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Larry Harnisch reflects on Los Angeles history

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Central Vice Reports on the Norbo Grill, 1958

Photograph by Larry Harnisch / Los Angeles Times

The Hotel Norbo, 526 E. 8th St., Feb. 14, 2009

Photograph by Larry Harnisch / Los Angeles Times

The former Norbo Grill, 530 E. 6th St., Feb. 14, 2009
Photographs by Catriona Lavery
Los Angeles Times
In December 1958, Henry Charles Hochman applied to the Los Angeles Police Commission for a cafe entertainment permit for the Norbo Grill. After hearing testimony and reading officers' reports on the bar, the commission denied the permit. What follows is a portrait from official documents of a gritty jazz joint where black prostitutes plied their trade with white customers.

Although this is an official document, it is by no means dull. Consider the quote: "Get out of here, you m... f... cop."
"You are not a fit and proper person to hold a Cafe Entertainment police permit."
"There has been no police problem in and about these premises except ..."
"...the Norbo Grill is not frequented by prostitutes or narcotics users to his knowledge. "
"The Norbo Grill has always attracted mixed patrons, both colored and white."
"The actions requested by the examiner ... would result in the applicant violating the rights of many of the patrons..."
Witnesses and exhibits
"Location frequented by prostitutes and narcotics users..."
"This so-called music is like a torment, no less than Russian brain-washing, having to listen to their music so loud -- like playing for Zombies or Watusis... "
Testimony of Sgt. W.R. Danheiser, Serial No. 2591
"He had a knife and I was scared, so I jumped behind the bar and pulled a gun on him..."
"There you are, you S.O.B...."
"He has seen in the Norbo bar persons whom he, as a police officer, believed were 'hypos,' also 'Paddy hustlers....' "
"At this time, defendant stated 'It will cost you 10 dollars and for that I'll ...' " 
"During this period they observed numerous males (white) enter the bar alone, then leave with colored females."
"Standing outside the door of the room, the officers overheard an act of sexual intercourse taking place. Officers entered the room, by the manager's key, checked the couple in the room, who were not married."   
"Bartenders 'send people out if they get fresh...' "
"She has once asked Mr. Sway if she could dance (by herself), but Sway said dancing was against the law."
"He has seen Ruby Smith talking to men in the Norbo, but has never seen her leave with a man."
"Miss Cloteal Wilson, arrested 12-28-57, 1:50 a.m., outside Norbo Grill..."
"I have not been busted for a long time, I've only had two tricks today."
"He and his partner saw Ruby Smith leaving the Norbo in a car with a white man. Officers followed them to an apartment house on 36th Street, but officers were unable to gain entry. He climbed a tree trying to observe. The Smith woman stuck her head out of a window and shouted: 'Get out of here, you m... f... cop.' "
"There are quite a few bars within 10 blocks of the Norbo, that Norbo would rate about 75 percent as to being orderly as compared to the others." 
"This band attracts patrons as these musicians are well-known in the field of jazz and progressive music."
"He was sitting in the rear of the bar watching a bowling game. He heard a 'thud.' "
"He was arrested in Chicago for kidnapping, served 11 years-plus in state prison..."
"This place is not frequented by narcotics users or prostitutes to a greater extent than any other place in the city."
"All officers testified that the Norbo Grill was a hangout for prostitutes."
"This location is a known hangout for prostitutes and narcotics users."
"Recommendation that application ... be DENIED."
Application denied.
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Comments (2)

This would make an outrageous 1950's "Dragnet" episode.

However, it never would have been broadcast let alone produced. Definitely "R" rated at least.

But if it was up to me and I was the producer, I'd make an "X" rated version.

I'd have Sgt. Joe Friday, Jack Webb himself, do the bit where the vice cop climbs the tree to peek inside the woman's bedroom window. I would embellish the scene somewhat. Have Sgt. Friday get caught in the tree and stuck helplessly while shoes and other objects are thrown at him while the woman (or women) iscreams "Peeping Tom! Peeping Tom!!"

I don't know the race or nationality of Harry Charles Hochman. This might be a stretch but I would cast Wynton Marsalis as Harry Charles Hochman.

At the end of the episode, where Jack Webb as Sgt. Joe Friday would solemnly announce the verdict of "permit denied", Harry Charles Hochman facing the camera would shout "This won't kill jazz, Joe Friday!" grab a trumpet and start blowing his horn. This would continue through the final credits.

It appears to be a place where you could have a great time. Those cops are spoil sports.


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