Some More Coconut Grove(s) History
Cocoanut Grove is a 1938 movie, made well
after Coconut Grove lost the “A” in its name

I’ve been collecting historic pictures of Coconut Grove as long as I’ve been researching and taking pictures of the E.W.F. Stirrup House. For the past several years whenever I stumbled over a new old picture of Coconut Grove on the innertubes, I save it to my hard drive. I have built up a pretty fair collection, but I am always looking for more. 

Direct searches for pictures, or articles, on historic Coconut Grove, Florida can be an exercise in frustration. All searches are complicated by how many things have been named Coconut/Cocoanut Grove over the years, how often the generic term “coconut grove” has appeared in print over the years, and how often things have been misspelled on the internet over the years.

The candy bar is not the village

There’s the candy bar, of course, but that’s just the beginning. High up on any Googalizer list is the famous Cocoanut Grove nightclub in the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles. During Hollywood’s heyday the nightclub drew celebrities and Hollywood royalty to witness shows that featured performers such as Frank Sinatra, Judy Garland, Bing Crosby, Nat King Cole, Dorothy Dandridge, Benny Goodman, and Sammy Davis, Jr., just to name a few. Long before the Oscars were ever televised, six Academy Award ceremonies were held at the Cocoanut Grove nightclub. Incidentally, Robert Kennedy gave his last speech at the Ambassador Hotel and was gunned down in the kitchen on his way out of the hotel. The kitchen, the Cocoanut Grove nightclub, and the Ambassador Hotel no longer exist, but they live on on the internet.

The Cocoanut Grove nightclub in the Ambassador
Hotel during happier and kitchier times:

Another Cocoanut Grove nightclub was built as a roof garden atop the Century Theatre by impresario Florenz Ziegfeld — who had taken over the struggling theater built a mile north of the actual Theater District — with partner and Broadway producer Charles Dilligham. Even this couldn’t save the building, which also suffered from poor acoustics, and it was knocked down to build the Art Deco Century Apartments in 1931.

The aftermath of the horrific Cocoanut Grove fire in Boston, 1942

While there’s a Cocoanut Grove ballroom and conference center on the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk, the most famous Cocoanut Grove nightclub was the site of the deadliest nightclub fire in history. On that night in 1942, 492 people were killed, and hundreds injured,as a fire tore through the Boston nightclub during Thanksgiving celebrations. From the WikiWhackyWoo:

As is common in panic situations, many patrons attempted to exit through the main entrance, the same way they had entered. The building’s main entrance was a single revolving door, rendered useless as the panicked crowd scrambled for safety. Bodies piled up behind both sides of the revolving door, jamming it to the extent that firefighters had to dismantle it to enter. Later, after fire laws had tightened, it would become illegal to have only one revolving door as a main entrance without being flanked by outward opening doors with panic bar openers attached, or have the revolving doors set up so that the doors could fold against themselves in emergency situations.

A lot of laws were changed in the wake of the Cocoanut Grove fire and whenever there’s another fire in a nightclub, newspapers have to make reference to the tragedy in Boston. It’s in their contract.

At least on Google video searches I’ll always stumble across one of my favourite Marx Brothers movies. While the first Marx Brothers release, “The Cocoanuts” took place in Cocoanut Grove, Florida, it was filmed in Astoria, Queens between performances of their smash hit musical Animal Crackers. It was based on the earlier Broadway hit, The Cocoanuts, something that also crops up in many Google searches; which always find Gus Arheim and His Cocoanut Grove Orchestra; Judy Garland’s opening night at Cocoanut Grove; Mercury at the Cocoanut Grove; not to mention Phil Harris and His Cocoanut Grove Orchestra. Adding to the confusion is an episode of The First 48, called Gangs of Little Havana/Execution in Coconut Grove, which pops up; as does an episode of Sell This House, when Cesar and Lisa Verde tried to unload their Coconut Grove house. Both get posted on the YouTubery occasionally, but are always removed by a copyright take-down order.

Liverpool had a nightclub called Coconut Grove; as does Sacramento; as did Dundee, Scotland; and Buffalo, New York; while a cartoon I’ve never been able to find is called The Coo-Coo Nut Grove, and spoofs the famous Hollywood nightclub; a suburb of Darwin, in the Northern Territories of Austrailia, is called Coconut Grove; not to mention a song I have yet to hear, written for the Fred McMurray movie Cocoanut Grove [poster above] by Harry Owen, of Harry Owen and his Royal Hawaiians, who also wrote one of my favourite tunes, “Sweet Leilani.” [A long time ago I created a Spotify playlist with about 100 versions of Sweet Leilani.]

Which brings us full circle. Harry Owen was able to write music for and appear in a Fred McMurray movie was because Hawaiian Music was a hot a craze in “Merka at one time. From there the interest went World Wide and now there are many several whole bucketfuls of stuff named Coconut Grove all around the world, from carpet cleaners to hole-in-the-wall diners to motels. Sometimes they make the news. Sometimes my Google ‘As It Happens’ Alerts go haywire for nothing to do with the Coconut Grove I’m monitoring. F’rinstance, remember that recent crazy FloriDuh story, that broke national, because the two convicts escaped using forged release papers, like recently when those two escaped convicts were nabbed at the Coconut Grove Motor Court.

If you think all of that makes a search for Coconut Grove complicated, I have been adding my own to the Googleopolis. All my Not Now Silly posts on Coconut Grove rank fairly high on the Googalizer now andI have to weed through those now to find anyting worthwhile.

ANd, Because I have been trying to become more multi-media savvy here at Not Now Silly, for the last week I have been learning how to use a movie making program. When I realized I had all the makings for a pretty little montage, I created my latest entry to the Google Coconut Grove search engine confusion.

Play this movie full screen for the best effect

If I still have your attention, here are a couple of other montages I’ve put together:

As always, comments welcome.

About Headly Westerfield

Calling himself “A liberally progressive, sarcastically cynical, iconoclastic polymath,” Headly Westerfield has been a professional writer all his adult life.