Wednesday, July 29, 2015

What Went Before? 2312 W. 7th Street

Before Wilshire Boulevard cut through Westlake Park (now named MacArthur Park) in 1934, Seventh Street facing Westlake was a shopping and dining destination for the inhabitants and tourists of Los Angeles. I have been fascinated with Seventh Street for years and am always on the lookout for postcards, matchbooks, and other paper ephemera that have a Seventh Street address. It was one postcard in particular that set me on the path to find out what establishments had occupied 2312 W. Seventh during the years it stood.

The building, which occupied the southeast corner of Seventh and Grand View, was designed by Morgan, Walls & Morgan and, according to the Los Angeles Times, was slated to be completed in November 1922. In 1923, the dining and dancing establishment Richelieu Café opened its doors at 2312 W. Seventh. The décor, carpets, tapestries, tables and chairs for the café were installed at a cost of $27,834 (almost $388,000 in 2015 dollars). Problems set in quickly. In order for the restaurant to allow dancing they needed a dance hall permit, and the entity governing such things (Board of Police Commissioners) dragged their heels. Without a dancing permit, the cafe's owner Maurice Weiner was unable to operate the cafe at a profit and was forced to close the cafe for several months. It was costing him almost $1000 each month it remained closed - $750 for rent and $200 to employ watchmen to safeguard the building.

Fast forward to February 1925, the location changed owners and was opened by Harry M. Miller (former maitre'd at Brandstatter's Montmartre Cafe) as Miller’s Cafe Lafayette. Even though it was a new building, an additional $50,000 (a little over $600,000 in today's money) was spent in decorating and furnishing the new cafe. Cafe Lafayette was an early adopter of valet parking. According to the Los Angeles Times, guests could park at the entrance where a uniformed chauffeur would whisk it away to a parking lot behind the building. Guests sent their car number to the door when they were ready to leave and the valet would have the car “warmed up and ready for the road” by the time they exited the building.

The large sums of money spent on decorating appeared to be well spent. According to the Los Angeles Times, in the first 8 months after its debut/opening, Miller's Cafe Lafayette had been used as a restaurant/club location twelve times by five different motion picture companies. Cafe Lafayette passed for locations in Paris, New York, Vienna and San Francisco. One juicy tidbit in the Times in 1927 describes Miller as such a movie fan that he has his own camera and projector and invites “the artists” that visit Café Lafayette to pose in Westlake Park for his own personal collection of photos. If that is true, it would be great to find those photos today!

Harry Miller picked up many ideas working for Eddie Brandstatter, one of Los Angeles’ most publicity minded restaurateurs. Miller’s Café Lafayette similarly named dishes after studios and movie stars to garner their business (‘Chicken Sauté, Paramount’ and ‘Filet Mignon, Gloria Swanson’), plus it featured the noontime dansant, and catered to the college crowd with dance contests and trophies. At Halloween, cinema stars were urged to submit their best recipe for pumpkin pie with the winning entry being added to the menu. However, there was one event that even Eddie Brandstatter had not attempted. In May 1925 Miller sponsored a ten-day California Valencia Orange Show that persuaded California cafes to feature Valencia oranges in their dishes (sauces, cocktails, sherbets, jellies, marmalades, salads and drinks). Throughout 1925 news of Miller’s Seventh St. café was rarely out of the “News of the Cafes” column in the Los Angeles Times for more than a couple of days in a row. Additionally, Café Lafayette was one of nine restaurants, alongside the popular Montmartre and Paris Inn, that served as a Yellow Cab station.

Miller’s hospitality/stewardship also extended to his staff. He offered one hour of study each morning with roundtable discussions, lectures and demonstrations on methods employed by the famous maitre'ds of Europe. By June 1925 he was outfitting his waiters with a summer wardrobe - black silk suits embroidered in gold with the official crest of the Cafe Lafayette.

Whether to compare to, or learn the successful strategies of, Harry Miller soon embarked on a tour through the cafes and cabarets on the East Coast. When he returned he told everyone that would listen (i.e. the press) that New York cafes were 'gougers' and that typical cover charges in New York and Chicago ranged in price from $2 to $10 per person, as opposed to 50 cents to $2 per person in Los Angeles.

Clubs, cafes, and restaurants that kept their customers entertained made the most money. Music and dancing assured they would stick around post-meal. The Café Lafayette hosted a long succession of great dance bands. Formerly with the Biltmore, Roy Fox and his Orchestra played Harry Miller’s well-publicized opening night. Fox was a composer as well as a conductor. According to a May 25, 1927 blurb in the Los Angeles Times, Fox visited the “Indian Village in Hollywood” as inspiration for creating novelty fox trots for Café Lafayette. Two days later an article titled “Indians’ Music Provides Ideas for Composers” shows up in the Times. The article, which goes into detail about Sid Grauman’s Indian village on Hollywood Boulevard near Highland, and Shave Head, the Shoshone warrior “genius of the baton who sets the tempo for the great four-man Shoshone war drum.” Miller must have appreciated that Grauman was not one to miss an opportunity for publicity.

A quick glance at the early twentieth century dining and dancing ads show a thirst for novelty and the rapid succession of entertainers through the venues. Harry Owens obituary notes that it was at the Café Lafayette that Owens was heard performing “Aloha Oe” which garnered him a position as the leader of the Royal Hawaiians orchestra in Waikiki and led to his “Hawaii Calls” broadcasts. It is noted in the Times in March 1926 that Harry Miller consented to allow Harry Owens and the Lafayette orchestra to use the restaurant, between luncheon and evening dance concerts, to ‘make trial records for a nationally known concern.’
Soon cabaret star Jane Green was providing entertainment, followed in early May ‘after a lively exchange of telegrams’ by Henry Halstead. [Albert Haim posted a great photo documenting this engagement at his Bixography Discussion Group] In June 1926 when Halstead wanted out of his Café Lafayette contract in order to play the Edgewater Beach Club in Santa Monica, Miller advertised it to his own advantage. It was noted in the Times that it was ‘through the courtesy of Harry Miller’ that Halstead would be allowed to play the Edgewater Club. Perhaps Miller aspired to join the impressive list of those that could enjoy club life, and its private beach, for a base membership rate of $400. Ray West became the leader of the Lafayette orchestra in May 1927. The Times mentions that his vibraphonist Manilla Le Mori, “the jada girl,” with “her exotic hair bob” would appear in a ladies’ tuxedo. Keep in mind the sensation Dietrich caused more than two years later by wearing a tuxedo in the film “Morocco.”

Mentions of Miller’s Café Lafayette become fewer and farther apart until July 1929 when another former Montmartre maitre’d, Paul Perrot, takes over the location. (Just prior to the takeover Perrot had partnered with fellow restaurateurs Nick Krause and Bob Cobb to open the Nikabob Cafe.)
Renamed Paul Perrot’s Café in August 1929, Perrot follows the established musical mold and installs the Laughner-Harris band (Carroll Laughner and Phil Harris), and adds fashion shows and bridge luncheons with dancing. Luckily Dick Whittington captured the Paul Perrot Café during its short life. Advertisements for New Years Eve at Paul Perrot’s Café do not mention it is closing.
Beginning in January 1930 Ray West takes over, renames it the Ray West Café, but he too left for good in June 1930.

The location set vacant for more than a year before restaurateur Carl Jahnke signed a five-year lease and opened the new Jahnke’s Tavern in September 1931.
Jahnke hired Chris Schonberg and his orchestra to fill “the largest café dance floor in the city.” For the next two months the “News of the Cafes” column in the Times reminds potential patrons of Jahnke’s Tavern that their food is good, the music is “snappy,” there is ample free parking, and never a cover charge. Right before Thanksgiving, Jahnke reminds vegetarians that fresh vegetables can be substituted for meat dishes, and Glenn Edmunds and his Collegiate Orchestra begin an engagement. An ad for New Years Eve 1931 is the last mention of Jahnke’s Tavern.

Café De Paree opens in October 1932. Orchestras change even faster at Café De Paree. Chico de Verdi and his orchestra followed by Orville Knapp from New York, Ray West (!) and his Café de Paree orchestra take over in mid-1933, and Giggie Royse and orchestra take over in September 1933. Manager Pete Dokos announces Eugene Stark (formerly of the Roosevelt Hotel’s Blossom Room) will be in charge of the cuisine. Joe Pirrone is the associate manager. Another announcement says Dokos ‘toured the continent’ for several months in early 1935, presumably gathering successful practices of similar establishments abroad.

The location served again as a backdrop for motion pictures. This time it was featured prominently in the 1935 film “Skybound.” Approximately the first ten minutes of the movie takes place in the Café De Paree and shows the dance floor, orchestra (not sure which), hat check area, and bar area.

The fee received as a filming location may have convinced Dokos that the time was right to build an extension. In August 1935, the neon-lit Club De Paree “one of the largest and most beautiful bars on the coast” joined the café and welcomed “registered members and guests only.” By December 1935 “drop-ins” are now invited to enjoy the “cozy corners” of the new bar area. Fast forward to October 1937 when the short-lived “The Drunkard’s Child” opens (perhaps a companion piece to the popular “Drunkard” show that played for years at the Theatre Mart?).
Orchestras and dancing do return by late October 1937. They make it through the obligatory New Years Eve celebration and by April 1938 are featuring the Siamese twins Daisy and Violet Hilton.
New (unnamed) management takes over in October 1938 and implements a “sparkling French revue” with can-can dancers and “swinging hulu [sic] girls.” The Café De Paree limps along through the first week of 1939 before the location opens as the New Lakeshore Café (alternately listed as the New Lake Shore Café) in February 1939 featuring the American debut of Bob Belasco and his West London Orchestra. The location sees one more New Years Eve before that café is gone as well.

Before being demolished in the late 1980s the building, which housed the addresses 2300-2316 W. Seventh, held the longtime central office of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers. The MacArthur Park Primary Center School now occupies the land that once held a long succession of beautiful dining and dancing spots in the 1920s and 1930s.

Sources: Los Angeles Times, Inside Facts of Stage and Screen, Hollywood Vagabond, Los Angeles city directories, and City of Los Angeles Department of Building and Safety. Music from some of the orchestras mentioned can be heard on You Tube.

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