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?

An angled view of the Gower Gulch strip mall with western style facades.

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.

A train station in a black and white movie features a sign reading "Gower Gulch"

In 1943 Disney created the war related short “Victory Vehicles” which showcased Goofy as a “Hollywood Drugstore Cowboy” in front of Gower Gulch Pharmacy.

Goofy stands in a magenta shirt, purple vest, tan chaps, and tan cowboy hat, twirling two ropes, one in each hand, in front of a drugstore titled "Gower Gulch Drugstore"

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.”

An animated old west railroad station with a sign reading "Gower Gulch Pop. 86"

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

A western themed Denny's sits on the corner of Gower and Sunset, the street sign for Gower visible.

Gower Gulch, a strip mall of western themed facades, with two tall palm trees out front.

A large sign above the stores reads "Gower Gulch" in yellow western style letters. Above the letters are painted images of cowboys on horseback. A white clock face with various icons of the west serve as the numbers.

An angled view of the Gower Gulch strip mall with western style facades.

An old west medicine wagon sits in the middle of the parking lot. It is red and reads "Gower Gulch Medicinal Ointment" and has an image of an Indian wearing a headdress.

A tall sign features an image of a movie camera, and below it reads "Gower Gulch" and smaller signs for "RIte Aid" and "Denny's" below.

A mural of a horse drawn stage coach.

An angled view of the Gower Gulch strip mall with western style facades.

The back of the medicine wagon, reading "Realize imaginations highest peak, night voices silenced, increases cleverness"

Above a sea food restaurant is a blue and white sign reading "Cartwrights"

Close-up of the clock face, where boots, horses, and cowboy hats serve as the numbers.

Murals of Roy Rogers and Dale Evans

Myself standing in front of the old west medicine wagon sits in the middle of the parking lot. It is red and reads "Gower Gulch Medicinal Ointment" and has an image of an Indian wearing a headdress, wearing a black peasant top, and a green skirt with western images on it.

Above Lucifer's Pizza, one of the real establishments, sits a sign reading "Livery Forge & Stable"

Above the real establishments, faux ones exist, like this Lil's Boarding House, advertising hot baths for 25 cents. Silhouettes of a man and a woman sit behind faux windows.

A Rite Aid is situated at the end of the strip mall.

Myself standing in front of the old west medicine wagon sits in the middle of the parking lot. It is red and reads "Gower Gulch Medicinal Ointment" and has an image of an Indian wearing a headdress, wearing a black peasant top, and a green skirt with western images on it.

Become a drugstore cowboy at Gower Gulch at 6122 Sunset Boulevard in Los Angeles.

Outfit
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…

Sources
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.

Leave a Comment!

5 comments on “The Forgotten History of Gower Gulch, Hollywood’s Western Strip Mall”