Down Magnolia Park Memory Lane

When watching a movie or TV show, it’s always fun to spot a location that you recognize especially if it’s from your hometown.

The other night I saw “Pushover” from 1954 starring Fred MacMurray and Kim Novak in her debut.  It is a film noir about a cop who falls in love with a gangster’s girlfriend and ends up turning crooked. 

Ten years earlier MacMurray starred with Barbara Stanwyck in Billy Wilder’s classic noir “Double Indemnity.”   “Pushover” is a not in the same league though it is worth seeing especially for those who knew Burbank decades ago.

Not only did the crew film along the heart of Magnolia Blvd. in Burbank, a corridor known as Magnolia Park, but the whole climatic scene of the picture takes place there.

There is a bountiful of moments worth freeze-framing to gloss over the details, like opening up an old photo album of a place you haven’t seen in years.

In the very first scene of the film, the Magnolia movie theatre (4403 Magnolia) is prominently featured at night with its ornate marquee and box office cubicle.   It has been seen in other movies such as 1975’s “Night Moves.”  But seeing the flashing neon in glorious black and white brought back many memories to me. 

While not as large as the old California theatre a mile east down the road which had a balcony, I saw many movies at the Magnolia, one of the last being “The Poseidon Adventure.”  For the longest time, there was a hanging banner from the marquee about its air conditioning.  It was one of the few buildings I went in as a child which felt cool during the hot summer time.

Later, MacMurray and Novak are seen in separate cars driving down Magnolia Blvd.  Prominently shown are the stores on the south end of Magnolia between Hollywood Way to the west and Cordova to the east:  McCoy’s Shoes, Tots to Ten, Newberry’s Five and Dime.

The Magnolia location is featured again in the film’s climax between police and now mass murderer MacMurray where characters are seen creeping through an arcade of offices that remains unchanged to this day.  I recall as a child how strangely exotic that open corridor was cutting straight through from the sidewalk on Magnolia to the alley in the back, landscaped with thickly leafed plants.  Rocky’s Barber Shop where I had my hair cut during the 1960’s was on Magnolia near the opening to the arcade.

Then the big shootout happens on Cordova.  The shops seen earlier are in clear display again in the background.  These are the stores where my family shopped at in my childhood, where we bought shoes, clothes, papers and Halloween costumes.

What makes it especially thrilling is that the scene is shot at night with the neon signs on, and unlike the normal practice of covering up or changing the names on storefronts, here the filmmakers left the original names in place.

I felt compelled to drive down to that area to photograph that area and see if any remnants of the past still exist.

Well, that arcade area has not changed much.  The vegetation isn’t as lush, and some reconfiguration of the pathway may have taken place.  But you can still cut through from the street to alley.

It was exciting to see, however, that the Tots to Ten store has remained very much the same with its old-fashioned large windows and its outside frame, still showing 3606 as its address.

I researched a 1952 Burbank telephone directory on Ancestry.com to discover its previous business name was Western Toy & Baby Shop.

To the east was McCoy’s Shoes at 3604 and on the corner was Evan’s Stationary at 3600.  I’m not sure why but that was the only store whose name was covered up through one can make out the faint name through the material used to mask it.

To the west of Tots to Ten is Newberry’s (3612) and next to that a business I don’t recollect called Rick’s Hardware (3614).

All the way at the southeast corner of Hollywood Way and Magnolia was the crown jewel:  Albin’s Drug Store (3620) where Porto’s Bakery is today.

Albin’s was a magical place.  They even had Albin’s toys which was one block north on Hollywood Way (now the Train Shack).

When you walking into Albin’s, the cosmetics and perfume counter was in the front on the right.  The film department was on the left where we had many photos and 8mm home movies developed.  But in the back of the store was a genuine soda fountain.  In my research I discovered that it had a separate name (at least in 1952):  Harold Webb restaurant.

The most curious business shown, however, is an ice cream store at the northeast corner of the intersection called Currie’s (3521).  This is a place I don’t remember. 

I researched Currie’s to discover that it was a local chain in Southern California that “dished up mile high cones, cherry phosphates, and other cool confections from the 1930s through the late 1960s” a quote along with several photos that I found from Flashbak:

Based on the photos, Currie’s used the food architecture of the period by having oversized cones and shakes displayed outside its storefronts.

If it wasn’t for the location scouts who were just doing their job finding backgrounds to rear project during interior car scenes or for quick exterior shots, those of us who actually lived in that area at the time would have no filmed record of where we grew up.

To find this film with these scenes of where I grew up transported me.  I obsessed re-watching the scenes, freezing them bit by bit, comparing addresses and storefronts to those listed in the 1952 telephone directory.  It was if I was in a time machine.  In another way, it was validating my existence.

Wouldn’t it be magical if a genie could grant my wish to have one 24-hour day to step back into time to walk down Magnolia, enter Albin’s Drugstore and sit at the soda fountain in the back and drink a chocolate milkshake out of a silver goblet with my parents and siblings?

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