Today the once-legendary Spanish Kitchen restaurant is a study in decay, the "K" missing from the neon sign, the arched storefront crumbling and covered with graffiti. It stands next door to the Yavneh Hebrew Academy, in the midst of a thriving Orthodox community on Beverly Boulevard, between Fairfax and La Brea. &'009;
In the 1930s, '40s and '50s, of course, the eatery was a fashionable Hollywood watering hole, where Buster Keaton and John Barrymore dined. Then, one night in 1961, owner Pearl Caretto stacked the chairs on the tables and locked the door, never to return. There were no explanations, and the interior has remained just as Caretto left it, with the old-fashioned meat grinders on the counter in an eerie time warp. Since then, there have been rumors about ghosts and about why the popular restaurant closed so abruptly. People have wondered if Pearl's husband was killed by the mob or in a lovers' quarrel.
Not just the Orthodox are unhappy about the latest newcomers to the area: the various trendy, upscale shops, restaurants and coffeehouses (Modernica, Lumpy Gravy, Red, Insomnia, etc.) that attract a Melrose-y kind of crowd.
Last year, Los Angeles businessman Ron Mavaddat received an unexpected answer to the mystery. He chanced to see two women unlocking the restaurant's rusty gates. They turned out to be Caretto's granddaughters and, they told him, the gossip about the place was bunk. Their late grandmother simply could not run a restaurant once her husband developed Parkinson's disease.
Mavaddat learned that the restaurant was for sale and that Yavneh was interested in buying it. The businessman came up with a better offer, and, he thought, a better idea. He and his colleagues at Prime Pacific Investments would purchase the restaurant and restore it to what it was in its heyday.
The deal closed in early 1996, and the new owners soon found support from historical preservationists, from merchants and from some residents who had regarded the building as an eyesore. &'009;
What the corporation did not expect, says Prime Pacific attorney Wayne Avrashow, was the vehement opposition from Yavneh, from religious leaders and from more than 50 neighbors, Orthodox and non-Orthodox, who have written letters to the city's office of zoning administration. All are protesting the restaurant's application for a conditional- use permit to serve alcohol, which was refiled last week. And all feel that their once-peaceful neighborhood is under siege by establishments like the Spanish Kitchen.
The reason for the tension is that the area has changed since the restaurant was in its heyday; no longer is it "replete with bars and boisterous greasy spoons," according to the Los Angeles Times. Rather, over the past two decades, many middle- and upper-middle-class families have moved into the Spanish-style homes between Fuller and Martel avenues; among them are a growing number of Orthodox Jews who frequent two schools (Yavneh and the Etz Jacob Hebrew Academy) and at least three synagogues within several blocks.
But not just the Orthodox are unhappy about the latest newcomers to the area: the various trendy, upscale shops, restaurants and coffeehouses (Modernica, Lumpy Gravy, Red, Insomnia, etc.) that attract a Melrose-y kind of crowd. &'009;
Other residents complain that these establish-ments create noise and traffic and that the Spanish Kitchen will simply compound the problem. And for the Orthodox, there is an additional issue: a culture clash that was evident as a reporter recently stood in front of the Spanish Kitchen. Passersby included young hipsters dressed in black --and a very different kind of young person dressed in black: yeshiva bochers wearing their traditional long coats and fedoras.
Chaya Shamie, who teaches at the Bais Yaakov School for Girls and has lived on Fuller for 13 years, illustrates the Orthodox perspective with an example. She cites the fashion show, with blaring music and scantily-clad models, that once took place at one of the trendy establishments and kept her family up late. Her children peered at the spectacle through the upstairs windows. "We in the Orthodox community try to shelter our children," she explains, "but when you tell them not to look, of course they're curious."
However, Yavneh's Rabbi Avrohom Fireman and Rabbi Yoel Bursztyn of Bais Yaakov, which will move into Yavneh's building, when Yavneh relocates, in about a year, say the issue is not one of the Orthodox vs. the Spanish Kitchen. They say they are simply concerned about the safety of their students should a restaurant serve liquor next door.
Beverly Wolfe is Jewish. Her husband, Robert, is not, and neither want another restaurant to open near their trim, pink house on Fuller.
Their resentment began several years ago, when Beverly's late father, Paul Pink (of Pink's Hot Dog Stand), consistently could not find a parking spot because of all the restaurant patrons. Paul was elderly and had trouble walking, so Beverly led the fight to obtain permit parking on the street. "But I can't stand that I have to pay to park my car in front of my own house," says Robert, who is also routinely disturbed by the loud voices of patrons who have been drinking at the local eateries. &'009;
Meanwhile, Prime Pacific, working with Los Angeles City Councilman Mike Feuer, has come up with 41 conditions for the proposed permit to serve alcohol. For example, the restaurant will serve only two drinks per patron before 6 p.m., on weekdays, and there will be no free-standing bar. "I can't point to any other neighborhood in this city where the conditions are so strict," Feuer says.
Wolfe, dissatisfied, counters: "The Spanish Kitchen may now be an eyesore, but at least it's a quiet eyesore."