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Larry Harnisch reflects on Los Angeles history

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Bar brawl

 

1957_0710_sica_hed

1957_0710_sica_times July 10-11, 1957
Los Angeles

There isn't much in doubt about what happened that night in North Hollywood; the only mystery comes much later. That night, Frank "Puggy" Sica, 40, and Salvatore Di Giovanni, 39, were having a few drinks with Ronnie Kopp at the Club Shobah, 4923 Lankershim Blvd.

As it turned out, Kopp was a waitress at the club and neglecting the rest of her customers while chatting with Sica, a man with no convictions and many arrests, and Di Giovanni, who had been convicted of burglary.

Unable to get Kopp's attention, Ann T. Burgess, 23, approached Sica's table and requested some service.

According to police, Di Giovanni punched Burgess twice and knocked her out. Then he told Kopp: "If you be a witness to this thing remember you have two kids and I'll take care of them." Authorities said Kopp resisted Di Giovanni's attempt to drag her out of the Club Shobah, so he knocked her down and he and Sica kicked her.

Police had been to the bar earlier that night but were told there was no trouble.  Before they arrived a second time, Mike Sboto, the bartender, pulled a gun from under the counter and fired several shots because the men were kicking Kopp. Di Giovanni punched Sboto and Sica threw a drink at him, police said.

1957_0710_sicaa In response, Sboto punched Di Giovanni and Sica. "I hit them with everything I could lay my hands on," he said. Di Giovanni had two black eyes, and "one detective had to chase the terrified Sica two blocks before he caught up with him," the Mirror said.

The Times, meanwhile, said that when police arrived, Di Giovanni had Sboto under a shuffleboard table and was punching him in the face.

Burgess signed a complaint against Di Giovanni. And then, of course, all the witnesses got amnesia. The bar was mysteriously burglarized and trashed. Without witnesses' statements, the district attorney's office was forced to file misdemeanor charges accusing Sica and Di Giovanni of battery, disturbing the peace and being drunk.  They pleaded guilty and  were fined $100 each.

Two years later, Sica began trying to get a piano bar at his restaurant, Sir Sico's, 8351 San Fernando Road, in Sun Valley, but he always ran into trouble because of his record and because his brothers, Joseph and Fred, were involved in organized crime.

Not until 1967, after numerous hearings and appeals, did a judge order the Police Commission to approve a piano bar at Sica's restaurant.

The real mystery is what became of Frank Sica,  who vanished from the pages of The Times about 1970. California death records list three men named Frank Sica. Frank A. Sica, born in 1909, died  in 1976 in Los Angeles County. Frank Ralph Sica, born in New Jersey in  1917, died  in Los Angeles County on April 4, 1987. (This is presumably the Sica in question). Frank Rocco Sica, born in 1926, died Sept. 19, 1999, in El Dorado County.

The site of Sir Sico's is apparently occupied by La Herradura Restaurant, according to Google. The site of the Club Shobah is occupied by the Lodge, which appears in "Reservoir Dogs," (thank you, Google). 

No further trace can be found of Mike Sboto or Ronnie Kopp.

Update, Dec. 18, 2008: Michele Kamleiter writes:

I can across this article accidently while looking for an obituary on my neighbor.  I believe (based on the picture) that my neighbor was the Mike Sboto, bartender, of your article.

Mike was a retired stage hand who had worked on a number of productions including the original Grease movie.  For at least the last 15 years, he had lived in Las Vegas.

He was a true gentleman and a kind soul who passed suddenly on December 2, 2008.  He will be deeply missed.

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