This week, we tracked down Darryl Holter, one of the new owners of Chevalier’s Books, a 76-year-old literary haven on Larchmont in Los Angeles, to learn a little more about him and the bookstore. The CEO of the Shammas Group, an LA real-estate investment firm, Darryl is also a musician, a music historian, and an expert on Woody Guthrie who has a new book on Guthrie’s time in LA. We had seven questions for him:
What is your favorite word, and why? Solidarity. I like the notion that things happen when people get other people to make them happen.
What motivated you to give Chevalier’s a new lease on life? It was clear that the store was going under. There was no inventory—you could order books but they might not come. The place looked tired and worn, and the employees seemed unhappy. My favorite bookseller had left the store in disgust. Bert Deixler, in regards to this situation, commented one day, “Yeah, maybe we should buy it.” And I said, dismissively, “Right.” But then I thought about it and said, “Right. Maybe we should buy it.”
Describe Chevalier’s in three words. Community. Intellectual. Infrastructure. The store is part of the intellectual infrastructure of LA.
Which book do not enough people know about? Michael Pye, The Edge of the World: A Cultural History of the North Sea and the Transformation of Europe. We tend to locate the origins of modern Europe in the Mediterranean, but, as this book suggests, we should look instead to the north.
How does being an author change your view of being a bookseller? We authors create books and view them as if they are our “children.” Because we have created them, we often love them despite their flaws. And as an academic author, I understand that my book may have a limited reach, but I still write them. But as a bookseller I have to look hard at a book to decide whether or not it will sell. In a small store, every title that does not sell takes up the shelf space of another title that could. Obsolete inventory will destroy you.
What’s the story behind your beautiful new book, Woody Guthrie L.A.? My research began with a fellowship from the Woody Guthrie Archives, and I was struck by the fact that Guthrie’s formative period in terms of his musical development and his political consciousness was during his LA period, from 1937 to 1940. The book contains a lot of lyrics to Guthrie songs that were never published but were performed live on his radio show on KFVD. I also recorded some of these songs for my 2015 CD/DVD, “Radio Songs: Woody Guthrie in Los Angeles.”
Which literary character do you most want to meet? Perhaps Sal Paradise from On the Road—but what I would really like to do sometime is record the conversations of Woody Guthrie and Jack Kerouac meeting in a truck stop coffee shop in 1947. Maybe I will write it up someday.
Darryl Holter is a co-owner of Chevalier’s, along with Bert Deixler. His book, written in collaboration with William Deverell, is titled Woody Guthrie L.A. 1937 to 1941, published by our friends at Angel City Press. It explores the famed musician’s life, work, and relationship to the city of Los Angeles.