Forever Food House

The Food House is a faded memory. Chalk it up to another place I never stepped inside. The generically named market heralded by bold deco letters was a standout on Sunset Boulevard until it was gone. Did The Food House ever really exist? Thankfully, sometimes a photograph is more reliable than memory.

Food House Market, then and now

In 1936, the Silverlake structure was built on Sunset between Edgecliff and Maltman in the Childs Heights Tract by Virgil Investment Co. The property operated as a market for over 60 years. It seems Food House Markets may have been a short lived chain in the LA area, having at least one other location on West Adams Street.

It’s unclear exactly when Food House came into the picture, but in 1940 a sign tower was constructed that would display their eye-catching vertical signage. (That tower still exists today, bearing the “99¢ Only Store” sign.) From the looks of it, Food House had great deals on all of the basic food groups: vodka, wine, and refried beans.

A one-stop shop?

In November 1960, the Silverlake Food House made LA Times headlines when a dynamic duo of masked bandits attempted a crackpot overnight heist. Using the cover of nightfall, the pair breached the grocery store via the roof. While hard at work safe-cracking, the thieves helped themselves to some late night hors d’oeuvres and beer courtesy of the Food House. Turns out, that was the extent of their robbery as the looting was interrupted by the morning market manager and the cash was left behind in the scuffle.

In 1960, the LA Times reported a bungled burglary at the Food House Market

Ultimately, like so many Los Angeles markets, the Food House shuttered. At some point in the late 90’s the signage came off the building and the letters sat on the roof for a while. Then in 1999, a 99¢ Store took over and the rest is history… for now.

The Last Days of Han’s Repair

Today is the last day to get a key made at Han’s Shoe Repair. Better pick up those shoes, vacuums, and sewing machines too!

Echo Park will lose another chunk of personality with the closing of Han’s Shoe Repair. Sandwiched between the corner liquor store and Lolita’s Beauty Salon on Berkeley Avenue at Glendale Boulevard, Mr. Han has been in this spot since the 70’s repairing shoes, sewing machines and vacuums and making keys to boot.

Rear view.

Han’s Repair is one of those places that feels its age. Going inside is like entering a time machine— old sewing machines stacked knee deep, vintage vacuums lined up awaiting pickup, a smattering of typewriters, trees of vacuum bags, and loads of hoses hanging overhead. Behind the counter, shelves brim with bits and bobs and piles of parcels and parts from the past.

On Han’s penultimate day of business, a couple patrons stop by to pick up their shoes lamenting the closure. Han appreciates the loyal customers. But after 46 years, he has debilitating back pain requiring rest, so he’s calling it quits. Han’s Repair is closing today.

Open, but not for long.

Han hoped to retire at 90 years of age, but didn’t quite make it. He will walk away and leave the storefront and its contents behind.

We salute you Mr. Han! Thanks for adding much needed service and charm to our neighborhood for so many years. We will miss you.

Han, the man behind the magic.

Speaking of the Olive…

Right next door to Jones Decorating sits the Olive Motel. The motel dates back to 1946. With its “L” shaped layout, rounded corners, flat roof, and classic neon signs, the Streamline Moderne Olive Motel is an iconic holdout amidst the rapidly changing Silverlake landscape.

Back in the dog days of August 2015, I took an evening walk around the neighborhood to cool off. As I turned onto Sunset, the familiar neon glow of the Olive Motel beckoned me to to snap a photograph.

Now you see it, now you don’t.

A couple days later the sign was gone. It had been taken down to make way for some crummy new signs that carry the Olive Motel name but none of the original style.

Out with the old, in with the new

The Olive may have lost its original signs but the motel lives on, perhaps persevering on pure grit. These days, the motel has a seedy reputation perhaps best known for rooms rented by the hour or a murder that occurred there in 2007, but what has always stood out to me is the understated art deco design that holds its own in the face of a neighborhood fast-flipping to gentrification.

The most striking thing about the Olive Motel is the remarkable human behind the design. Her name is Edith Mortenson Northman, the first licensed female architect in Los Angeles.

Edith Northman, 1893-1956

Northman cracked into the man’s world of architecture forging a steady independent career making her mark by designing over 100 buildings including residences, gas stations, motels, churches, temples, war effort projects and factories many of which are still standing today.

The Insley House, Alvira St. Apartments, Villa Sevilla, North Oakhurst Apartments, Berger-Winston Apartment Building are just a few Los Angeles buildings designed by Edith Northman.

Northman was born in Denmark in 1893. As a child, she loved to watch buildings being built but back then such a thing was considered unbecoming for a lady. Edith came to the US with her family when she was 21. During a brief stint as a librarian, she read an article that reignited her fire to pursue architecture.

And that’s just what she did. She got a degree in architecture at USC and was licensed by 1931. Northman soon kickstarted a humble yet successful solo architecture practice with just one draftsman, bucking the odds of the economic depression while being a woman in a highly male profession.

Being a rarity in the species of architects, Edith caught Hollywood’s eye. When Samuel Goldwyn was producing a screwball comedy about the hijinx of a fictional female architect called Woman Chases Man, Northman was recruited to advise on the film.

Art Imitating Life?

Observing on set, she commented that the architect character played by Miriam Hopkins did “quite unbelievable things in the pursuit of the illusive client.”

Outside of her prolific career, Edith Northman strongly advocated for women to enter the field of architecture and construction. She aptly noted that “Women are no longer a curiosity in the field. They are just as qualified after training to design in the many architectural fields as men.”


The Sephardic Synagogue & Hebrew Center of Los Angeles at 5500 S. Hoover St. was designed by Northman in 1934 and built for $26,000. It now houses the A.M.E. church.

Northman also believed in community service, participating in many philanthropic clubs and bringing her skills to the community teaching courses to the general public who wanted to be educated in home building.

Sadly, a diagnosis of Parkinson’s disease in the early 1950’s rendered Edith Northman unable to hold a pencil, bringing a tragic end to a brilliant career. She died in 1956 but certainly not in vain. Edith Northman was a visionary that paved the way for designing women everywhere leaving a legacy of amazing architecture all over southern California and beyond.

Take an architectural road trip through some of Edith Northman’s Los Angeles buildings.

Keeping Up with the Jones

Walking down Sunset Blvd. one afternoon in the early 80’s, I noticed the smoggy sunset making an old building glow yellow, highlighting its faux Moorish or Egyptian details like a 40s film noir set. The building was topped with massive bold letters in a font from another era reading Jones Decorating Company.

I snapped a photograph just as a lone figure ambled past Jones’ neighbor, the rundown Olive Motel, battling the burning setting sun. I didn’t notice until I developed the shot that there was a sign on the building saying Jones had moved to a small storefront down the street and that the building was for sale.

Soon afterwards, a few windows were cemented over, some architecture details were chipped off, the distinctive transom windows above the ground floor were painted over, new crappy windows were installed on the ground floor, and the massive letters were taken down.

A yoga studio and furniture store occupied the space for several years until the furniture store folded and the yoga shop moved. Then wood barriers went up fronting the sidewalk and I figured it was time to do some research before the wrecking ball came for Jones Decorating.

Turns out what was left of building was being rehabbed into “three levels of creative office, retail and restaurant space” branded The Jones Building. The property’s website dates the building back to 1928 but I still wanted to know who the heck was Jones and what did he decorate?

Building permits reveal the building was constructed for around $40K in 1928 on Sunset Blvd in the Mayberry Heights Tract by Percy G. Alen for the purpose of “studio and stores.”

By the 1940’s, E.S. Jones enters the picture as the new owner on the building permits which state that the building was being used as a decorating company on “all floors.”

More digging uncovered Jones Decorating ads in old Billboard magazines from the 40’s and 50’s revealing that Jones was a purveyor of eye-catching pennants and glowing banners, but still nothing on the man himself.

Sadly, it was a 1990 obit in the LA Times that gave life to Elmer S. Jones who has been described as a “flag, banner and bunting maker to Southern California and the world.” Elmer Jones exemplified the old fashioned American dream, where hard work actually counted for something. He was a true rags to riches story, coming to LA from Illinois and scraping by until he found a job with a decorator.

Before there was Indiana Jones… Image of Elmer Jones from a 1949 article in Fortnight newsmagazine.

When his boss went bankrupt, Jones swooped in and took over the decorating business in 1926. With loads of ambition and elbow grease, he created a little empire. He made his mark on the city by jazzing it up it for many celebrations including the 1932 Olympics, The Rose Parade, the Academy Awards, and Hollywood Christmas parade to name a few. He even had a hand in designing the Los Angeles city flag.

Jones decorated everything from political conventions to military ceremonies, tradeshows, conventions, grand openings, and holiday parades. At his peak Jones was swamped with work orders and his bustling business employed over 50 people including production men, designers, artists, seamstresses, and salesmen.

At some when point decorating for festivities and events waned, Jones recalibrated the focus of his business to a year-round Christmas store catering to the general public and the Hollywood studios. Many Angelenos fondly remember this epoch.

Jones Decorating Co., 1990’s

As a testament to his work ethic, Elmer continued working in his building 5 days a week until breaking his hip a few weeks before his death in 1990. He was 92. I really wish I would have poked my head inside the store and met Elmer S. Jones, the man who decorated Los Angeles and beyond.

It’s 2019, Jones is long gone, and his old stomping grounds are being repurposed for a new world of entrepreneurs. (Who knows? Maybe his name will reappear on the building.) But in our haste to make old new again let us not forget the men & women who trail-blazed down boulevards like Sunset, throwing up awesome buildings and creating wildly successful businesses sometimes out of nothing but some bunting, banners, flags and ribbon.

Where’s the Beef?

So you’re driving along and suddenly notice the city has lost a tooth. Where things once stood– a block is suddenly vacant, a lot is suddenly empty, a sign has disappeared.

Only the bird knows…

You scratch your head and and rack your brain trying to remember what was there before. And then if you are lucky enough, you remember it was a spot that added color and life to the city. Then you kick yourself for never buying a burrito, a burger, or a shrimp there. And another kick for never getting a proper photo of the joint before it died, before it gentrified.

Tom’s backside. No Booze + No Loitering!

This was Tom’s Burgers. Its mighty sign and distinctive green tiled building anchored the corner of Sunset and Silverlake ever since I was a mere passenger in the back of the wood paneled Country Squire station wagon.  

Yeah, Tom’s didn’t get rave reviews but its presence was a fixture in my LA geography. A few years back, the sign went blank and Tom’s was gone. I regretted never stopping in or to take a shot or two of Tom’s. Eh, why bother? It’ll always be there. I’ll drive-thru next time.  Until there wasn’t a next time.

Now every time I pass the modern pizza joint that replaced it, I try to envision Tom’s. Through my spotty memory and a few random area snapshots I re-imagined the sign for better or worse.

The moral of the story? Go there. Experience the place. At least take a picture of it today. Because it could be gone tomorrow.

¡Adios Pastrami Burrito!

Kosher Burrito blog

The Kosher Burrito once stood on 1st Street between Los Angeles City Hall and Little Tokyo. (Yep, that’s the New Otani in the background.) I snapped this shot with my old 2 1/4 Spartus in the 90’s before it was gone for good in 2002.

Picture a simple lunch counter/ burger stand with a few stools that offered up a cross between Mexican and deli food such as the famed Kosher Burrito which was filled with pastrami, mustard, chili, pickles and onions. Word has it they had pretty good burgers too.

All in the backdrop of Little Tokyo. Only in Los Angeles. Just archive it in the ever expanding file of terrific things that aren’t here anymore.

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We are still left with a few “Mexicatessens” around town– joints that serve Mexican food and hamburger style grub. While amusing and promising in name, the reality is a far cry from the Kosher Burrito.

Century Records Update– The Hits Keep Coming

Maybe our quest for Century Records wasn’t all for naught. A reader, Audrey wrote in to tell us that her dad, Sam Rice, was a recording tech there. Her memories begin to flush out the black and white sketch on the back of the record and what went on within.

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“I remember visiting the factory only a few times. I think I remember the processing room, but very dimly. I remember the smell of the records being made. I remember the red blue and gold records, I think. I mostly remember desert-like landscaping, the crunch of rocks instead of glass, and a water dispenser with cold water in the waiting room.”

Century Books

She even shared a peek of some of her pop’s Century Records paperwork– recording schedules and contracts. Looks like you could get a school record in the works for six bucks per unit back in ’65. Of course, this includes some whistles and bells like “special editing, anti static vinyl, and custom album cover”.  Wonder if color vinyl was extra?

Red Century

Turns out Audrey’s dad was a big of a big shot over at Century, at least in 1965 when he got a gold medal for a top 10 record.

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Unfortunately, her father has passed, but his name lives on– showing up on many of the Century Records in those thrift store bins.

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So we continue to scour those thrift shops while keeping our ears out for more Century Records stories… If you have any, drop us a line.

Bukowski Drank Here, or Did He?

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“I started drinking before you people were born. I’ll be drinking after I bury you.”- Charles Bukowski

Chances are it’d be hard to figure all the joints Bukowski bellied up to. His domain was Hollywood and Western for a chunk of his life when he was boozing/ writing poetry and prose by day and sticking mail at the post office by night. There’s a neat video of him reminiscing about his old neighborhood here.

That hood has changed a lot since those days with arrival of the Metro Red Line and scads of soul-less structures filled with fast food and big box stores which knocked out whole city blocks of mom and pop shops. It used to have equal parts grit and personality… lots of bars, liquor stores, and street life.

Though Bukowski was long gone (moved to San Pedro in the late 70’s) the area still had flavor in the 80’s and 90’s when we captured these pix. This dive was on Western– perhaps he tipped a few back here before getting 86’d. Notice the sex shop next door.

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The Study is wedged between a hotel and a liquor store that Bukowski recalls, so maybe he did some “studying” here as well. This spot became a gay bar in the ’90’s and has now been erased from the landscape all together. I remember it having a pot belly fire pit inside, providing refuge from the cruel LA weather I guess.

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Buk is said to have ventured west on Hollywood Blvd. to the Frolic Room, which keeps pouring ’em strong to this day.

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Big Ed’s was a classic Culver City watering hole, popular among actors, gamblers, & hustlers in ’40s & ‘50s. It seems a stretch to think Bukowski would have been a regular here as it falls so far outside of his home turf.

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It had its last last call in the late ‘80s. Just before shuttering, it was transformed into The Golden Horn bar, the setting of the cult movie, “Barfly”, the only screenplay penned by Bukowski. If you squint, you may be able to imagine the Golden Horn neon atop the Big Ed’s. Bukowski had a cameo as a bar patron towards the end of the movie, so maybe just maybe he did drink here after all…

Sometime after the movie was made Big Ed’s was razed, but not before being mysteriously burned, which is when this shot was snapped. Wouldn’t you know it became a parking lot. Now that’s poetry.

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Find more photography of old Los Angeles dive bars here.

In Search of a Blue Fountain

Some old friends from Berkeley days were in town and wanted to reconnect with our 1930s Union Train Station.  It’s a time capsule classic, beautifully preserved with little of the reconstitution work seen in many revived historic sites.  One member of our troupe had read the biography of  Mary Colter, the woman who designed the station’s adjacent Fred Harvey restaurant and bar.  We looked at her work through locked glass doors and also wondered what other work she might have contributed to the interior of station such as the magnificent tiles, stenciled ceilings, floor design and acoustic siding that effectively quiets reverb in airplane sized structure.  Meanwhile, I recalled a color slide I took of a pair of blue ceramic drinking fountains set against a backsplash of magnificent train station tile and was determined to show off my memory to my pals.  Unfortunately, the fountains were no where to be found except on my old slide which I had miraculously saved from a trash heap of accumulated history I’ve been weeding through these past several years.  Long live ceramic blue fountains and their four armed handles for all to drink from.

Pig vs. Chicken ’98

The Pig ‘N Whistle – renovated on Hollywood Blvd or rather reconstituted a few years back into something resembling what it looked like back in the 1920’s when it was neighbor to the Egyptian Theater – itself now reconstituted into something resembling what it looked like back in the 1920s.  But one day in 1998 – years  before both reconstitutions had taken place, I was walking Broadway Blvd in downtown Los Angeles when I saw an old Pig ‘N Whistle sign fighting to reassert itself behind a coverup job by KFC.  I like to think that for a moment the pig was stronger than the chicken and pushed the half-baked bird off its perch, showing off to anyone who might have noticed  the location of one of the many old & long deceased P ‘N W restaurants.

For more details on the history and locations of this chain of pig joints – which apparently started in downtown San Fran – check out this blog: http://restaurant-ingthroughhistory.com/2011/05/26/famous-in-its-day-pign-whistle/