Sunday, August 12, 2012

Meals for Millions

Clifford Clinton left the Army in 1944 and went to work for the United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Agency (UNRRA). With the end of World War II in sight, Clifford, Nelda, and Clifton's public relarions director Ernest Chamberlain visited Cal Tech professor and biochemist Dr. Henry Borsook, who had done work on synthetic vitamins. Clifford hoped to develop a low-cost, nutritious subsistence meal for war-torn Europe.

This product had to provide 1/3 of daily nutrition in two ounces and "must not offend any religious dietary law," Cliff later wrote in his memoirs. It also needed to cost under five cents per meal, have a long shelf life, require no refridgeration, and taste good hot or cold.

Clinton provided a $5,000 retainer and Borsook began work. In less than a year, Borsook developed Multi-Purpose Food (MPF) -- a defatted soybean product with added multivitamins.

The development of MPF was the culmination of Clifford's lifelong goal of feeding underserved and needy people. The soy product still needed a distributor, so Clifford, son Edmond, and Chamberlain visited leading humanitarian advocates, agencies, and other hunger warriors.

He met with Pearl Buck, whose 1931 novel "The Good Earth" won the Pulitzer Prize for its description on life in China. He also met with first lady Eleanor Roosevelt, and cooked a sample of MPF for her.

In 1946, the three men formed Meals for Millions Foundation in donated space on the fourth floor of Clifton's Brookdale on Broadway St. in downtown Los Angeles. This became the headquarters dor distribution of MPF.

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Running for Mayor

By the early 1940s, Clifford Clinton had become disenchanted with reform Mayor Fletcher Bowron, whom he had help sweep into office during the 1938 recall election that removed Mayor Frank Shaw.

Believing he had a duty to serve his country after the attack on Pearl Harbor, Clinton enlisted in the U.S. Army in February of 1942. He left Clifton's in the hands of his wife, Nelda, and Ransom Calicott, the vice president of the company. Mayor Bowron won reelection six months earlier without the support of Clinton, who believed Bowron didn't do enough to smash protected vice in Los Angeles.

After basic training, Clinton was sent to Camp Wallace near Houston where he ran the mess. He was then sent to Fort Benning, Ga., and promoted to acting food service officer. There, he improved the quality of the food and cut down on waste.

While stationed at Fort Benning, Clifford began to receive letters from Aldrich Blake, his political advisor. Blake continued to brief Clinton on Mayor Bowron, who would face another election in 1945. Blake's poll of potential voters revealed strong support for Clinton as a mayoral challenger.

Clinton initially refused. When liberal county Supervisor John Anson Ford announced he would challenge Boweon, Clinton reconsidered because he didn't believe Ford could win. Ford had lost to Mayor Shaw in 1937.

He joined the race and published a treatise of his plan for the city in a 14-page pamphlet, "The Clock Strikes Twelve: It's Time To Act." During the campaign, Clinton pushed for better leadership to deal with ongoing corruption, infrastructure, and racial

On election night, Clinton came in a distant second, losing to Bowron. Instead of being discouraged, Clinton felt relieved that he had fulfilled his political responsibilities to the city.

Monday, May 28, 2012

Clifford Clinton Biography Is Coming Soon

A 77-year-old neon tube and other artifacts being uncovered during the renovation of Clifton's Brookdale shed a new light on the restaurant's heyday in the 1930s. The discovery gives a glimpse into the origins of Clifford Clinton's cafeteria of the Golden Rule.

The Los Angeles Times published a story about the neon tube and other artifacts from the cafeteria's early days found by Andrew Meieran earlier this month. The filmmaker and nightclub developer told Blog Downtown he'll display the artifacts for future patrons of the restaurant when its first phase reopens in about six months.

A biography of my grandfather will tell much more of the story. When I worked in the cafeteria in the early 1960s as a busboy, I carried many trays up stairs to the second-floor dining room that was surrounded by floor-to-ceiling "transparency" images of forests, mountains, and lakes. The neon tubes were mounted behind the walls to illuminate the scenes.

As Clifford's grandson, I've taken on the duty of telling the story of Clifford's extraordinary life and desire to give diners a peaceful respite along with their meal. Clifford believed the images helped achieve that.

Angels City Press has agreed to publish Clifford's biography later is year. The publication of the book may coincide with the first phase of the renovation.

The book reveals many new details about the development and history of Clifton's culled from Clifford's personal memoirs, which have been unavailable for public consumption. The book also reflects the first-hand experiences of the people who lived the story.


Clifton's Brookdale Reborn

Saturday, May 12, 2012

The Founding of CIVIC

Clifford Clinton placed his hand on a Bible on Feb. 16, 1937, to swear an oath to root out public corruption as a member of the Los Angeles County grand jury.

Attorney A. Brigham Rose (left), Clifford, and Harry Ferguson
Photo: USC Special Collections
"It was a serious and rather awesome occasion and left me deeply impressed," he would later write in his memoirs. "When the citizens were represented by such a powerful body, serving each and every year, solely charged with protecting them from corruption and malfeasance in public office, why did so much exist?"

Gambling, payoffs on pinball and marble games, "one armed bandits," bookmaking, and prostitution may have been illegal, but these criminal activities went on unchecked in 1930s Los Angeles. Once seated on the 19-member grand jury, Clifford found three other members with a similar dedication to uncovering this illegal activity. This Minority Group included John Bogue, a Baptist minister; Harry L. Ferguson, a retired architect; and E.H. Kelly, a retired businessman.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Citizen Clinton Enters Politics

By publicizing waste and graft in the Los Angeles County Hospital's food budget in 1936, Clifford poked a beehive of municipal and county corruption. The report saved the county $120,000, and also drew the ire of city officials and the Los Angeles Times that called him a meddler.

Radio broadcasts began at Clifton's in 1936.
CC_Flickr: jschneid
"We were very confused by this strange attack, but when we inquired we were told 'you have stepped on a lot of toes, bigger than you realize,'" Clifford later wrote in his memoirs. "A new city and county election was near however, and the more we saw and heard, the more convinced we became that the city and county needed some replacements in the ranks of its officials."

In September of 1936, District Attorney Buron Fitts faced reelection. A year later, Mayor Frank Shaw would defend his seat against challenger and County Supervisor John Anson Ford, who had recruited Clifford to investigate food service at the county hospital.

Clifford would set his sights on both races. To defeat Fitts, Clifford backed Harlan Palmer, a county judge and publisher of the Hollywood Citizen-News. Time Magazine described Palmer as a "pious progressive from Minnesota."

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Bombing of Harry Raymond

Clifford visits Harry Raymond after the bombing.
Photo: UCLA Special Collections
Private investigator Harry Raymond knew he was being watched.

By January of 1938, Los Angeles Police Capt. Earle Kynette and Lt. Roy Allen were spending more time at a small house in Raymond's Boyle Heights neighborhood. In September, Kynette rented a spy house down an alley across from 955 Orne St. A wiretap connected to telephone lines to monitor the investigator's conversations.

Raymond, a former chief of the San Diego and Venice police departments, had become a target of the LAPD's Metropolitan Special Investigation Unit (known as the "spy squad"). Raymond was the prime witness in a fraud trial stemming from Mayor Frank Shaw's 1933 election campaign. Raymond had uncovered evidence linking Shaw's administration to gambling and prostitution rings while working for Ralph Gray. His client was a campaign worker who was owed $2,900.

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Clifton's Brookdale Reborn

Clifton's Brookdale's new owner took the first step toward restoring the cafeteria to its 1940s heyday, when he peeled off the aluminum-grill facade at 648 S. Broadway St. in early February.

Historic facade unveiled Feb. 9.
Photo: Paul Clinton
Nightclub owner and filmmaker Andrew Meieran, who acquired the cafeteria in 2010, plans to reopen Clifton's Brookdale, retaining the decor that made it famous. He plans to bring back menu items that diners remember fondly, including maceroni and cheese, beef stroganoff, and fresh strawberry pie.

On Feb. 9, the cafeteria's late-1930s facade revealed lodge-like windows that allow streams of natural light into a dining room that's reminescent of a big redwood forest. The theme has captivated and beguiled diners and Los Angeles visitors through the decades.

Monday, February 20, 2012

The Penny Cafeteria

To feed Los Angelenos with little money in their pocket during the Great Depression, Clifford Clinton opened the Penny Cafeteria at Third and Hill streets in October of 1932.

Clifton's Brookdale opened in 1935.
For one cent, the poor and hungry could buy a simple meal that included macaroni, beans, stews, thick soups, salads, bread, dessert, and coffee. Each meal cost 4 1/2 cents to provide. Clifford operated the cafeteria, labeled as "the Caveteria" by the Los Angeles Times, out of the basement. The main floor dining room was operated conventionally and food prepared there was brought downstairs.

Clifford opened the Penny Cafeteria partly out of necessity. He had been operating the Olive Street cafeteria for about a year, and feeding the multitudes had taken a toll on his business. Clifford had fed 10,000 people in the first three months. With the threat of bankruptcy staring him in the face, Clifford shifted his neediest clientele to Third and Hill.

Sunday, January 29, 2012

L.A. County Hospital Food Investigation

Los Angeles County Hospital. CC: Peggy Hooper.

At lunchtime on a day in October 1935, Supervisor John Anson Ford left his Broadway Street ad agency office and headed one block north to Clifton's Brookdale at 648 S. Broadway St. He walked into the dining room and introduced himself to the owner.

Ford, who had been in office for about a year, appealed to Clifford Clinton to help. The Los Angeles County Hospital, located in Boyle Heights, was part of Ford's district. Hospital administrators had complained to the supervisor about cost overruns and the quality of the food service at the hospital. Ford asked Clifford to survey the hospital's food service to address numerous patient and staff complaints about inedible and uneaten food. Clifford agreed to lead a committee.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

1937 House Bombing

Shortly after midnight on Oct. 29, 1937, a thunderous explosion ripped through the kitchen floor of Clifford Clinton's Los Feliz home as his three children slept in second-floor bedrooms. A tin can pineapple-type bomb attached to a floor joist blew a large hole in the outside wall of the house. Luckily, no one was hurt.

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Opening a Friendly Door

After opening his first Los Angeles cafeteria on Olive Street in 1931, Clifford Clinton kept a poem on his desk he believed encapsulated his feelings about his new business venture. It was called, "Doors":