1964 – 1965 The Plush Bunny & The Doll House
In 1960’s Southern California beer bars were in their hey day. There were beer bars that featured entertainment and beer bars that featured topless waitresses. There were beer bars that only sold beer and some that served wine. They usually had any number of pool tables, but those that weren’t topless had entertainment and dancing.
One of the biggest beer bars was a place called Lil Abner’s in Long Beach. There was the Whale House, The Tomcat, Apple Annie’s and The Plush Bunny to name a few in the area.
The Plush Bunny was a very popular beer bar in Wilmington CA, south of Los Angeles. It was right on Pacific Coast Highway (PCH), AKA Highway 101 about a mile East of the Harbor Freeway. Before I bought it, every time I would go check it out, it was packed.
I was leaving AiResearch and had two partners in the deal and I was to be the managing partner. I took my two partners to see the Bunny and on every visit we saw what we wanted to see and didn’t stay around long enough to see what was actually there to see. The books were great and honest, but I actually didn’t notice it was packed with mostly Mexicans and neither did my partners.
The Bunny was not a big bar but it was nice and clean with new carpeting, a padded bar that sat around fifteen and two pool tables. You can’t imagine how much money can be made with the pool tables at twenty five cents a game. The only problem was that normally the local mafia owned the pool tables, cigarette machine and juke box, but not at the Bunny.
The girls were all dressed in black Danskins with black net stockings and high heels. They also wore a black lace bra and would pull the neckline of their Danskin down and under their breasts. It gave the impression of a more expensive outfit and looked good. It’s funny, but none of the ten or twelve girls that worked at the Bunny were Mexican.
I had never even hung out with Mexican’s when I was a kid. I didn’t know any in junior high at Bret Harte. I didn’t know any in high school at Fremont. I never dated one. My God, my mother was one. All my aunts and uncles were Mexican! Hell, I’m one!
If that sounds racist it’s not meant to be, it’s fact. It’s fact because I have always thought of myself as an American and this was the first time in my life I had to face people who thought of themselves as Mexicans. The major difference between us was they were gang members and I never was.
At the time I bought it I didn’t realize it was on the border of two competing groups of Mexican gangs, the Wilmington Mexicans and the San Pedro Mexicans. They didn’t like each other and I owned the most popular nightclub in the area. Before I bought it, I wondered why the owner, who was Jewish, wanted to sell it. I found out within a month of owning the place.
The owner had a son in his twenties that was one of the most arrogant assholes I had ever met and I guess the local Mexican’s thought so too. One night they kicked the shit out of him and knocked out most of his teeth.
The rival Mexican’s also used the place as a launching pad to start their riots. They didn’t actually plan it that way, it would just happen. After a few drinks people change a bit and sometimes do things they normally would never do. But in the case of Mexican’s at the Bunny it seemed to be in their blood.
One night, all the planets converged and we had the biggest gang war ever recorded in the history of the Harbor Division of the Los Angeles Police Department. Traffic was stopped on Pacific Coast Highway for about three hours and over thirty cop cars showed up. Not one cop got out of their car until they were all there.
The fight had started inside and we did our best to move it outside. As everyone emptied the Bunny it seemed like more and more guys kept showing up. There were no cell phones in those days so I still, to this day, don’t understand how so many showed up at the same time for the same reason.
As I was standing out front watching them beat the hell out of each other, two drunk Mexicans walked out the front door with their arms around each other singing and laughing. The minute they saw all the fighting they both leaned forward to look at the battle going on, they then looked at each other, stepped back and started swinging at one another. I guess they figured they had to fight with someone so they fought each other.
As time went on I was becoming more and more afraid of the Bunny. I was so afraid I would have to stop at the Golden Lion, a bar across the street, and get half swacked before I could walk into the Bunny at night. It seemed like my bouncer and I were breaking up fights every night.
One night a woman walked in and made her way to where her husband was sitting with a girl. As she approached him she grabbed a pitcher of beer, emptied it and bashed him on the head. He died on the spot. One day a plainclothes detective visited me and as we sat at the bar he pointed out various felons who had just got out or in his opinion going in soon.
After the big riot, I was called in front of the LA Board of Supervisors and the head honcho asked me, “Mr. Diaz, do you know that you own the number one police problem for the Harbor Division of the Los Angeles Police Department?” I nodded. He said, “We can’t touch your liquor license but we can pull your business permit, entertainment permit, pool permit, dance permit and any other permit the city issues you. I asked, “What do you want me to do, turn into shoe store?” I added, “How do I stop these guys from coming in?”
He replied, “I don’t care, you have sixty days to change it.”
With that I started a campaign of hanging out at pool halls and bars in Wilmington and San Pedro during the day. I was trying to get to know “the gang members.” I would tell them the man was going to close the Bunny if they didn’t stop the fights. It actually worked, the fights stopped, business dropped and I knew I had to get the hell out of there.
One night I was standing at the doorway talking with the bouncer when a guy comes flying through the door out of nowhere. He went by so fast we didn’t have a chance of stopping him. As he headed towards the back he turned and fired a shot at two policemen who had just entered. The police returned fire as he went out the back door and they went after him. He was caught later.
I was now mentally out of the Plush Bunny.
As luck would have it, some time before that happened, one day I had passed an empty lot on 190th Street between Crenshaw and Western. Immediatley to the East was the new Torrance AiResearch and I still knew a lot of the people there. The sign on the lot said “Will Build to Suit.” I measured the lot, designed a building, made a deal with the lot’s owner. He was a doctor who lived in Beverly Hills and I met him at his house to present him my plan. I even took him to the Bunny to convince him I was in the business. He agreed with one condition. The Doll House had to be built in such a way that if I failed he could turn it in to three smaller locations.
It was being built before I mentally went out at the Bunny and when that happened I couldn’t get it built fast enough.
During the construction of the Doll House everyone thought I was nuts, including the contractor. I It only had parking for about eight or nine cars and it was across the street from an oil refinery. The day we opened the place was packed and about 5:00PM the contractor arrived and pushed his way through the crowd. When he finally got to me he yelled out,” If you need a partner to build another one of these, I’m with you!”
By the day we opened I had already removed myself from the partnership at the Plush Bunny and was ready to tackle the new club. I gave my share of the Bunny away so I could leave without any hassle.
On the Monday prior to the planned grand opening I was at the Doll House finishing up things and some man parked his car and came up to me. He asked if I was the owner and I replied yes. He then asked when I was planning on opening, I said this Friday.
He then asked if I had my entertainment permit and I said I was going to city hall in Torrance the next day. He the identified himself as a city employee working in permits and that the entertainment permit would take four to six weeks to be approved.
I had checked with Torrance months before and they told me it could be issued the same day. When I told him that he advised me the law had been changed and I was basically screwed. I begged him for help, but all he could do was suggest I go to the City Council meeting that was going to take place the next night.
I went to the meeting and waiting for the council to finish all their business and when they asked if there was any new business I raised my hand. I pleaded my case telling them I had not been notified of the change and that I lived outside of Torrance. They weren’t very sensitive until the last council member chimed in with why should I be punished for a change in the law.
He argued my side and with my help answering his questions, we won. The City Council then voted to change the law back to what it was and issued me my permit. As soon as that was done they reinstated the new law. I was saved and free to open on Friday. Talk about dodging a bullet!
The Doll House was a do it yourself steak place during the day and it also had a raised floor behind the squared “U” shaped bar. The area behind the bar was about ten feet square, kind of a stage they could dance on. When the girls served the customers, they had to bend over to place a beer on the bar.
It was a “Bikini” bar with live entertainment and a dance floor. The “female” bartenders and waitresses wore skimpy bikini outfits that covered more than compared to what women wear today, but it attracted a fair day business.
Topless was the rage at the time. It had just started and bars like mine lost all the daytime crowd to the topless bars. I could have gone topless, but there was something I didn’t like about it. To this day I can’t tell you why. I just didn’t want my girls to go topless. Maybe I was a bit more moral than I thought.
At night, because the emphasis was on dancing, we did great because my band was so good.
I didn’t want to hire a local band so I decided to form one with a guy I had met during one of the Sunday morning jam sessions at the Plush Bunny. He was a tall good looking guy and women really went after him.
I named the group: The Frank Four” hired a bass player, a drummer and a guitar player. The guitar player was a 17-year-old kid still in high school but was a monster on guitar. He would wear a long hair wig and practiced all the time. He would even practice in my office while not on stage. He told me he would practice at home for hours in the closet with no amp so his parents wouldn’t complain.
Anyway, the guitar players name was Larry Carlton. Yep, the same Larry Carlton who would win newest jazz star award at the Monterey Jazz Festival the following year and one of the most sought after guitar cats for the studio’s in LA.
The Doll House had its ups and downs but I eventually sold it because I was losing interest in being a bouncer. It seemed fights were inevitable and I had been hurt a few times but generally I protected my business.
When I built the Doll House I was happy as a clam to be out of the Wilmington and San Pedro Mexican gang area. They are why I left the Bunny. How was I to know that less than one mile away from the Doll House was a street that housed the most feared Mexican gang at the time.
Imagine that, one street about a mile long, in Torrance CA a mile away was populated with a Mexican gang named La Rana. These guys were feared by everyone. Everyone, that is, who knew they shared the same planet as I. Who in the hell was La Rana?
I soon got my chance to find out. One night, two Wilmington Mexican’s came by the Doll House to say Hi to me and check the joint out. To their misfortune, a couple La Rana guys walked in and ID’d them as Wilmington guys. The La Rana guys left and in less than fifteen minutes three carloads of La Rana gang members were in the parking lot.
They came into the Doll House and called the two Wilmington guys out. I went out and tried to stop what was happening, but I was escorted back into my bar and told to lock the door. I did and called the police.
I had many things pulling at me that night, a respect for the two Wilmington guys for coming to see me, wanting to help them, protecting my customers and the Doll Houses name and reputation, I was all torn up, but I wasn’t stupid.
I went out the side door and watched from a safe distance until the cops got there. As the standoff started, it was going to just be an ass kicking, but one of the Wilmington guys really screwed up when he pulled out a knife. With that, all bets were off and all the La Rana guys jumped in. As one of the La Rana guys had a Wilmington guy by the head, with others holding the rest of the body, he whips out a sickle, a really sharp sickle.
He starts cutting into the guy’s forehead yelling “I’m going to scalp this motherf***er!” He only got a couple of inches when at that moment, the cops showed up and everyone just stopped. The cops made a few arrests, but most of them walked.
During the Watts riot in 1965 the Torrance police came in that night and asked if I had anything to defend myself with. I showed them my shotgun and they said, “If any #&%#^%$#^ blacks come in the door, shoot first and ask questions later.
The rioting was about four miles away as the crow flies.
“On August 11, 1965, an African-American motorist was arrested for drunk driving. A minor roadside argument broke out, and then escalated into a fight. The community reacted in outrage to allegations of police brutality that soon spread, and six days of looting and arson followed. Los Angeles police needed the support of nearly 4,000 members of the California Army National Guard to quell the riots, which resulted in 34 deaths and over $40 million in property damage.”
Can you imagine what would happen today if there were anywhere near thirty-four deaths?
There are a hundred more stories I could tell about the Plush Bunny and the Doll House, maybe later.
A few weeks after the Watts riots I sold my interest in the club and actually made money on the deal. I had been in the beer bar business a total of about eighteen months and an awful lot had happened. I did it and now I wanted out. I vacationed for a short while and then when I tried to get a job back in my real career field all I was told was I was overqualified.
It was late 1965 and I needed to get back to work. It took me a couple of months to finally find a job and that’s next, Ford Aeronutronics.