HOLLYWOOD -- The famed Brown Derby restaurant on Vine Street closed its doors Wednesday after 57 years serving Hollywood stars and tourists, and some of its most famous patrons lamented the passing of 'an old friend.'
Restaurant owners, however, said they will preserve the eatery's interior and decorations -- including booth No. 5, where Clark Gable proposed to Carol Lombard -- and hope to reopen at another location in Hollywood in the future.
'For those of us who knew the Brown Derby in its heyday, it is very sad news,' actress Loretta Young said. 'Not only did I spend countless happy, social and business hours there, but it evolved into almost a second home.'
'It's always sad when a place you've enjoyed over the years closes,' actor Kirk Douglas said. 'Its like the passing of an old friend.'
Esther Williams, sunning at her Bel-Air pool, wondered what would happen to her framed caricature, one of hundreds that adorned the eatery's walls.
Restaurant officials, who blamed the closure on lease troubles, insisted that all the furnishings and decorations would be saved and used again when a new location is secured.
'We are taking off every picture, every chair, every booth, every lampshade and storing them until we open up our new Derby, and everything will be the same again,' spokesman Fred Lewin said.
Bartender Miles Haithcock said employees did not know of the plans to close the restaurant, which opened on Valentine's Day 1929, until they reported to work Wednesday.
'All the stars came here,' Haithcock recalled. 'I waited on William Holden and Arthur Godfrey before they died.'
'There were so many -- Cornell Wilde, Morgan Fairchild, Chuck Connors. Ricardo Montelban was in just yesterday.'
Lewin mentioned another well-known patron, saying 'President Reagan came here often as a young actor, and then again when he was governor.'
The restaurant was known not only for its famous clientel but also for two dishes invented there -- the Cobb Salad, named after owner Bob Cobb, now deceased, and a grapefruit cake.
Two other Brown Derbies went out of business earlier. The first, built by Gloria Swanson's husband in 1926, closed in 1980, but its hat-shaped structure is still standing on Wilshire Boulevard. A Beverly Hills branch closed in 1982.
Young said she first visited the original derby at age 14. 'I quickly learned I'd best be careful what I said,' she said, 'because the hat-shaped building was a dome inside, it had unusual acoustics.
'The person sitting on the opposite of the room could hear everything you said. It was a haven for gossip columnists.'