Items from LA landmark the Brown Derby to be offered at Bonhams & Butterfields

A wonderful selection of memorabilia from the famous Brown Derby Restaurant, a landmark celebrity haunt and culinary institution from the glorious days of “Old Hollywood,” come to auction in December at Bonhams & Butterfields in Los Angeles. The international fine arts auctioneers will present its Dec. 15, 2008, auction of Entertainment Memorabilia featuring vintage and contemporary film and television props, animation cels, costumes and rock memorabilia, and serving up original items from the Brown Derby.

“Bonhams & Butterfields is pleased to offer such a unique collection of Los Angeles and Hollywood history, coming to auction with excellent provenance. The items have been consigned by the original owner of the Brown Derby, Larry Anderson, grandson of Academy Award®-nominated actress Gloria Swanson,” said Margaret Barrett, Director of Entertainment Memorabilia.

brass table lamp from the brown derbyThe celebrated Brown Derby establishment was known not only for its Hollywood clientele, but, constructed in the form of a derby hat, it stood as a well-known example of LA’s novelty architecture. The restaurant was decorated with hundreds of celebrity caricatures, framed images of hunting scenes, sporting art, and the hat-theme was carried throughout the interior – its light fixtures were brass and derby-shaped.

Lamp with ‘Herbert Somborn,’ who founded the original Brown Derby in 1926 and died in 1932; lamp was in his office. Estimate $500–$700. Courtesy of Bonhams & Butterfields.

On offer in December are several unique pieces of the Brown Derby’s first location on Wilshire Boulevard, across the street from the famous Ambassador Hotel. Highlights include a group of four framed ‘hunt’ prints, 1920s-1960s (estimate $400-$600); an ashtray and boxes of printed matchbooks circa 1960s (estimate $300-$500); a brass ‘derby’ wall sconce (estimate $300-$500); a 1920s wooden ‘brown derby’ wall decoration (estimate $300-$500); and one of the restaurant’s souvenir tablecloths – printed with a map of 1950s Hollywood (estimate $200-$300).

The collection also includes a group of stock certificates (estimate $200-$300); a group of 1950s coasters and cocktail napkins (estimate $100-$150); a group of 1920s small numbered brass pins worn by the waiters for identification (estimate $100-$200); an assortment of dishes from the dining room (estimate $200-$300); a brass tabletop lamp displaying The Brown Derby’s logo (estimate $200-$300), and more.

The first Brown Derby restaurant opened to the public in February 1926 near the site of the former Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles. It has been rumored to have been a haunt for celebrities following parties at the Ambassador’s infamous Coconut Grove nightclub. Other locations were opened in adjoining parts of Los Angeles, Beverly Hills and Los Feliz over the years. By the mid-1980s, all of the restaurants were closed.  Throughout the decades, the restaurant was frequented by celebrities and “industry insiders” at all hours of the day and night. In 1955 it was featured during the now-famous episode of I Love Lucy where Lucy, Ethel and Fred have lunch at the Derby, the whole time bothering A-list Hollywood actor William Holden.

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