The Violent History of LA’s Iconic Crossroads of the World

Sunset Boulevard is synonymous with Hollywood. It’s home to a plethora of iconic buildings and linked to many legendary people. One such building is Crossroads of the World, a bizarre little 1930s shopping center turned office complex that looks like something out of a Disney theme park, with a steamship style building “sailing” past storefronts inspired by various countries.

A rounded front building faces the street, atop it a tall spire stretches toward a bright blue sky. Near the bottom red letters spell out "Crossroads of the World." Atop the spire a globe.

A tall spire stretches toward a bright blue sky. Near the bottom red letters spell out "Crossroads of the World." Atop the spire a globe.

Along the second floor of a blue and white French inspired building reads "Crossroads of the World" in blue script.

The upper portion of the spire, which is white, and atop it a globe reading "Crossroads of the World" in red letters.

The history of Crossroads of the World is just as classic LA as its fanciful architecture – a tale of prostitution, corrupt politicians, and murder on the very grounds where it would be built. Our story begins in the 1890s, up in the rainy city of Seattle, Washington, which became a stop for those looking to get rich during the Klondike gold rush. Here a man by the name of Charles Crawford made his initial fortune with dance halls and saloons, entering the gritty underworld of vice, with gambling, prostitution, and getting chummy with politicians. But when things got heated with the law, Crawford moved to sunny southern California. Here, Crawford didn’t waste time. At 5th Street and Maple Avenue Crawford set up The Maple Bar, not just a place for spirits, the Maple Bar also offered gambling and women of the night, and was frequented by the well-to-do of LA.

During the roaring 20s, Crawford more or less ran LA, becoming close with the police department and even had his very own puppet mayor. His crew became known as the City Hall Gang. Soon Crawford had a vast vice operation, with multiple casinos and bordellos. With so many operations, he needed help and brought in his buddy Marco Albori to look after the brothels. Albori’s stay in the City of Angels ended when he was found guilty of assault with a deadly weapon and sentenced to San Quentin, only to later be deported back to Italy.

By the arrival of 1930, Crawford’s vice empire was beginning to shake, and it wasn’t because of an earthquake. He was facing multiple charges, and he fled to Europe, leaving his wife, Ella Crawford, and his cohort, Guy “String Bean” McAfee, a former LAPD officer, in charge.

Oddly, when Crawford was back stateside, all of his charges were dropped, and he claimed to be a “reformed sinner.” He opened up a real estate office, and even financed a radio program hosted by Reverend Gustav Briegleb, and was known to donate to churches. He started a publication “Critic of Critics” with Herbert Spencer at the helm as editor, however the magazine was more a less a place to rage against city officials.

Then on May 20, 1931, it all came crashing down. Crawford and Spencer were shot at their office on the site of what would become Crossroads of the World. Spencer died at the scene, but an unconscious Crawford was rushed to the hospital. Crawford briefly regained consciousness just before entering surgery for his kidneys that were ruptured by the assailant’s bullet, but refused to identify his shooter, passing away moments later. At Crawford’s funeral, St. Paul’s Presbyterian Church was filled to its 1000 person capacity with a supposed 6000 more mourners outside, his murderer still unknown.

Weeks later David Clark, a former deputy district attorney, and judicial candidate, turned himself in for the murders. He also happened to be the man that prosecuted Crawford’s Seattle brothel buddy, Albori. Clark, who refused to bow out of the race for judge (and, yes, he later lost), claimed the killings were self defense. In his testimony, Clark said he arrived at Crawford’s office, where Crawford showed his true underworld colors again, attempting to make a deal with Clark, which involved framing the chief of police and winning Clark the election. Clark refused, threatening to expose Crawford, which is when Clark claimed Crawford pulled a gun, and Clark did so in return, firing both at the man known as “The Grey Wolf of Spring Street” and Spencer.

Even though no gun was found in Crawford’s office, Clark was able to charm all but one of member of the jury. That lone juror who voted “guilty” awoke to find a bomb on his front lawn the next day. There is still debate if Clark really did pull the trigger, but he did later plead guilty to murdering the wife of his friend and former law partner in 1953 or 1954 (sources vary) and he soon died of a stroke in prison.

After the drama of her husband’s trial, Ella Crawford set her sights on creating something new, Crossroads of the World. Here, people could find merchandise from all around the globe, and all in appropriately themed storefronts, ranging from English to Middle Eastern. The unique shopping center was designed by Robert V. Derrah and after opening in 1936 it was soon filled with a variety of shops, including Peasant House and Garden, which featured “Imports with a provincial feeling,” John Macsoud ‘Kerchief Bar, where one could find lingerie, handbags, and of course handkerchiefs, a barber shop known as The Barber of Seville, a French parfumerie, a chocolatier, an Oriental arts and gift shop, a marionette theater, and three restaurants that all began with “A Bit of” followed by the country, which included Sweden, England, and Italy.  The stationary streamline modern ship in the middle of it all was home to the Continental Cafe, where people could dine on the “upper deck.”

A tall spire stretches toward a bright blue sky. Near the bottom red letters spell out "Crossroads of the World." Atop the spire a globe.

A building with a likeness of a steamship features round porthole windows, and red doors.

A small fountain sits in front of the rounded front building.

Close-up of the tile work at the bottom of the fountain, which is white with blue birds and flowers.

A building with a likeness of a steamship features round porthole windows, and red doors.

A round porthole window next to a red door with a rounded top and a round window in the center.

A large metal letter box sits within the walls of the steamship building.

A building with a likeness of a steamship features round porthole windows, and red doors.

A white building features blue lettering reading "Crossroads of the World"

A white stucco Mediterranean building.

A decorative tile of a Spanish dancer.

Looking between the Mediterranean style white stucco buildings and the steamship style building.

A two story blue and white building with a bit of French flavor.

A tall black gate with a diamond pattern. Above, a shell like alcove with a shield above it.

A curved exterior staircase leads to a second floor for a French inspired building.

Close-up of an upper window which features paintings above it to give it a look as if it has carved stonework.

French style meets Spanish Revival in the central courtyard.

A Spanish revival style building stands with opened shutters, and an exterior staircase leading to a second floor, which features tile work.

The Middle Eastern facade, which features a large rounded window with door in the middle. Along the edge of the window are swooping decorative designs painted in teal and orange.

Close up of the swirling design painted on the edge of the window.

The Old England portion of Crossroads of the World, which tall steep rooflines and Tudor style woodwork painted on.

The Old England portion of Crossroads of the World, which tall steep rooflines and Tudor style woodwork painted on. A brick well sits in the middle.

The Old England portion of Crossroads of the World, which tall steep rooflines and Tudor style woodwork painted on.

The Old England portion of Crossroads of the World, which tall steep rooflines and Tudor style woodwork painted on.

An outdoor staircase leading up to a second floor, aside it a fountain.

A white stucco tower with a blue swirling roof.

Old England gives way to a Cape Cod like facade.

Close-up of a statue of nude woman, the Cape Code facades in the background, and in the slight distance a towering lighthouse.

A wood door with a round window that features an etching of a globe.

The Old England portion of Crossroads of the World, which tall steep rooflines and Tudor style woodwork painted on.

However its life as a shopping center was short lived, and by the 1940s the shops had pretty much left, and the fanciful facades became offices, with the likes of the Screen Actors Guild, Standard Oil, American Airlines, and even the king of suspense, Alfred Hitchcock, becoming tenants. As the decades wore on it became a place for recording artists, and eventually landed on the auction block in 1974. The winning bidder planned to demolish it, but thanks to those who love history it was spared, and became a Los Angeles Historic Cultural Monument. In 1977 Crossroads of the World received a new owner, Morton La Kretz, who lovingly restored it, and in 1980 it was added to the National Register of Historic Places.

Close-up of the globe, which features white continents, and red letters reading "Crossroads of the World"

A rounded front building faces the street, atop it a tall spire stretches toward a bright blue sky. Near the bottom red letters spell out "Crossroads of the World." Atop the spire a globe.

The place is so iconic, that a building akin to it, featuring the spire with globe atop was recreated at Hollywood Studios at Walt Disney World.

In addition to being a unique piece of the Hollywood landscape, Crossroads of the World made a fitting appearance as Sid Hudgens’ office for his rag Hush-Hush in one of my favorite films, LA Confidential.

Screencap from LA Confidential, from within one of the buildings we see the towering spire of the front building, with its spinning globe, it is night.

Screencap from LA Confidential, from within one of the buildings we see the towering spire of the front building, with its spinning globe, it is night. To the right sits Sid Hudgens, a portly reporter in a white shirt and fedora sits at a typewriter.

But while Crossroads of the World is protected the area around it, including its small parking lot, is not, and will soon feature towering apartments, which is why I’m glad I was able to visit this spot before it changes forever.

Come to the Crossroads of the World at 6671 Sunset Boulevard in Los Angeles. Please keep in mind it is a place of business and to be respectful if you visit.

Sources
Overview. Crossroads of the World. Accessed 8 April 2019.
Meares, Hadley. “Bloody Commerce: Crossroads of the World and the Murder of the Decade.” KCET 5 April 2013. Accessed 8 April. 2019.
Rassmussen, Cecilia. “Mall Is Legacy of ’20s Crime, Corruption.” Los Angeles Times 3 Oct. 1999. Accessed 8 April 2019.
Timeline. Crossroads of the World. Accessed 8 April 2019.

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