Several years ago I attended a Los Angeles Conservancy tour devoted to the world of film noir and one of the stops was The Formosa Cafe, long a haunt of the both the Hollywood elite and the criminal underworld. It was my first visit to the famed restaurant and I fell in love with it.
Needless to say, I was heartbroken when I heard of its closure this past January. Opened in 1925 by prizefighter Jimmy Bernstein and housed in a former Pacific Electric Red Car trolley it started life as a lunch counter. In 1945 Lem Quon joined the business and it was turned into a Cantonese Restaurant that quickly gained a lengthy list of Hollywood stars as its clientele, including Marilyn Monroe, Elvis Presley, and Frank Sinatra.
Luckily, I didn’t need to be heartbroken too long because the 1933 Group, the team behind the reopening of the Idle Hour and Highland Park Bowl, were soon named as the new proprietors. I’ve been to several of their establishments and knew The Formosa Cafe would be in good hands.
Of course, with a building that’s over 90 years old reopening isn’t as easy as it may seem. When 1933 Group revives a historic building they don’t cut corners and that takes a lot of time and money. Luckily, the National Trust (of which I’m a proud member) and American Express have joined forces in a program called Partners in Preservation. This program provides preservation grants to historic locations around the country and, with the help of the Los Angeles Conservancy, The Formosa Cafe is one of 25 locations competing for a $150,000 grant in their Vote Your Main Street initiative.
If won, the grant would specifically be used to restore the most historic portion of the restaurant – the Red Car trolley.
It may not look so bad in this picture but it’s in desperate need of some TLC and 1933 Group wants to complete a full restoration.
The preservation grant will be awarded to the property that gains the most public votes and that’s where you and I step in. From now until October 31st, you can go to SaveTheFormosa.com and vote up to 5x’s a day for The Formosa Cafe. It’s currently in 3rd place but I’m confident it can make it to 1st by the end of the month.
The Formosa Cafe is a beloved institution that deserves to be restored to its former glory. It contains too much Los Angeles history to be neglected in any way. Be sure to get your vote in!