women in the picture. It's always extremely well-dressed, sharp, sophisticated, worldly men. Show-business people. Not businessmen. But these were, in a sense, maybe the night people or the sportsmen or the people who had time to talk and have fun and be seen and look good and establish camaraderie and sort of that secret bonding that sportsmen have among themselves.
I've never seen more glamour anywhere in the world than in that one spot. Because, even if you weren't working and if you were just part of the group, it was almost mandatory that you were sharp. Beautiful clothes, tailor-made clothes, beautiful suits and socks. And that was the day when men had their hair gassed or processed, whatever word you want to use. Everybody was just immaculately, you might say, splendiferous in their appearance, and they took great pride with everything about their appearance. The way they walked, you know: proud. And they could tell stories, and the body language, and all this. . . .
There was Stepin Fetchit with his long white Auburn-Cord or Packard or whatever it was, with a lion sitting in the back. That wasn't far-fetched. That was just one of the things that you were lucky enough to see if you happened to be on the street when he decided to drive down the street.But yeah, it's really amazing to have been on the street, not realizing at that time what it was going to mean.
Two Italian fellows, the Risatto brothers, bought the Alabam. They had a little push downtown. They also had a place called the Breakfast Club, upstairs over the Alabam. They specialized in fried chicken, hot biscuits with honey, and things of that sort, and had an open bar. And on top of that, for a while they had an open crap game going, because they knew the people downtown. There wasn't anybody bothering anybody. It didn't even open until 2 o'clock, and they would have clientele there until 6, 7 o'clock in the morning. You had to pay off. They had some people that were doing business downtown. . . .
I wouldn't know about [Cotton Club owner Frank] Sebastian's ties with the mob. He knew them all right, because he knew all the fellows that were with the gambling boat, Rex, that was stationed offshore. And behind the curtains at the club, they had open gambling. You'd only see the people come in the front door. They wouldn't come into where we were playing. Big-time gambling. They had to pay off. He was the big man in Culver City. The tops in the police department. The police all came in there and ate for free, you know. They had the run of the place.
I'd say about 1951 the hard drugs were coming into Central Avenue. It was about over then, anyway. And it was a big deal. I mean, it was like being in a clique. If you didn't shoot smack - I don't care how good you play, but if I shot smack, then I wouldn't feel comfortable playing with you because you don't shoot up like I do. So a lot of that happened. I saw a lot of cats die early from not being able to handle the narcotics in the area. And the narcotics, when they came in, it was really a monster, because you'd start seeing cats changing personalities. Then all of a sudden you don't want them to come to your house anymore. They'd become like zombies and nothing else matters. That's when it really hit bottom. All you wanted to do was just get high and nod. And you've got too much talent for that and that's whipping you.
What closed down Central Avenue in the '50s was the powers that be and the police, because of the mixing. All the stars and all the people would come over to Central Avenue and listen to the music. They didn't like that mixing, so they rousted people. Stopping you and patting you down. Going into the clubs and messing with people. They did that for a long time. And that's how they closed it up. White ladies would come down, and they didn't like that. So people got tired of being messed around by the police, because they weren't doing anything. Mixed couples or even white people they'd stop, "What are you doing over on this side of town?" It was about racism. That's what it was. It was rampant then. That's why they hassled people. So people got tired of that shit and stopped going over there. Central Avenue shut down, and things moved west.
Of course, they had a little dope problem. Heroin and cocaine, those were the drugs then. Heroin was the hip drug. But how could this shit have gone on if they don't sit back a little bit? They go through the pretense of cracking down, but they don't. They crack down on the people that use, but they don't crack down on the people that put it in the damn community. I mean, it's the big shots, like even the government, I believe, that had something to do with some of it getting in the country.