The Forgotten History of Gower Gulch, Hollywood’s Western Strip Mall
Gower Gulch. Sounds like a small town in the deserts of Arizona, right? But you’d be wrong. It’s in fact a western themed small strip mall that sits at the corner of Gower and Sunset in the middle of Hollywood. But why a western theme? And just how did this corner get its name?
The American west gave birth to the cowboy, and soon Hollywood would immortalize the fabled western hero on celluloid. Even by the time the motion picture industry took over, the Los Angeles area was still teeming with real life cowboys, all of who looked to earn a little extra cash by being extras in the Hollywood westerns being made. The corner of Sunset and Gower was the perfect hang out for them; it was close to many movie studios and the Columbia Drugstore had a phone that these hopeful extras could use. Dressed in their own clothing of H Bar C shirts, Levis, and Stetson hats, these real life cowpokes stood by looking to get work as extras, quickly earning the nickname “Drugstore Cowboys.”
But it wasn’t until a real life shoot out between two cowboys that this corner got its name.
In the hustle and bustle of 1940 Hollywood, Jerome B. “Blackjack” Ward stood among his fellow drugstore cowboys. Soon, he spied fellow cowboy extra John Ainsworth Tyacke AKA Johnny Tyke. Blackjack accused Tyke of “fooling around” with his girl. The two exchanged heated words, and Blackjack took out a .45, Tyke responded by lunging for the gun, but Blackjack fired, getting Tyke in the shoulder. As Tyke lay on the ground, and Blackjack proceeded to fire the remainder of his bullets at Tyke, supposedly naming the steps to hell, all of which he believed Tyke guilty of doing.
Newspapers grabbed hold of this jealousy fueled murder, and headlines like “Film Cowboy on Trial in ‘Gower Gulch’ Slaying,” giving name to this corner of Hollywood.
Blackjack pled not guilty, claiming that Tyke had a bowie knife, and that the killing was therefore in self defense, he also plead insanity. A multi-day trial took place, but at the end of the day, the charges were dismissed and Blackjack walked free.
While the murder of Johnny Tyke fell into obscurity, the name that came out of it stuck and became a Hollywood in-joke in multiple films and even animated shorts.
Abbott and Costello teamed up in the 1942 picture Ride ‘Em Cowboy where Gower Gulch is a bus stop.
In 1943 Disney created the war related short “Victory Vehicles” which showcased Goofy as a “Hollywood Drugstore Cowboy” in front of Gower Gulch Pharmacy.
Western swing king Spade Cooley stared in the 1950 film The Kid From Gower Gulch, which also features a song titled “Gower Gulch is Home Sweet Home.”
Looney Tunes also got on the bandwagon, and named a train station Gower Gulch in the Sylvester and Tweety cartoon “All a Bir-r-r-rd.”
They followed up with “Drip-Along Daffy” in 1951 which starts with Porky Pig singing a song called “The Flower of Gower Gulch.”
By the late 1960s though the western was falling out of favor, and the need for the drugstore cowboys had passed. In the meantime the Columbia Drugstore was razed. In 1976 though a developer decided to pay homage to the corner’s western heritage, and built this western themed strip mall, naming it Gower Gulch.
The strip mall features multiple western themed facades, complete with faux businesses, including a bath house, livery stable, and even a medicine wagon in the middle of the parking lot, which supposedly the caretaker used to live in. On one wall a giant mural of a stage coach is painted, and nearby several murals of western icons, both of the real wild west and the Hollywood variety are painted. It so happens features a Rite Aid, so the legend of the drugstore cowboy of Gower Gulch lives on
Become a drugstore cowboy at Gower Gulch at 6122 Sunset Boulevard in Los Angeles.
Peasant Top: Pinup Girl Clothing
Skirt: Buffalo Exchange
Shoes: Olvera Street
Purse: Retro Rejuvenation, Coburg, Oregon
Earrings & Necklace: Portland Antique Expo
Bracelets & Rings: Here and there…
Nichols, Chris. “What’s with the Old West Theme at Gower Gulch Shopping Center.“ Los Angeles Magazine, 12 Sept 2018. Web. Accessed 19 April 2019.
Roland, Zelda. “How a Cowboy Standoff Gave Hollywood’s Gower Gulch Its Name.” KCET, 3 June 2019. Web. Accessed 19 April 2019.
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7 comments on “The Forgotten History of Gower Gulch, Hollywood’s Western Strip Mall”
I learn so much from your blog. Thank you so much for sharing such interesting stories.
When I read “Gower” and “drug store” in the same article and realized that this name became an in-joke in Hollywood, I couldn’t help but wonder if Mr. Gower from “It’s a Wonderful Life” wasn’t named after this corner as well. He is, after all, the druggist.
Another fascinating slice of history, thanks!
How cute, and complete with Starbucks!
I always learn such interesting and quirky pieces of history from your posts!
That’s my goal!!
Nice pics! There was an apartment building 1 block south of that strip mall that my family used to live in when I was a young boy in the 80’s. The building was damaged during the earthquakes of the 80’s and 90’s and it was torn down for a newer structure.
I have fond memories of this place. There used to be a Thrifty Drugs here with an ice cream counter inside. We’d walk here once in a while, eat at Denny’s and get an ice cream at Thrifty. I still remember the taste of the orange sherbet. Jeez!