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The Jade on Hollywood Boulevard

An evening at The Jade cocktail lounge promised to be one to remember.

Walking through the door on Hollywood Boulevard, a seven-foot gold Buddha greeted patrons. An enormous carved wooden dragon protected the bar, done in red lacquer with gold leaf. On the walls hung tapestries, framed art treasures, even a life-size painting of a nude blonde. The place smelled like gardenias and Chinese food.

Hollywood cocktail lounge
The Jade's Dragon Throne Room (California State Library)

On any given night, you could rub elbows with Hedy Lamar and James Cagney, unknowingly sit beside an FBI agent working a case, or have the misfortune of a thief picking your pockets. In the early days, tending bar was none other than Steve Boardner, who opened Hollywood staple Boardner’s around the corner in 1942.

Hollywood cocktail lounge 1930s
The Jade's Dragon Bar (California State Library)

The nightclub’s entertainment had a reputation for being a little eccentric, a mix of vaudeville acts (head-balancing duo, little people, dogs) and up-and-coming talent like a 17-year-old fresh off the bus from North Dakota named Peggy Lee.

In 1937, the singer started out earning $2/night (plus dinner) before getting a raise to $30/week. She was so broke, she couldn’t afford a performance gown, so she borrowed one from the wife of owner Larry Potter. As Peggy grew more popular at his establishment, Potter took her to the May Company to pick out a brand-new dress. He also doubled security after a patron offered the teen a ride home to her apartment on Gower—but instead drove downtown to deliver her to a sex trafficking ring (a good samaritan got Peggy to safety).

Peggy Lee 1940
Peggy Lee performing in 1940

Other notable performers at The Jade include Hall March, future host of the $64,000 Question; dancer Louis DaPron; Jabuti, a redheaded trombonist who sat at the bar and read thick books between sets; Mary Norman, who taught Peggy everything she knew (then was replaced by her); trombonist Kid Ory; and blues singer Lillian Randolph.

The Jade actually had two locations on the same block: The first opened at the corner of Cherokee in 1937, but moved a few doors down to 6619 Hollywood Boulevard when architect S. Charles Lee remodeled the building for Sontag drugstore later that year.

According to a 1938 invitation sent to the Hollywood press to visit The Jade, “Any time when you desire to go to a place that is different—to be amused—to lounge about where good breeding is a matter of course—where fine liquors and foods are served—a warm welcome will be extended by Larry Potter.”

Potter came to Los Angeles from Las Vegas, where he opened the first gambling casino, The Meadows, in 1935. Two years earlier during Prohibition, the “well-known police character” was instructed to leave Salt Lake City by the morals squad. A pimp and racketeer, Potter had also been connected to the 1930 murder of Dorothy Moormeister, wife of a local physician.

Hollywood and Cherokee
The Jade's red sign can be seen halfway down the Hollywood Boulevard block.

His business troubles followed him to Hollywood. During World War II, The Jade was placed on the Navy’s “out of bounds” list for “detrimental conditions existing therein.” Shore patrol even stood outside its door to ensure no sailors entered.

The nightclub remained in operation until 1949, when its liquor license was revoked for “catering to undesirable people”: homosexuals. According to a police commission report on moral offenses, “it is being operated in a manner which does not comport with public welfare.”

The Jade logo
The Jade (Los Angeles Public Library)

Potter owned more than 50 hotspots in California, with the first being the Jade. In 1958, he revived his original as The New Jade at Sixth and Western, featuring many of the same decor pieces from the Hollywood location. One of his last ventures was The Little Jade, opened in 1969 at 11110 Magnolia Boulevard in North Hollywood.

The Little Jade ad
Valley Times, May 2, 1969


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