The Friars Club of Beverly Hills (also known as the Friars Club of California) was a private show business club started in 1947 by comedian/actor Milton Berle, among other celebrities who had moved from New York. It was forced to change its name in 2007 after losing a lawsuit with the New York Friars’ Club, and later closed. Its building, designed by modernist architect Sidney Eisenshtat, was demolished in 2011.
Publicity photo for the 1968 roast of Johnny Carson. Dick Cavett and Alan King are ready to start the honors.
The modern history of the club began in 1947 when Milton Berle got a group together at the old Savoy Hotel on Sunset Boulevard in Los Angeles, including actors Jimmy Durante, George Jessel, Eddie Cantor, Robert Taylor, and Bing Crosby. The Friars Club of California was originally established as a spinoff from the New York Friars’ Club, as a non-profit, membership only club. In 1961, the club moved into a distinctive, almost windowless building at 9900 Santa Monica Boulevard in Beverly Hills designed by architect Sidney Eisenshtat. Past members included Al Jolson, Frank Sinatra, Judy Garland (the first woman ever roasted by the Friars’ Club), Jack Benny, Dean Martin, Lucille Ball, Jerry Lewis, the Marx Brothers, Sammy Davis, Jr., Bob Hope, Billy Crystal, George Burns, and Johnny Carson among many others. Like the New York club, for many years the Friars Club of Beverly Hills was known for its celebrity members and “Roasts.”
In 1992, Irwin Schaeffer became president of the Friars Club of California. By 2004, after years of declining membership, the assets of the Friars Club of California were sold to a for-profit corporation owned by Irwin Schaeffer’s son, Darren Schaeffer. After the sale, the club was renamed “The Friars of Beverly Hills” and continued to operate under that name until 2007. However, in 2005 the New York Friars’ Club commenced a lawsuit claiming trademark infringement under the Lanham Act, among other claims; in September 2007 the federal district court granted substantial portions of the New York Friars Club’s motion for summary judgment, which effectively forced the California club to cease operations under the Friars Club name.
The club changed its name to “Club 9900″ for a few months, but as of June 2008, the club was apparently closed and the landmark building was listed as available for lease. In late January 2011 the building was demolished, despite objections from the Los Angeles Conservancy.
The Friars Club was not related to the Friar’s Inn, a famous 1920s jazz cabaret in Chicago, Illinois, which was sometimes casually referred to as “Friar’s Club”.