Monday, October 20, 2014

Tail o’ the Pup May Live Again - Part 1 of Memories from the Left Edge of America

Photo by Gary Leonard, Los Angeles Public Library Collection
Dad and Me at Kiddieland, 1956
This is the first of four postings of my “Memories from the Left Edge of America” series.

I just read that the family of Eddie Blake, the last owner of Tail o’ the Pup, the iconic Los Angeles hotdog stand, is selling the trademark, recipes and the newly renovated facade, with bids starting at $200,000.  A pretty sweet deal, if you ask me.  The story also refreshed some very distant memories that flooded back to me a year ago during a trip through California.  But I am getting ahead of myself.

The 17-foot wiener-in-a-bun hotdog facade was designed by the architect Milton J. Black in 1938, and the stand was opened in 1946 on North LaCienega Boulevard, in West Hollywood.  That was the boondocks back then.  During its early years the Tail o’ the Pup was located adjacent to Beverly Park and Playland (aka Kiddieland), a small amusement park on an acre of land leased from a local oil company at the corner of Beverly and LaCienega and opened around the same time.  Kiddieland had all the standard rides of the era and was a precursor to Disneyland which opened in nearby Anaheim in the summer of 1955.

Eddie Blake purchased the stand in the early 1970s from its original owners and it continued to operate at the LaCienega address until 1986.  With the closing of Beverley Park and Kiddieland in 1974, and the opening of the new Beverley Center Mall on the site in the early 1980s, Blake and his son Dennis were forced to move their stand a very short distance to North San Vincente Boulevard and small piece of land leased from the Cedars-Sinai Medical Center which opened at this location in 1955 and where countless Hollywood and recording legends breathed their last.  The Tail o’ the Pup’s star-studded reopening in 1986 was emceed by Jay Leno (before his Tonight Show days).  Despite it iconic status and its popularity with the known and the unknown - it is rumored that Barbara Streisand and many other celebrities were dedicated fans and the stand has been a location in a few Hollywood films - and regardless of its designation as a cultural landmark by the City of Los Angeles,

the Tail o’ the Pup finally closed in 2005 when a developer purchased the property where the stand was last located.  Since closing, the familiar wiener and bun facade has been gathering dust in a suburban warehouse.  Dennis Blake planned to reopen once a suitable new location could be found in Westwood Village, but his vision never materialized.  Now, almost a decade later, the stand remains in mothballs and its future is as yet unknown.  Dennis passed away in late 2013 and a new owner is being sought by the Blake family with a promise to bring the Tail o’ the Pup back to life at a yet to be determined new location . . . hopefully in or around LA. 

It would be nice to see the Tail o’ the Pup come back to life somewhere close to where it once stood as a familiar and treasured landmark for six decades.  I visited Los Angeles last November and tried to locate it not knowing it had closed in 2005 (I had last eaten there in 1974 shortly before Kiddieland closed).  The area is totally unrecognizable now to anyone who knew it back in the 1950s and 1960s when it was fairly undeveloped and covered with hundreds of oil wells.  Today it is the almost boundless urban sprawl that is greater Los Angeles, the underground wells still pumping under the modern Beverly Center complex at LaCienega and Beverley Boulevard.

I have spent very little time in LA since moving away in the summer of 1956, but I still have distant and fuzzy memories of Kiddieland and the Tail o’ the Pup.  There were occasional weekend outings from our home in Redondo Beach near the Pacific Palisades.  Disneyland had recently opened but it was a bit pricey compared to Kiddieland.  The original Disney main
gate admission price was one dollar, but that just got you
inside.  Once there you had to pay an additional 10-15 cent entrance fee at each individual attraction in the park.  (Just so you know, the current daily entrance fee is $96 per person! . . . plus $17 to park.)  It was new and always crowded on the weekends.   Kiddieland was about the same distance from where we lived and without the long lines.  There were plenty of rides, cotton candy and other snacks.  There were also ponies to ride, and of course, there was Tail o’ the Pup nearby for hotdogs.   I can still taste them fifty-six years later . . . and this is why I went looking for the place on my last visit to LA only to find it and Kiddieland long gone.  I was not terribly surprised.  Nothing seems to last forever.

So imagine my pleasure to learn that Tail o’ the Pup still exists and is only looking for a new owner and a new home.  Perhaps I will once again have an opportunity to trip down memory lane on my next visit to LA.  I can smell and taste one of those dogs as I write this.  It will be well worth the wait.  

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