Saturday, April 26, 2008
1914 - Plummer & Feil
217 West 6th Street – map
Okay, if the Beckett Mansion is #1 on my list of the most tragic Los Angeles landmarks I’ve visited so far, what there is to see of Monument No. 137, Finney’s Cafeteria, is a close #2.
I don’t what was originally located on the ground floor of this four-story building built in 1898, but around 1914 architects Plummer & Feil converted the space into a soda parlor called The Chocolate Shoppe. (While 1914 is the date usually given for the establishment, I should point out Allan L. Leonard, attorney for future owner Sam Finney, later wrote that he had wooed his future wife in the space as early as 1908 when, according to him, it had been known as Petitfils Chocolate Shoppe.
In any event, the owners hired tile-designer Ernest Batchelder to deck out the parlor in a Dutch motif, and deck it out he did.
Ernest Allan Batchelder was born in Nashua, New Hampshire, in 1875. From 1902 to 1909, Batchelder was Director of Art at Throop Polytechnic Institute (i.e. CalTech), after which he set up The Batchelder Tile Company in Pasadena. He relocated the company twice, expanding it each time. In 1926, he tackled the interior of the Fine Arts Building, landmark No. 125. At its peak, Batchelder’s company employed 150 men. Shortly after he finished one of his biggest projects, the Hershey Hotel (a parenthetical recommendation: you owe it to yourself to drive through Hershey, Pennsylvania, at least once in your life; the town literally smells like chocolate, and the street lamps are shaped like Hershey kisses), Batchelder shut down his business in 1932, irreparably damaged by the Depression. The Arts and Crafts leader continued to make pottery in his small shop on Kinneloa Street in Pasadena until the early 1950s. He died in 1957.
The Chocolate Shoppe, which was Batchelder’s biggest commission up until that time, was/is completely covered in his chocolatey brown work. I’m talking floor, walls, and ceiling, with larger tiles – around 4” x 4” – laid into the walls while bigger murals beneath the groined arches (really, that’s what they’re called) are more mosaic. The Shoppe was to serve as a prototype for a whole chain of soda parlors, each with a different European country as its theme. For whatever reason – some say it was the high cost of Batchelder’s work – this never came to pass, and the 6th Street location was the first and last Chocolate Shoppe.
Samuel Finney later converted The Chocolate Shop into his eponymous cafeteria. When? I don’t know. A 1956 city directory lists Finney’s Cafeteria at 631 South Hill, but it had to have been long before that. In fact, I can’t even explain the South Hill address. A little help, anyone?
In 1986, eleven years after Finney’s received its landmark designation, Net Investments Co. sold the building to the 217 West 6th St. Partnership for $750,000. (Funny, 1986 doesn’t seem that long ago, and – I can’t believe I’m even thinking this – but $750,000 doesn’t seem like all that much money.)
Flash forward to 1997, when the former Finney’s/Chocolate Shoppe was defiled into the arcade of today (no offense to the employees there, one of whom gladly lent me a ladder to get some of these blurry shots). While this site hasn’t been updated in a long time, you should still visit it to get a few shots of the interior right before it was obliterated (it's also from where I pilfered the black and white shot below).
Take look at what's visible today, and then, below that, see what it was like back in the teens.
You know, I think this might be the clearest case, yet, of how a Historic-Cultural Monument status from the city doesn’t guarantee its preservation. Maybe because the changes don’t seem to be necessarily permanent that the city allowed such a thing to happen. I don’t know. Believe me, though, standing in the old Chocolate Shoppe, it takes just a sliver of imagination to see the space’s potential. Hopefully, with plans afoot to revitalize the Broadway corridor, a small incentive will be offered to the person with funds, motivation, and good taste to rehabilitate this L.A. landmark just a couple of dozen yards away.
“Downtown L. A. Landmark Sold to Partnership” Los Angeles Times; Jan 26, 1986, p. 7
De Wolfe, Evelyn “Chocolate Shoppe for Lease” Los Angeles Times; Jul 13, 1986, p. 10
Up next: The Coca-Cola Building