In two ways: Central Avenue is the working title of my work in progress. The first draft will be done this week. And, Central Avenue, the street that runs south from downtown Los Angeles, where the book is set - in 1947 - well, it's been just about finished for a long time now.
From the 1920s through the 1940s, Central Avenue was one of the world capitols of nightlife, of jazz, rhythm & blues, of black culture and society. There's not much left. I drove down it yesterday to take some pictures of some of the places where my new book is set.
See for yourself (captions are below the pictures):The Dunbar Hotel was right in the thick of things. The largest, swankest black-owned hotel in the country, W.E.B. DuBois cut the ribbon to open it. Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington, Count Basie and countless other luminaries stayed there. At 42nd and Central it was Ground Zero in the "Furious Forties" - a 10 block stretch of Avenue with dozens of nightclubs, bars, cafes and shops. (A scene is set in its lobby in the new book.)Club Alabam - all that remains is this recently erected awning - was next to the Dunbar and was to L.A.'s Central Avenue as the Apollo Theater was to Harlem in New York. The actor Stepin' Fetchit used to park his gigantic cream-colored Packard in front of the place, with his pet lion in the backseat.(There are several scenes set in the Alabam in my new book.)The Last Word was here. One night in the late 1940s, Big Jay McNeely, one of the great honking sax players on the Avenue, blew his sax out of the Alabam, laid down for a little while in the middle of the street - still playing, of course - then made his way into The Last Word across the street, where he took up residence as the new sax player.At the other end of the block from The Dunbar, The Downbeat was here. It was owned by L.A.’s top mobster, Mickey Cohen, the Stars of Swing featuring Charles Mingus, Buddy Collette, and Teddy Edwards — one of the greatest jazz groups ever - was the house band. (There's a scene here in the new book.)
The Lunch Top Cafe (now a small park) - open 24 hours with slot machines in back - and Club Memo (now a KFC parking lot) - host to more jazz giants - were also across the street from the Dunbar.The Lincoln Theater, up the Avenue at 23rd, was the site of many huge shows featuring Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington, Basie, Billie Holliday, you name the musician from the 1920s-1940s and they almost certainly played there.The Cabin Inn was acroos the street from the Lincoln Theater.Back down the street, The Club De Lisa.Jack's Basket Rooms was here. It opened around 1am and was famous for its fried chicken baskets, good setups (bring your own booze or buy it from the guy in the corner) and afterhours jam sessions where Charlie Parker, among others, were regulars.All that's left of Famous Food is the sign. (There's a scene in here in the new book.)This used to be Dolphin's of Hollywood Records, the largest jazz and r&b record store in the world. DJs would regularly broadcast from a booth in the middle of the store. Dancing would break out in the aisles. (There's a scene set in here in the new book.)The 54th St. Drugstore was here. It was open all night, had setups at the soda counter (and the requisite guy out front selling half pint and pint bottles of booze), and a lot of slot machines in back. (There's a scene in here in the new book.)The Club Araby was here. It featured big bands and was popular for dancing. (There's also a scene set in here in the new book.)
As for this new book I keep referring to, it is a novel tentatively titled, CENTRAL AVENUE - A ROMANTIC NOIR. It takes place over the course of one night in 1947. The first revised draft will be done sometime in the next few days. Then it goes to a couple of readers. Then it goes to my agent. Then, hopefully, once it works its way through the slow publishing process, you'll get to read it. At some point before too long, you'll be able to read an excerpt from it on my website.