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Shirts bring back memories

January 9, 2011
By KATHRYN SPIRA, For The Leader-Herald

As I was putting on my Hollywood Athletic Club sweatshirt one day last week, it got me thinking about the various restaurants and bars I worked in while pursuing my acting career.

The shirt was typical in that it was off someone else's back, in this case my old friend Dana, who worked there at the time. I like it so much that when the sleeve cuffs started to fray, I had them repaired so I could keep wearing it.

The Hollywood Athletic Club really was an athletic club long before it became a bar-restaurant.

According to Wikipedia: "The building at 6525 Sunset Blvd was built in 1926 by Meyer & Holler, the same architectural firm that built the Grauman's Chinese Theatre and the Egyptian Theatre. At the time it was the tallest building in Hollywood. During its early years as a health club, its membership included Johnny Weissmuller, Errol Flynn, Charlie Chaplin, John Wayne, Walt Disney, John Ford, Douglas Fairbanks Sr., Mary Pickford, Cecile B. de Mille, Cornel Wildle, Humphrey Bogart, Clark Gable, Jean Harlow, Frances X. Bushman, Howard Hughes, Joan Crawford and Rudolph Valentino."

Keeping with tradition, the staff were all aspiring actors and entertainment people. It wasn't by design, but unemployed actors tended to gravitate towards the restaurant and bar business as I did.

Other shirts I have connected to bars and restaurants include my Dark Socks T-shirt, which was connected to the West Beach Caf, where I worked along with other entertainment hopefuls. The shirt was for a softball team started by 12 of the restaurant staff, but not actually sponsored by the restaurant. The owners weren't really very supportive of the team. As far as the owners saw it, actors just made for scheduling problems while trying to further their careers with acting gigs and auditions.

When the shirt wore out, while it was still recognizable, I had a local T-shirt company reproduce it for me with "Spira" personalized on both white and gray backgrounds for summer wear. I also got to return the favor to Dana by sending him and his new bride personalized Dark Socks T-shirts as wedding presents last year.

I also have a Reel Inn T-shirt from a restaurant-bar in L.A. The original shirt was given to me by the owner of the fresh fish place along the Pacific Coast Highway in Malibu, Calif. According to a review of the restaurant, "the original PCH outpost is right across from Topanga State Beach - the witty sign scribbled with dishes such as 'Oh My Cod' is definitely eye-catching. The patio overlooks the highway, but visiting neighborhood cats add a certain charm. The food - fresh seafood from around the globe is the reason to head to this glorified seaside shack."

When the shirt wore out, I asked my friend Dana to replace it and he did, with a newer version that I still wear today.

Locally, I have both a T-shirt and a sweatshirt from Lanzi's on the Lake in Mayfield. I feel connected to the place because of a long friendship with the brothers who own it and the many parties and dinners I've had there. It's a nice way to continue my collection of shirts connected to restaurants here on the East Coast. In the case of the Lanzi's, I consider them family and the shirts just punctuate that feeling.

Kathryn Spira, a native of Cleveland who pursued an acting career in New York City and Los Angeles, now pursues freelance writing from Caroga Lake in Fulton County. Previous columns and contact information may be accessed at her website at



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