A few years ago I read a fabulous murder mystery called Shamus In The Green Room written by one of my favorite mystery authors, Susan Kandel. A significant piece of action in the novel takes place at the real life location of one of the most famous unsolved murder cases in Los Angeles history. That location is named Thelma Todd’s Sidewalk Cafe, and its namesake and owner, Thelma Todd, died there in 1935. After reading Susan Kandel’s book, I became completely intrigued with Thelma and her roadside cafe, so I immediately dragged my boyfriend out there to do some stalking. Since then, Thelma’s cafe has been incorporated into my annual Haunted Hollywood tour. 🙂
Thelma Todd was a famous Hollywood starlet and comedienne during the 1920’s. She appeared in over 120 feature films during her brief ten year career, including several Marx Brothers and Laurel and Hardy productions. In 1931, the “Ice Cream Blond” as she came to be called, opened up a cafe on the ground floor of a huge Spanish style building overlooking the Pacific Ocean just north of Santa Monica. The top floor of the building housed a very popular private Hollywood club named Joya’s. Thelma’s Sidewalk Cafe also became extremely popular with the Hollywood elite and Miss Todd lived in a little apartment located above her cafe.
On the night of her death, Thelma attended a party hosted in her honor at the legendary Trocadero nightclub in Hollywood. After the party, Thelma’s chauffeur dropped her off in front of her cafe at approximately 4:20 a.m. the following morning, December 15. In the early morning hours of December 16, 1935, a full day later, Thelma was found dead inside of a garage belonging to her neighbor/business partner/lover Roland West, located just behind her cafe. The famous blond was slumped over the steering wheel of her Lincoln Phaeton, still wearing her evening gown from Saturday night’s party, her face covered in blood. The coroner, however, ruled her death an accident. The cause listed on the coroner’s report? Carbon monoxide poisoning. Most of Hollywood was quick to discount that account of her death and theories of the true cause are endless. Most widely believed, however, is that mafioso Lucky Luciano, whom the Ice Cream Blond was rumored to be having an affair with, murdered her when she refused to allow his gambling ring to operate out of her cafe. Another theory is that her married business partner/boyfriend/neighbor Roland West (in whose garage she was found) murdered her in a jealous rage. The truth may never be known and Thelma’s murder is one of the most celebrated mysteries in Hollywood history.
Now home to Paulist Productions, the Spanish style building that once housed Thelma Todd’s Sidewalk Cafe was first built in 1928, and was originally used as a shopping center for nearby homes. In the 1960’s the building became home to a Christian film and television production company named Paulist Productions. The company remains there today. In 2002 the building was given a full face lift and restored to its original grandeur. The structure is a very beautiful, ornate piece of Hollywood history, complete with detailed Spanish tiles and large arched wrought-iron windows. I highly recommend stalking it, as much for its beautiful architecture as its rich history.
If you want to read more about Thelma Todd and her death, check out the Find A Death website which does a great write-up.
Until next time, Happy Stalking! 🙂
Stalk It: Thelma Todd’s Roadside Cafe is located at 17575 Pacific Coast Highway in Pacific Palisades. Thelma was found dead in the garage of Roland West’s home located at 17531 Posetano Road, located just behind the former cafe.