Remembering L.A.’s First Great Record Store, Wallichs Music City

Bing Crosby shopped the aisles, Frank Zappa worked the floor

Before there was a Tower Records, before the Capitol Records building was the Capitol Records building, L.A.’s coolest music-industry hub was Wallichs Music City.

Glenn Wallichs opened the record store with his brother, Clyde, at the corner of Sunset Boulevard and Vine Street in 1940. Until Tower Records set up on the Sunset Strip 30 years later, Wallichs Music City was the place to go for concert tickets, sheet music, LPs, 45s, tapes, 8-tracks, cassettes, and musical instruments. It’s where a friend of mine purchased a double neck guitar right off the wall, and where my mother picked up an alto recorder for my second grade music class. Maybe you remember its radio and TV jingle: “It’s Music City, Sunset & Vine!”

When Glenn Wallichs co-founded Capitol Records in 1942 with singer-songwriter Johnny Mercer and songwriter Buddy DeSylva, the record label had its offices above the store. (Dot Records moved into that space after Capitol left for Hollywood Boulevard in 1956.) On their way in and out of meetings, recording stars including Bing Crosby, Judy Garland, Nat King Cole, and Eddie Cochran browsed the aisles and signed their names on their latest hits at the display counters downstairs.

Here’s Mel Blanc in a promotional video for Capitol Records and the store:

But Wallichs Music City wasn’t famous only for its clientele: It had the distinction of being the first record store to seal albums in cellophane and display them in racks. Before that, customers could listen to tracks—or record one of their own, for a small fee—in tiny chambers that looked like old wooden telephone booths.

By the mid 1960s, the area around Hollywood and Vine had become a place “to cruise” and an even more popular zone for music lovers. The Lawrence Welk Show was filmed and the “Teen-Age Fair” was held around the corner at the Hollywood Palladium. Wallichs Music City kept hip hours, staying open until 2 a.m. The store was so cool, in fact, Frank Zappa worked there part-time in 1965. I would have loved to see him in his company-issued coat and tie.

Despite its following, the Wallichs Music City lost business as record chains like Licorice Pizza, Music Plus, and Wherehouse Music & Movies popped up and then multiplied in L.A.’s suburban malls. Wallichs Music City closed in 1978 and the building was razed. Today, a Walgreens stands at its former location. Just don’t go in expecting to “try before you buy.”

Alison Martino is a writer, television producer and personality, and L.A. pop culture historian. She founded the Facebook page Vintage Los Angeles in 2010. In addition to CityThink and VLA, Martino muses on L.A’s. past and present on Twitter and Instagram.