Ohio66 presents an in-depth look at the circumstances surrounding the departure of George Maharis from route 66 in the middle
of the third season.
preview Starring George Maharis
Pacoima Memorial Lutheran Hospital
Pacoima Memorial Lutheran Hopsital at 11600 Eldridge Ave. opened in November 1960, less than two years before the filming of A Feat Of Strength. In February 1971, it was severely damaged by the Sylmar–San Fernando earthquake. The hospital, technically in Lake View Terrace rather than Pacoima, was just nine miles from the epicenter. Structural engineers recommended against repairing the damage and demolition—with the exception of the wing that is seen in this episode—began in May 1971.
In 1972, a new wing was built north of the original facility. The vacant land used for this new wing can be seen in the background of the opening scenes where Steiner is in the Corvette in the parking lot. The hospital operated throughout the 1970s until it fell into deep financial trouble. It was re-opened in 1983 under different management as Lake View Medical Center. Lake View also accumulated large debts and closed just three years later.
In 1986, first lady Nancy Reagan got behind an effort to once again re-open the facility, which would bear her name, as a rehabilitation clinic for teens with drug and alcohol addictions to be run by Phoenix House, an organization that ran several of these facilities around the country. These plans were dropped over fierce opposition by local residents which also caused Reagan to drop her support.
After years of legal action and campaigns to win over the residents, Phoenix House did manage to open in 1992. The original wing remaining from the Route 66 episode was demolished shortly afterward and Phoenix House remains in business today (2016) in the building constructed in 1972.
Arriving At Bus Depot
Tod and Steiner arrive at the Pacoima Bus Depot.
It’s actually in nearby Shadow Hills at 9687 Sunland Blvd. This scene shows Sunland Blvd. looking east from in front of the building that stood-in for the bus depot.
Bus Depot (#1)
There is no indication that this building ever was a bus depot. In fact, the evidence indicates that it has been a real estate office since before filming of this episode, although the evidence also suggests that it may have been vacant at the time of filming.
In the center is a street view of 9687 Sunland Blvd. in 2008 which still shows the brick facia.
Below is a street view from 2016 which shows that the building has been remodeled to cover the original brick facia. If you visit this address on Google Street View you can even take a tour through the building.
The first photo is from the Los Angeles Public Library online collection and is dated January 6, 1961.
Below is a 1964 aerial photo of 9687 Sunland Blvd. in Shadow Hills, just east of the intersection of Wheatland Ave., showing the location of this building.
The Prime Oak Inn
Out of all the Route 66 filming locations uncovered since this site was created, The Prime Oak Inn proved to be the most difficult to find. Sometimes there are contracts and schedules in the production folders of the Herbert B. Leonard collection at UCLA, but the folder was missing for this episode.
All evidence indicated somewhere near Pacoima in the San Fernando Valley—where the hospital was located—and nearby Shadow Hills where a small building on Sunland Blvd. stood in for the Pacoima Bus Depot. In one scene, supposedly shot at the Shadow Hills location, we see a billboard that mentions Panorama City in Van Nuys. Panorama City is also near Pacoima and Shadow Hills.
This billboard proved to be a bit confusing because, as several fans of the show noticed, the dialog between Steiner and Sandor at the bus depot was actually filmed at two different locations. Most of Sandor’s lines were shot in Shadow Hills in front of the building on Sunland Blvd. and most of Steiner’s lines were shot near the Prime Oak Inn which, as we shall see, is located several miles from Shadow Hills. When Tod and Sandor leave the bus depot they are actually already at the Prime Oak Inn and appear to arrive there later by the magic of camera angles and editing.
Countless hours were spent by fans of the show searching Historic Aerials, early 1960s phone books in the online collection of the Los Angeles Public Library, contacting historical societies, chambers of commerce, web sites devoted to the San Fernando Valley and asking at many gas stations with no luck at all, until...
The Continental Restaurant
The first clue to the real location of The Prime Oak Inn came when it was noticed that a building beside the Prime Oak had a sign above its door: “Continental Restaurant.” The sign is only visible in a few frames as the Covette is driving by and you must use frame-by-frame viewing of the DVD in order to see it properly.
Everyone felt that this was the real name of this restaurant which was simply next to The Prime Oak Inn and did not feature in the story line. Searches for the Continental for the most part were fruitless. The fact that continental is a generic term and is used to describe a specific type of cuisine made the search much more difficult There are thousands of restaurants advertising “Continental Cuisine.”
In addition, it was decided that even though the name Prime Oak Inn may have been fictitious, the German decor was probably real.
Valley Ramblings—The Valley News, September 15, 1961
After extensive searching for clues about the restaurants of interest using free-of-charge online methods failed to produce results, Ohio66 obtained a subscription to newspapersonline.com which opened up a large new source of material.
Three newspapers in particular—The Los Angeles Times, Valley News and Van Nuys News—were searched and it was noticed that Valley News contained a regular column—Valley Ramblings—about the restaurant scene in the San Fernando Valley. After examination of dozens of these columns from 1961 and 1962 this review was found.
At first, this column was somewhat confusing. The description of “Willy Hoppe’s house of charm, warmth and ‘old world’ atmosphere” certainly sounded like The Prime Oak Inn, but the writer is applying this description to The Continental.
Newspaper ads for The Continental and Peppi’s
Since Valley Ramblings was a regular column in The Valley News, and was always located on a page that contained numerous restaurant ads, it was not long before we found ads for both The Continental and Peppi’s. The ads for Peppi’s were found in newspapers before September 1961 and The Continental after. A Feat Of Strength was filmed in April 1962.
But if Peppi’s was no longer around in 1962, and originally existed at the same location as The Continental, that means we still had not found The Prime Oak Inn.
16116 Ventura Blvd., Encino, California
The 1967 aerial view is what we found after plugging in the address of The Continental and Peppi’s into Historic Aerials. For those of us who had spent months searching for The Prime Oak Inn, it was immediately obvious that this was it. The Prime Oak’s parking lot even seems to create a glow around the restaurant in this aerial.
These aerial views are of the southwest corner of Ventura Blvd. and Woodley Ave. in Encino. The recent view shows that, other than the residential area to the south, virtually nothing remains of the area around the two restaurants.
The building at center left—with a ‘notch’ at the front facing Ventura Blvd.—did not appear in the 1964 aerial but we did not use that view because it is much less clear than 1967.
The Swiss Inn
Once we had found The Continental it made the search for The Prime Oak Inn much easier. As already noted, The Valley News, in addition to The Van Nuys News where this ad was found, contained regular restaurant pages with numerous advertisements and features like Valley Ramblings. We were looking for restaurants in the 16100 block of Ventura that might be a good match for The Prime Oak Inn when this one was spotted.
To clear up any possible confusion before continuing, The Swiss Inn is The Prime Oak Inn.
The second image is a review of The Swiss Inn from a 1958 edition of Van Nuys News. We can only assume that “3-D picture windows” refers to the bay window in front that is visible in several shots from the episode.
It appears that throughout the 1950s and 1960s the ownership of this building changed hands several times. The earliest newspaper advertisement found is from 1954 (third image) when the restaurant was known as The Kangaroo Inn. Ads for the Swiss Inn started showing up in newspapers around 1957 followed by “for sale” notices in the early 1960s. It was purchased in 1964 and re-opened as The Rathskeller. The restaurant was demolished in 1973 to make room for the newer buildings seen in the recent Google Maps image above.
Keep in mind the fact that the building used for The Prime Oak Inn was once called The Kangaroo Inn. It will feature prominently in speculation below about the sign in front of the restaurant.
Los Angeles Building Database
An online resource that proved to be incredibly useful (thanks, Nick) is the Los Angeles Department of Building and Safety database. Although many cities have similar databases they typically only go back as far as digital records became the standard which is usually less than 20 or 30 years. The interesting thing about the Los Angeles database is that they have apparently scanned an enormous number of paper records dating back to the early part of the 20th century. There are hundreds of documents related to the buildings around the Prime Oak Inn. In fact, far too many to link to here in order to build an accurate picture of the area’s development over the years.
According to these records, The Prime Oak Inn building was originally constructed at 1809 Olive Ave. in Burbank and moved to the Encino location in 1947 by its owner, Charles Lookner. The paperwork indicates that there was confusion about the address which was assigned by the city, 16140 Ventura Blvd., and the address requested by Lookner, 16144. Lookner moved at least one other building from Burbank to Encino, the one which we have called ‘Bus Depot #2.’ At the time of filming, this was a restaurant called The Mardis Gras. Yes, three restaurants in close proximity. You will notice that one of the newspaper articles posted here refers to area this as Encino’s famous “restaurant row.”
If you are interested in examining these records, visit the database at:
Los Angeles Building and Safety Database
16116 Ventura - The Continental16140 Ventura - The Prime Oak Inn16148 Ventura - The Mardis Gras (Bus Depot #2)
Prime Oak Inn described in the script
Here is an excerpt from Howard Rodman’s copy of the script for A Feat Of Strength describing the Prime Oak Inn.
“This is a place by itself, alone, in the country: a country inn of the sort to which people drive for a romantic supper, or to which they go with their families on a Sunday afternoon. It was once an old farmhouse and now has been made over and the sign added in the front yard.”
To view the first six pages of the script, click here: Script
Bus Depot #2
As noted above, most of Sandor’s (Jack Warden) lines spoken to Steiner (Joe De Santis) at the bus depot were filmed at the Shadow Hills location on Sunland Blvd. and most of Steiner’s lines spoken to Sandor were filmed near the Prime Oak Inn location in Encino.
In addition, when Tod and Sandor speak before leaving the bus depot they are also at the Encino location.
Here is a shot of Steiner speaking with Sandor. Note the empty field across Ventura Blvd. in the background and the large trees alongside the road.
The final photo shows Sandor at bus depot #2 just before leaving with Tod. The parking lot of The Prime Oak Inn is in the background.
Leaving Bus Depot — Arriving Prime Oak Inn
Tod and Sandor leave the bus depot and pull out onto Ventura Blvd (center).
At first we thought that the billboard mentioning Van Nuys and Panorama City might be an important clue to finding The Prime Oak Inn, but it proved to be a red herring. All we really knew was that the location was probably somewhere in the Valley.
After a minute or so of travel and dialog in the Corvette, they arrive at The Prime Oak Inn (bottom).
The Prime Oak Inn Sign
Several very observant members of the Yahoo Route 66 Group noticed that the neon sign in front of the restaurant had apparently been modified to display the fictional name used in the episode. It appears that the part of the sign that reads “Prime Oak Inn” was constructed and painted by the Route 66 production company and placed over the original name. True, this is only speculation, but there is no evidence that Prime Oak Inn was ever the real name of the restaurant.
Even more speculative is the Ohio66 theory regarding what may have been the original name on the sign. One very minor detail that was noticed by the sharpest viewers was what appeared to be the bottom edge of the original lettering that was not covered up by the fake sign (image 1). We tried placing a few of the restaurant names that we found over “Prime Oak” on the sign via photo manipulation and the only one that fit perfectly was Kangaroo Inn (image 2).
The surprising thing that was noticed after adding Kangaroo to the sign in Olde English font is that the bottom edge of the ‘K’ now perfectly aligned with the bottom edge of the original name left uncovered by the fake sign (image 3).
So, what does Olde English font have to do with a restaurant named after an Australian marsupial? You might imagine that ‘Shrimp on the Barbie’ would be at the top of the menu. But, in fact, The Kangaroo Inn did feature English cooking as described in this column from December 1954 (image 4):
“I am in receipt of an enthusiastic letter from Nina V. Sims of the Sims O’Day Stores, who it seems, is very fond of English cooking and although we may have some houses who do prepare Yorkshire pudding and beefsteak and kidney pie in an English fashion, apparently nothing can compare with Kangaroo Inn on Ventura Blvd. In Encino. The owners, Mr. And Mrs. Sheldrick (Dena and Shelly) have been serving English food for over 16 years and were originally on Ventura Blvd. In Woodland Hills. Miss Sims says that if you haven’t been to England lately and enjoy English food, by all means do stop by and see Dena and Shelley.
“You will always find Dena behind the dutch doors preparing that roast beef and Yorkshire pudding and Shelley in sort of a sailor’s sweater, ready to great you.”
Hills behind Prime Oak Inn
Encino is at the southern boundary of the San Fernando Valley and in this view of The Prime Oak Inn the camera is aimed approximately in the southeast direction toward Beverly Hills.
The second photo is a recent Google Earth image of the area showing the location of The Prime Oak Inn and the hills. The long arrow approximates the camera direction in the first photo. This image has been flipped vertically so that south is at the top.
Steiner’s Gym—Still Searching...
The character Rudy Steiner was almost certainly based on the locally famous real-life boxing promoter of the era, Howie Steindler, who operated the Main Street Gym in Los Angeles. Steindler was murdered 1977 and to this day the case remains unsolved. Even details remain unclear but various reports have suggested two likely “scenes of the crime” were within a few miles of The Prime Oak Inn. In fact, Steindler lived in Encino less than two-and-one-half miles from the restaurant.
It is a well-known fact that Route 66 writer and co-creator Stirling Silliphant was a martial arts devotee and we wonder whether or not his interest extended to boxing and whether or not he knew Howie Steindler personally. Two Silliphant experts who were consulted did not know of any connection.
The gym used in this episode is clearly not Steindler’s Main Street Gym as there are numerous photos of that facility available for comparison. Searches for this gym have turned up nothing. There is a brief glimpse of a business sign and street sign in the episode as Tod drives up to the gym. The business sign is something about “transfer and storage” but the name of the business is too blurry to be readable. Likewise, the street sign is unreadable.
If anyone has clues to the location of this building please contact Ohio66.