Sunday, June 21, 2020

Ten Highball Glasses and Seven Cafés de Paris

I was practically raised in antique stores, and I still like to "treasure hunt".

Shortly after starting this blog, I found one of my favorite treasures: ten vintage highball glasses labeled Café de Paris, with an address on Sunset Boulevard in Hollywood. I was told they're from the 1950s, which looks about right.

Vintage glasses from Café de Paris
7038 Sunset Boulevard is now the Sycamore Tavern (temporarily closed due to COVID-19). It was built in 1940 and remodeled in 1963.

Researching the Café de Paris itself posed a challenge...there have been at least seven in LA County between the 1870s and the 1970s. Several of them existed at times that overlapped. And many resources (ESPECIALLY newspaper articles) don't distinguish between them very well or at all.

The earliest Café de Paris on record in Los Angeles did not, surprisingly, belong to a French restauranteur. Jerry Illich, a Croatian chef who had a rivalry of sorts with Victor Dol, co-owned the restaurant with one of the Marcovich brothers (who were also Croatian). If it were still standing, it would be in the Pueblo, next to the Masonic Hall. A surviving ad from LA's premier Spanish-language newspaper of the day, La Crónica, indicates that it was open by 1877.

"Cafe de Paris" ad from La Crónica, 1877
For those of you who don't read Spanish, the restaurant was open day and night, had private dining spaces for ladies (in the 1870s, it was somewhat taboo for unaccompanied women to eat in a restaurant), and, in spite of the name, the restaurant served "all styles" of food. (Want to class up a restaurant? Slap a French name on it, even if you aren't French and there are tamales on the menu.)

A 1911 article in the Venice Evening Vanguard documents the opening of a different Café de Paris, this one presumably (with libraries closed, I could only find a digitized card catalog citation) in Venice. 

A 1919 article in the Los Angeles Herald began "Marking the final passing of the last of the old Bohemian resorts of Los Angeles, it became definitely known today that on Feb. 1 the Cafe de Paris will pass into the hands of the Chinese." Mme. Zucca, retired opera singer and widow of the restaurant's owner, was selling the cafe to return to Italy. A 1913 article indicated that Zucca's Café de Paris served only French food (in contrast to the Calle Principal/Main Street Café de Paris) and that it was located at the corner of Arcadia Street and North Los Angeles Streets - south of the Plaza and just a block from the heart of Frenchtown.

There must have been a Café de Paris in Santa Monica, as a 1944 Desert Sun blurb indicates that its owner, Ernest Garbaccio, had purchased a house in Palm Springs. The blurb describes this Café de Paris as "a popular night club and cafe". (I do wonder if this might, possibly, have been the same Café de Paris that opened in Venice in 1911, as some people who don't live all that close to Los Angeles tend to confuse the two. With research facilities still closed, it's difficult to be as thorough as I prefer.)

The best-known Café de Paris in Los Angeles history is easily the 20th Century Fox studio commissary, still in use today. The commissary, which is not open to the public, made use of an existing French restaurant set and hasn't changed since 1935.

Enough said.
At least one Café de Paris existed in south LA County - it opened in the 1960s as an addition to the Fortune Room steakhouse in Gardena.

No, I haven't seen it...I'm not sure when it closed .
And finally...the Café de Paris on Sunset Boulevard.

Café de Paris

7038 Sunset Boulevard
The postcard pictured above is of roughly the same vintage as the highball glasses, and the addresses match. This is THAT Café de Paris.

Digitized 1940s and 1950s phone books for the City of Los Angeles seem to be maddeningly elusive (and, as mentioned, I can't exactly go to the library right now). I was able to find a listing for Café de Paris, at the Sunset Boulevard address, in a 1955 street address directory, but I haven't been able to determine if they opened in 1940 when the building went up or if they were a later tenant. A Los Angeles Times article from 1957 names Café de Paris as a noteworthy source for French cuisine and mentions its "alfresco dining" (note the awning on the postcard above). 

Michel Cartier helmed this Café de Paris, and it was popular with fine dining aficionados as well as clubs. Guests included the Club Francais de l'Institut International of Los Angeles (which aided French newcomers in everything from language lessons to house hunting), the Club Culturel Francais (a 1969 clipping names Claudia Taix as a member), and - gasp - even non-French civic and cultural groups (too many to list). 

A newspaper blurb from July 1969 named French restaurants celebrating Bastille Day. Café de Paris went all out, hosting special $5 dinners and dancing over Bastille Day weekend - Saturday, Sunday, and Monday (July 14, 1969 was a Monday). 

Café de Paris could be adaptable, however - the 1969 Thanksgiving menu offered turkey as one of its main-course options.

Does anyone out there know when Café de Paris closed its doors? I haven't been able to find a mention of it after about 1977.

Thursday, June 18, 2020

Cerro Gordo Needs Some Help

Regular readers will know a bit about Cerro Gordo from my entries on Victor Beaudry and Remi Nadeau. The silver lead bullion mined at Cerro Gordo helped to put Los Angeles on the map, since Remi shipped it via the port of San Pedro.

Cerro Gordo has been in the public eye here and there lately, since the town came up for sale in 2018, was featured on "Ghost Adventures", and opened to day visitors.

Co-owner Brent Underwood, who lives in Texas, came to Cerro Gordo a few months ago so the town's caretaker could check in on his wife in Arizona when the coronavirus outbreak began. It was supposed to be a short visit, but Brent was quickly snowed in and has now been in Cerro Gordo for about three months. Read some transcribed Zoom interview questions with Brent here (look for a picture of Victor Beaudry's smelter!).

Two days ago, a fire broke out in Cerro Gordo. Dry mountain air + very old, very dry wood frame buildings = highly destructive fires.

The American Hotel, Crapo House, and Ice House all burned down. There were a few hundred buildings in Cerro Gordo during the town's heyday, but fewer than 20 buildings are left.

The town needs volunteers to help clean up the mess from the fire. Brent and his business partner Jon Bier also need money to build a new hotel. The hotel's blueprints have survived, so the goal is to build a new hotel with electricity and running water while paying homage to the lost American Hotel. (As it stands, Cerro Gordo doesn't have running water at all.) When such a hotel is completed, the town will be able to accept overnight guests. (No, I haven't been to Cerro Gordo yet. Yes, I definitely want to go.)

Contact Brent and Jon via the Cerro Gordo website or on Instagram.