Clifton’s Cafeteria is currently closed while it undergoes its most comprehensive restoration since it was constructed back in 1935. As the restoration continues, you may notice some of its new residents being introduced to the famous Cafeteria. Website images will be updated and the public will be given a sneak peek at what the Brookdale Cafeteria will have to offer.
As many of you know, Clifton’s Cafeteria is a food, entertainment and nightlife destination designed under the guidance of Clifford Clinton’s vision. Before closing, the cafeteria included the Chapel, the Waterfall and Brook, the Redwood trees and Terraces, which are the key elements that have made Clifton’s Cafeteria an iconic place for so many years and for so many visionaries such as Walt Disney, Ray Bradbury, Jack Kerouac, Robert Heinlein, Ray Harryhousen and Jerry Leiber. Clifton’s has left a lasting mark on pop culture serving artists, families and a vast community of guests since the Great Depression.
In September 2010, Clifton’s Cafeteria was sold to nightclub operator Andrew Meieran, who stated that he intends to preserve the atmosphere of the establishment. On September 26, 2011, the cafeteria closed for remodeling that planned to last three to six months while the restaurant gets a new kitchen and a redesigned serving area. In February of that same year, the remodeling process continued with the “unveiling” of the original 1904 building facade with the removal of the 1963 aluminum facade. Meieran estimated that the cafeteria would reopen in about 18 months.
During renovations, a partition wall was removed, revealing a neon light that was still switched on, apparently running continuously for 77 years. It may be the oldest continuously illuminated neon light in the world. The director of the Museum of Neon Art called the discovery “incredible.”
The find was made amid an extensive renovation of the downtown eatery, according to the building’s owner Andrew Meieran.
The neon fixture is believed to have been installed in 1935 when Clifford Clinton purchased the lease to Boos Bros. Cafeteria on Broadway and 7th Street and converted the place into a forest-themed restaurant.
The discovery has delighted fans of neon lighting who point out that America’s first neon was erected blocks away at Olympic Boulevard and Hope Street. That is where auto dealer Earle C. Anthony installed a glowing “Packard” emblem outside his showroom in 1923.
The walls of the restaurant featured numerous hand-tinted transparencies of mountain and forest landscapes, each of which was backlit by a rectangular neon light.
One such light was installed in a window-like nook in a basement restroom, where it softly illuminated a woodland scene.
In 1949, the nook was covered over with plastic and plywood when part of the restroom was partitioned off as a storage area.
The glowing light was discovered when Meieran inspected the small storeroom with a member of his renovation crew. Meieran also uncovered the entire 3-by-5 foot nook, exposing six rows of neon tubing. Blackout paint covered one half of the neon tubes to obscure them.
Meieran bought the building from the Clinton family for $3.6 million and plans to spend an additional $3.5 million on renovations before reopening it.
Meieran said that workers have found other treasures within its walls and hidden crannies.
The building was constructed in 1904 as a furniture store and renovation workers have uncovered steel support posts that were painted with directions to various store departments, as well as a non-functioning “ice water” neon sign from the 1930s.
Workers have also discovered vestiges of past renovations. A piece of sheetrock used in a 1949 remodeling bears the autographs of workers.
Other items recovered by workers include Edison incandescent light bulbs circa 1932; original Boos Bros. cafeteria tableware; an ancient Orpheum playbill; and long hidden original subway well tiles and decorative honeycomb floor tiles in the cafeteria’s serving area.
“Clifford Clinton’s original 1931-32 diary also turned up,” Meieran said. In it, he outlined his long-term plans to serve Depression-weary Los Angeles residents with decent food in a restaurant governed by the Golden Rule.
When the cafeteria reopens, Meieran plans to erect a display area that will show off the rescued neon light and other artifacts. A hand-tinted transparency similar to one of the originals will be mounted in front of a portion of the neon, which will remain lighted.
In addition to reopening, guests will encounter a newly renovated world of wonder inside the same walls. The new cafeteria will include a historic soda fountain, specialty grocery, five distinct lounges and bars, a butcher shop and world-class bakery.
Many have asked why the cafeteria is closed. The answer is that the vast majority of the equipment and infrastructure dated back to the ’30s through ’60s and created a health code and efficiency nightmare. A new cafeteria will reopen sometime in 2013 that will take advantage of modern equipment while serving old-fashioned quality and comfort fare.
Clifton’s Cafeteria is looking forward to seeing the generations of past guests explore the New Historic Clifton’s as it is reimagining the wondrous vision that Clifford Clinton had so many years ago, which is to transport people to a world of imagination and take them away from their troubles for just a short while. The new Clifton’s will be prepared to serve guests for many more years.