HOLLYWOOD AT 100!
Blondeau’s Tavern — where it all began…
By Allan R. Ellenberger
This year marks the 100th anniversary of the first motion picture studio that was established in Hollywood-proper in a run-down tavern at the northwest corner of Sunset and Gower. This is the first in a series of articles over the next several months that celebrates the movies birth in Hollywood. Today is a look at the very beginning and the family that established that tavern – Rene and Marie Blondeau.
Blondeau’s Tavern stood at the northwest corner of Sunset and Gower. This hostelry has a place on history’s pages, in that the Blondeau’s were friends with artist Paul De Longpre and boosters who persuaded him to locate there. The old tavern also became Hollywood’s first film studio in 1911.
Rene Blondeau was born in 1839 near Normandie, France. In 1855, at the age of 16, young Blondeau arrived in New Orleans where he set up business as a perfume importer. In 1870, Rene returned to France for a visit and met twenty-year-old Marie Lousteau and married her the following year. Rene took his new bride to New Orleans where they set up house.
In February 1875 the couple had a son who they named Rene Hyacinthe Blondeau. Sadly, the child died less than two years later. After the death of their son, the Blondeaus visited the principal cities of South America, and, while in Chile, adopted a daughter, Louise. Before returning to New Orleans with a small fortune, in Argentina they assumed the responsibility of bringing up a half-orphan French-born boy who they called Louis.
The Blondeau’s had friends in California who owned a road house in a sleepy little village called Hollywood, just a few miles outside of Los Angeles. Martin Labaig was the proprietor of the Six-Road House on the northeast corner of Sunset and Gower. Labaig convinced Blondeau to relocate to Hollywood, so in 1889 they came across the Isthmus to Los Angeles and to Hollywood. There, Harvey Wilcox, the founder of Hollywood, sold Blondeau six acres of land for $2,000 across from the Labaig’s.
In 1892, Blondeau built an addition to his home and applied for a liquor license and began serving meals, calling his establishment, Blondeau’s Tavern. Two years later, Blondeau bought five acres across Sunset Boulevard at the southwest corner from Senator Cornelius Cole for $300 per acre.
In 1899 Blondeau was instrumental in bringing the well-known French painter, Paul De Longpre, to the Cahuenga Valley. De Longpre built Hollywood’s first tourist attraction – his home and flower gardens – at Prospect (now Hollywood Boulevard) and Cahuenga. De Longpre died in Hollywood in 1911 and has a street and park named after him.
Blondeau’s Tavern prospered over the years, feeding and quenching the thirst of countless travelers passing through the Cahuenga Valley. Shortly after the turn of the century, Rene began to suffer from complications of several diseases. On January 20, 1903, Rene Blondeau died at his home adjacent to the tavern. He was 63 years old. The funeral services were conducted by Father Cota of the local Catholic Church and interment was in Hollywood Cemetery.
Less than a year after Rene’s death, Hollywood became a prohibition town, voting to only allow the sale of liquor from a registered pharmacist, on the prescription of a physician. The ban of liquor ate into the profits of the local eating establishments, including Blondeau’s. Suffering from the drought induced by Hollywood’s liquor ordinance, Marie reluctantly was forced to close the tavern not long afterward and sat empty for several years.
The Blondeau’s adopted son, Louis, became a farmer when they first moved to Hollywood. He later dabbled in oil before investing in Hollywood real estate and becoming the town’s first barber with a shop near his father’s tavern. He eventually became what many have called a notorious landlord operating three buildings near Hollywood and Cahuenga. He was married and divorced, and died at age 57 at his Hollywood home at 1243 N. Laurel Avenue. He was entombed in the Foyer of the Abbey of the Psalms at Hollywood Forever Cemetery.
In late October, 1911, Frank Hoover, a local photographer with a studio at the southeast corner of Hollywood and Gower, introduced Mrs. Blondeau to David Horsley, who had just arrived in town looking to rent space to make motion pictures. She rented him the closed-up tavern for $40 dollars a month; as a result the Nestor Company opened the first motion picture studio in Hollywood on the site of a deserted tavern.
Marie and her daughter Louise moved to their new house on property she owned a block away at 6123 De Longpre Avenue. It was here that Marie died forty years after her husband on April 9, 1943. She was buried next to Rene at Hollywood Cemetery.