Remembering Clifton’s Cafeteria (1935-2011-?)

IMG_1203.jpg Gentle reader, There exist in this world those rare places where souls can linger, each one alone in their thoughts but feeling part of a lively community. Unlike so many contemporary spaces with their hard surfaces and excess of rules (read: Pershing Square), these spots are calibrated to welcome individuals. There are comfortable chairs, little corners of privacy, light for reading, reasonably priced and healthful food and drink available. In these places, lovers meet, tourists marvel, visions are nurtured and the old and lonesome can escape their rooms. Nobody will lean over you and clear their throat to suggest you've been sitting too long, and ought to be moving along in one of these magical places, for there, you are at home. This week, we say a fond farewell to one of these gems, Clifton's Cafeteria. Since 1935, Clifford Clinton's redwood-themed cafeteria has welcomed millions to its bosom in the heart of downtown. Clifton's was there when 7th & Broadway was among the busiest corners on earth, through the dark years of urban decline and into its renewal. Founded with a remarkable philosophy which fused solid business acumen with charitable works, Clifford Clinton's flagship restaurant was a lightning rod for right action that transformed this city. cliftons10Clinton fed the hungry, treated his employees like family, and led the brave campaign that brought down the corrupt Mayor Frank Shaw and the octopus of vice which inhabited the LAPD. For his efforts he was harassed, his home bombed (by a cop), his cafeterias subject to false reports of food poisoning, but he and his friends fought on, armed with a vision of a better Los Angeles in which every person was treated with dignity, and had a full belly, a safe place to sleep and real opportunities to better themselves. Mayor Shaw and his venal cronies laughed at the Cafeteria Kid, but they weren't laughing when the jail bars slammed. Last year, Clifton's was sold to a sympathetic new owner, and attempts were made to renovate the building while remaining open as a restaurant. This didn't work. So on Monday, after 76 years, Clifton's closed its doors. There are plans for a soft reopening as a bakery soon, with the full restaurant and two cocktail bars to follow in time. cliftons8We are working with the management to continue to lead tours through Clifton's, and to host our free LAVA Sunday Salon there (Sunday, closing day, marked the 19th month of this event). But today, the doors of Clifton's are closed, and the good people who felt so at home there are scattered to the winds. This edition of the newsletter goes out, with love, to all our friends from 648 South Broadway. We are thinking especially of the gracious associates, some of whom worked at Clifton's for upwards of thirty years.We're so pleased that Clifton's will live on, but it won't be the same without those friendly faces. We will leave you with Clifford Clinton's credo, which are words to live by: "We pray our humble service be measured not by gold, but by the golden rule."