The Big Red Piano Shop, aka. California Piano Supply Co., was once located at 2251 Venice Blvd. (the corner of Venice and Oxford Street), near Western Avenue.
A chiropractor named Dr. Ashley Manning first opened the California Piano Supply Co. in 1927. Because the neighborhood wasn’t an ideal location for a piano store, he relied on gimmicks to lure customers to his location. However, one of his attention grabbing ploys backfired in 1929, when he was arrested and sentenced to 30 days in jail after neighbors filed charges against him for playing his radio over loudspeakers at random times during the day and night. The sentence was suspended after he agreed to stop disturbing the peace.
Around 1930, Manning added a large piano, measuring 40 feet high and 25 feet long, to the front of his store. Visitors had to walk under it to enter his showroom. The giant red piano received national attention, and became one of Los Angeles’s most recognizable icons of the 20th century. Ripley’s advertised it, and the New Yorker magazine once described it as “evidence of Southern California’s special brand of madness.” But Manning didn’t rely solely on his red piano to lure customers. He continued to host remote radio broadcasts, concerts, and free piano lessons for customers.
By the late 1930s, Manning’s California Piano Supply Co. became the Big Red Piano Shop. Decades later, it became Manning’s Big Red Piano Shop. Manning also began to market his business as being originally established in 1910, a claim that isn’t substantiated by newspapers and city directories.
In 1966, Manning sold his business to another music company, who continued to operate it as Manning’s Big Red Piano Shop for four more years. The Refrigeration Equipment Co. then bought the property in 1970 and merged several buildings together to form a 150 foot showroom for its appliances.
In 1972, a fire broke out in an adjacent wood-framed building that Manning once used as a repair shop, warehouse and office. Although the piano survived the fire, the Los Angeles Building and Safety Department declared that it had to be knocked down.
In 1973, property owner Robert Taylor (not the movie star), tried to donate the piano to a historic and preservation organization, providing that the organization move the piano to a safe location. No organization accepted his offer.
Eventually, a pop-architectural buff named Tom Sewell arranged for the piano to be moved 12 miles west to Venice, CA. The move was successful. However, when the contractor tried lowering the unsupported three-legged piano onto a new, specially-fitted concrete base, the piano broke into fragments and was lost.
Photos: Los Angeles Public Library 00008016, 00008023, 00008016