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.

In his memoirs, Clifford stated his philosophy that "no guest shall go hungry for lack of funds."

The 1931 Los Angeles Theatre
To gain entry to the Penny Cafeteria, guests presented a meal ticket given to them by charitable organizations or local groups. Tickets were sold at 618 S. Olive St.

By 1934, the need for the Penny Cafeteria was declining. The Works Progress Administration and other federal New Deal programs reduced the number of hungry and unemployed. Downtown landlord Joseph E. Carr, sensing that he was in the presence of a kindred spirit, offered Clifford the lease on a four-story building at 648 S. Broadway St. in the theater district.

The location was in the heart of Los Angeles' theater district, meaning guests could dine while going to a movie at the Los Angeles, the State, or the Orpheum. The Bullocks department store was also across the street.

Clifford accepted the deal, paying $3,000 for the highly discounted lease. The Penny Cafeteria was closed and later relocated to the basement at the Broadway location. Shortly after taking over the failed Boos Brothers cafeteria, Clifford remodeled the interior after the Brookdale Lodge in the Big Redwoods near Mount Hermon in the Santa Cruz Mountains. After the remodel, it became known as Clifton's Brookdale.

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