Capers #1: Clifton's Cafeteria

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Blog entry by Mark Wilson posted 11-06-2015 06:10 AM 1041 reads 0 times favorited 0 comments Add to Favorites Watch
no previous part Part 1 of Capers series Part 2: Clifton's Photos »

This is a series Introduction.

It’s come to my attention of late that, sometimes, a Buddy will share photos from adventures/travel/vacation, etc.

I can do that.

So, why are you just sitting there?

Go back to sleep. Can’t you see I’m busy doing something here?

I titled this, the first of what will, over time I’m sure, become a series, “Capers”. This first one, however is not strictly a Caper. It was “Lunch”. A caper is an event where I’ll take off and go somewhere to just walk around looking at stuff and taking pictures. I’ve taken many Capers over the years, and taken many people along. Including, but not limited to, my Really Big Thithter, the boy she married some forty-five years ago, and eleven of their twelve grandkids (all at once – glad I didn’t have to pay for lunch that day). A Caper always ivolves taking my camera. I didn’t have my camera, today. Because this was Lunch.
Dad and I went to LAX this morning to fetch up my Really Big Thithter, who had flown in from Montana to be here for Dad’s ninetieth birthday next week. I had decided that we’d have lunch in Downtown L.A. (I’ve loved L.A. infinitely longer than Randy Newman has.) It’s on the way home, more or less. Okay, it’s about fifteen miles out of the way. But, that’s okay. Clifton’s had reopened after a roughly five-year renovation. I hadn’t been there since before the redo. My sister had been there one of the last few times I had. Dad hadn’t been there since Earth cooled. The renovation involved returning the place to its 1940s grandeur. (And she was grand in the thirties and forties.)
We sat at a table with our trays of nosh on the second floor, and I began looking around. Well, sir, they had added some furnishings that weren’t there before, and, I borrowed my Really Big Thither’s picture taking machine. (Now, I want one like hers.) I immediately heard the voice in my head.

Write a Blog. Share this with your Buddies.

Way ahead of ya.

I shot sixty-seven (God bless the digital age) photos. All but a handful are keepers. And, you’ll see, if you come along, all of them. I’ll break it up into three of four installments. I’ll also limit my word usage.
I’ll end this installment with the brief description from the website of the L.A. Conservancy, and a couple quotes from Wikipedia.

“An icon of downtown Los Angeles, Clifton’s Brookdale is the last remaining of ten Clifton’s Cafeterias, once the region’s largest cafeteria chain.

“After seventy-five years in the Clinton family, Clifton’s changed hands in 2010 to entrepreneur Andrew Meieran. He spent four years and millions of dollars to restore and reimagine the beloved eatery for a new generation.

“Meieran and his team removed the 1960s additions and uncovered original features that were hidden for decades, including murals and a tiny grotto near the front entrance. Meieran even discovered an original—and still glowing—piece of neon in the basement. (It’s still glowing, just moved to a new location so everyone can see it.)

“With the historic cafeteria well preserved, Meieran let his imagination run loose in the rest of the building. Ultimately, it will house two restaurants and five bars, including a tiki-themed bar (a nod to Clifton’s Pacific Seas)” [The original Clifton’s] “featuring items from the now-closed Bahooka restaurant in Rosemead. The most stunning innovation is a three-story atrium and its centerpiece, a massive replica of a redwood tree. [Not photographed today]

“Clifton’s is now open to the public daily.”

“In 1931, Clinton leased a ‘distressed’ cafeteria location at 618 South Olive Street in Los Angeles and founded what his customers referred to as ‘The Cafeteria of the Golden Rule’. Patrons were obliged to pay only what they felt was fair, according to a neon sign that flashed ‘PAY WHAT YOU WISH.’” [A policy extended, in later years, to feeding people free-of-charge who had no means to pay. They got hordes of homeless people out back every day. And they fed them. Clinton was a man of principle. Sadly, a trait not shared by the current owner,]
Wikipedia. Bracketed statements, mine.

“In 1939, the founders of Clifton’s remodeled the restaurant to change it from a conventional dining establishment to a more exotic setting and renamed it ‘Clifton’s Pacific Seas’.

“One of the many interior themes of the Pacific Seas included ‘The Garden’ as a setting done in the period AD 33. The Garden was first conceived by Clifford E. Clinton in 1943 as an interpretation of the famous artist Heinrich Hofmann’s Christ in Gethsemane. Clinton commissioned sculptor Marshall Lakey to fashion a life-sized figure of Christ, kneeling in prayer. The mural behind Christ, depicting the city of Jerusalem and the Garden of Gethsemane was painted by artist Einar C. Petersen.

“In 1960, although the three-story structure with its cascading waterfall facade had become a landmark over the preceding 29 years, the original Clifton’s Pacific Seas was closed, the building was razed, and the location turned into a parking lot, which it has remained since then.” [This was the original Clifton’s, on Olive Street, two blocks west. The Clifton’s in these photos was opened in 1935, on Broadway, near 7th Street – historically, the heart of the city.]

“Having himself spent time as a youth in the Santa Cruz Mountains not far from the Brookdale Lodge, he chose to redecorate the facility in 1939 to pattern it after the lodge. Working with rock sculptor Francois Scotti, Clifford created a 20-foot waterfall “cascading into a quiet stream” which then “meandered” through the dining room, past faux redwood trees used to conceal the room’s steel columns. Renowned Los Angeles muralist, Einar C. Petersen, created a life size forest on canvas to cover one wall, and a small chapel was set among the crags to fulfill Clifford’s desire to feed the soul as well as the body of depression-weary Angelinos. After refurbishment, he renamed the location ‘Clifton’s Brookdale’.

“The restaurant is described as one of the last vestiges of Old Broadway in downtown Los Angeles, with an interior that looks like a ‘slightly down-at-the-heels Disney version of a twilight forest’. In June 2006, co-owner Robert Clinton took final steps to purchase the Broadway building they had been leasing for 71 years. With over 600 seats on three floors, and known today as ‘Clifton’s Cafeteria’, it is noted as the oldest cafeteria in Los Angeles and the largest public cafeteria in the world. The third floor includes a party room, a banquet room, and many pictures of Clifford and Nelda Clinton. There is a secret room on an upper floor. There is also another set of restrooms down the stairs in the bottom basement. The restaurant’s busiest period was in the 1940s, with as many as 10,000 customers forming lines down Broadway, but as of 2009 Clifton’s still regularly serves 1,800 to 2,000 daily.”
Wikipedia. [The third floor, last time I saw it, had all the charm of an elementary school assembly room.]

Me again. The third floor was where it was discovered that the 1939 Einar Peterson murals still existed under the drywall. Yet another renovation delay – in came the preservationists. There’s a photo of part of this mural in the photos that follow. There are several dioramas, including taxidermied animals, some of which don’t really fit the context (an African Lion?)
But, mainly, of course, it’s the furniture that I’m eager to show you. There are chairs sculpted in wood; chairs made of authentic Bison horns; tables with antler bases, and much more. The place has become a sort of museum where you’re allowed to touch things, and sit on the chairs, and eat at the, almost, Louis XVi tables.
Without any fuether ado, move on to part 2 for the tour.

Get on with it.

You’re too easily distracted. Go back to sleep.

-- Mark

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