If you were a Sherman Oaks resident in the 1960s or early '70s, surely you remember the Wil Wright's Ice Cream Parlor on Ventura and Van Nuys boulevards (the northwest corner, next to where the Chevron station is today), which offered the finest ice cream experience you could possibly dream of, only this place was for real!
Wil Wright's was designed like a turn-of-the century ice cream parlor, and I vividly recall its red, pink and white color palette, and its glass jars filled with candies like root beer and horehound sticks. Some jars had colored water in them to create the illusion of an old-time pharmacy. This was an ice cream parlor reminiscent of Main Street USA's Carnation Plaza at Disneyland.
The chairs were rimmed with white metal, parlor style, and had striped red and white leather seat cushions. The tables were marble-topped (classy!), and I remember you couldn't just park at a table with an ice cream cone. Nope, you needed to order a dish of the famous peppermint stick, chocolate burnt almond or vanilla bean, which were served in metal and glass parfait dishes.
There was one ice cream flavor, Nellerode Bula, that contained actual rum and fine old brandy. The orange sherbet tasted like it was made from real, fresh-squeezed orange juice. They even had chocolate whipped cream, which was all freshly made—no spray cans. Butter pecan ice cream was another favorite at Wil Wright's, as was the raspberry shake, made with fresh raspberries.
No wonder Frank Sinatra and his Rat Pack buddies went to Wil Wright's Ice Cream parlor all the time! (The two Rat Pack ice cream faves were Blum's in Beverly Hills and C.C. Browns on Hollywood Boulevard.) I gleaned this information from Nancy Sinatra, Frank's famous daughter, while working as her publicist from 1994 to 2002.
Along with every ice cream dish, you would get one of the most incredible macaroon cookies I have ever tasted. They had a slight almond flavor and came wrapped in wax paper with the Wil Wright's logo: an angel's head and the slogan "It's Heavenly!" on the wrapper. I have a matchbook (pictured here) bearing the logo, to bring back a few memories of this treasured Sherman Oaks locale.
Wil Wright's had locations all over Southern California. The earliest ones, such as those on Hollywood and the Sunset Strip, date back to the late 1940s, but the chain really took off in the early 1960s when many of the Wil Wright's parlors opened in cities such as Beverly Hills, Pacific Palisades, Westwood and Tarzana. (The latter looked like a doll house, set back from the street in a free-standing building that was all white with red trim. It was near the miniature golf course on Ventura Boulevard, near Crebs Avenue.)
Wil Wright's was the original Haagen-Dazs, as it was super-rich, almost 22 percent butterfat, I have read—hardly qualifying it for the more cholesterol-conscious times we are in today! It was incredible ice cream and I fondly remember how it would literally stick to the roof of your mouth when you were eating it.
What a treat to visit Wil Wright's with my family after a movie at the nearby La Reina theater. I remember going to Wil Wright's after seeing Mary Poppins at the La Reina in 1964 and thinking, "How can I ever go back to Baskin-Robbins again?" But, of course, on a hot summer day in Sherman Oaks, even a 5 cent scoop of Thrifty ice cream was a welcome relief. (Remember those "Frankenstein" flat-topped scoopers they would use at Thrifty?)
I visited several other Wil Wright's ice cream parlors during the '60s and early '70s before they all began to disappear. The burgeoning health food trend of the '70s may have taken its toll on the chain. After all, the famous Sherman Oaks health food store Foods for Health (featured in the film Valley Girl) survived much longer than Wil Wright's!
Many celebrities favored Wil Wright's ice cream and bought pints of the high-end dessert in supermarkets in the '60s. It was a real treat when Mom brought home a pint of Wil Wright's peppermint stick ice cream, and it sure didn't last long. I recall making midnight stealth missions with my brother Bobby to the freezer, with the largest spoon we could find!
You can actually see a Wil Wright's ice cream parlor in the 1967 teen film It's A Bikini World. There also were at least two '60s record album cover photos shot at Wil Wright's: Collections by the Rascals and Brubeck a la Mode by jazz great Dave Brubeck. The Sherman Oaks Wil Wright's was a bright and happy place that had such a strong presence in popular culture of the time.
There was even a Playboy centerfold whose black and white "personal" photos included a picture of the Wil Wright's Westwood location (on Glendon and Lindbrook avenues) in 1966.
Sometime in the early '70s, after Wil Wright's tried to add a full menu to compete with the success of Farrell's Old Time Ice Parlors—which were popular with kids and families and had a similar theme to Wil Wright's—the high-end parlor closed, leaving a legacy of rich, buttery tasting ice cream and marvelous macaroons in its wake.
Now that I think about it, the closure of Wil Wright's and the advent of the running boom in the mid-1970s might not have been a coincidence!