Archives for posts with tag: Oviatt Building


(Chapter 18, Opening Paragraph)
by Raymond Chandler

The Athletic Club was on a corner across the street and half a block down from the Treloar Building. I crossed and walked north to the entrance. They had finished laying rose-colored concrete where the rubber sidewalk had been. It was fenced around, leaving a narrow gangway in and out of the building. The space was clotted with office help going in from lunch.


At Raymond Chandler’s 125th birthday celebration in downtown Los Angeles on July 23, 2013, the revelers visited the Oviatt Building at 617 S. Olive — the inspiration for the Treloar Building in Chandler’s 1943 novel The Lady in the Lake. Outside the building, Marc Chevalier offered stories from his upcoming book about the location, including how owner James Oviatt put the edifice in his nephew’s name for tax purposes and the overworked, put-upon underling made his slave-driving uncle buy back the building.

The festivities outside the Oviatt Building also included David Kipen — former literature director of the National Endowment for the Arts — reading the opening page from The Lady in the Lake. (Kipen currently heads Libros Schmibros, a lending library and used bookstore in the Boyle Heights neighborhood of Los Angeles.)


The main floor of the Oviatt Building is now home to the Cicada Club —  — and the owner allowed the Chandler birthday party to move inside and tour the club in all its Art Deco splendor.


After walking around the mezzanine — a balcony that frames the space — we congregated in the bar (closed during our visit), where host Richard Schave and Oviatt historian Marc Chevalier shared wild tales about James Oviatt — the teenager from humble beginnings in Utah who became a linchpin and millionaire in Los Angeles. Oviatt also served as inspiration for Derace Kingsley,  the heavy in The Lady of the Lake.

While touring the club, I chatted with Sybil Davis, daughter of Raymond Chandler’s last secretary, who earlier in the evening had given a talk and held up one of her prized possessions — Chandler’s monogrammed silver cigarette case. Realizing it was a lot to ask, I couldn’t let the opportunity pass without trying — so in a barely audible voice I asked if I could hold the cigarette case, if only for a few seconds.

Looking around, so as not to cause a stampede of people who wished to follow my example, Sybil slipped the cigarette case (wrapped in a white gauze bag with a satin tie) from her purse. She removed the case from its covering and placed it on my outstretched hand. I enclosed the case between my palms and felt a profound sense of gratitude — to Sybil and to Chandler for his masterful, iconic, poetic works of art.


This was the Noir Holy Grail — Raymond Chandler’s silver cigarette case — and, as a devotee of both Chandler and noir, I found myself speechless and humbled by this unexpected blessing.

Thanks to the organizers and participants for a wonderful celebration of Raymond Chandler‘s birth! And a special thank you to the gifted husband and wife team of Kim Cooper — who read from her amazing, beautifully written, Chandler-inspired novel during the evening — and Richard Schave, the heart and soul of the Los Angeles Visionaries Association, for hosting this inspired event.


THE LADY IN THE LAKE (Opening paragraph)

By Raymond Chandler

The Treloar Building was, and is, on Olive Street, near Sixth, on the west side. The sidewalk in front of it had been built of black and white rubber blocks. They were taking them up now to give to the government, and a hatless pale man with a face like a building superintendent was watching the work and looking as if it was breaking his heart.


The Raymond Chandler 125th birthday celebration on July 23rd hosted by the Los Angeles Visionaries Association (LAVA) in downtown Los Angeles took place in several locations frequented by Raymond Chandler during the 1920s and early 1930s — including the 12-story Oviatt Building (the first Art Deco highrise in Los Angeles, now a designated historic cultural monument) at 617 S. Olive Street. Completed in 1928, the Oviatt Building served as the model for the Treloar Building featured in the opening passage (included above) from Chandler’s 1943 novel The Lady in the Lake.


Oviatt Building historian Marc Chevalier — who wrote and produced a documentary film about the building and its founder, James Oviatt — offered a variety of fascinating anecdotes as we stood in the entrance, including a story about the rubber sidewalk immortalized in Chandler’s novel.

Turns out, James Oviatt had installed just such a sidewalk as a publicity stunt — saying the soft surface would allow people to  stand for hours looking in the windows of his exclusive menswear shop — and years later the savvy businessman had the the sidewalk removed as another ploy for recognition when the U.S. government called on citizens to donate rubber to the WWII effort. Today, Oviatt’s exclusive haberdashery has transformed into the Cicada Club — an chic supper-club in the tradition of classic Los Angeles night spots.

Chandler fans who’d like to read (or reread) The Lady in the Lake, the full text is available at this link.