by Alexandra Rasic
In the September 1925 issue of Chef’s and Cook’s Club Journal, Editor Ed L. Jones observed “Although many of us may not have given it a thought, we are living in a truly commercial age, an age where everyone may be looked upon as a salesman or saleswoman.” He noted the numerous ways that wholesalers and retailers communicated with the public, from newspapers, to mail, to handbills, spending piles of money to keep their products top on the minds of consumers. “A satisfied purchaser means a booster,” he wrote, and this still rings true today. Just consider the marketing power of Yelp and Google reviews.
As industrialization ramped up in America, advertising did too. In The Making of Modern Advertising, Daniel Pope estimated that about $200 million was spent by advertisers in 1880. By 1920, the figure was nearly $3 billion, and more recently, the statistical data consolidator Statista reported that $223.7 billion was spent in 2018. Historians Mansel G. Blackford and Kathel Austin Kerr explain that by the 1920s, advertising executives recognized their job was to make consumers want products, deliberately seeking to “break down popular attitudes of self-denial and to foster the idea of instant gratification through consumption. The introduction of new techniques for printing advertisements in color opened new possibilities of suggestion and persuasion.” The Homestead’s collection includes numerous examples of familiar and creative restaurant advertising in print, along with examples of how advertising expanded to a variety of useful objects including a matchbook and a measuring tape. With the passage of time, each object reveals interesting history that can easily send one down the rabbit hole in research, and combing through personal keepsakes at home.
McHuron’s Grill Matchbook Cover
Many historians believe the first advertising on a matchbook was for an opera company in 1894, just two years after matchbooks as we know them today were patented. With little money to advertise, members of New York City’s Mendelson Opera hand wrote promotional information and pasted photos of their famed trombonist, Thomas Lowden, on blank matchbooks (you can see a picture of one of the Mendelson’s matchbooks here). Apparently this caught the attention of Diamond Match salesman Henry Traute, who took the idea of advertising on a product used multiple times a day to companies including Pabst beer, the American Tobacco Company, and Wrigley’s gum. According to a December 1945 article in The New Yorker, Traute is also the one who had the idea to move the striking surface outside the book for safety.
You can see “Safety First” noted on our ca. 1920s matchbook for McHuron’s Grill in Hollywood. A major selling point here was their Toad in the Hole, a dish featuring meat, typically sausage, baked in Yorkshire pudding batter. Long gone, the location is now home to relatively new apartment buildings, just a stone’s throw from the Pantages Theater on Hollywood Boulevard.
Out of sheer frequency of use, matchbooks were often given away at places where they would be used, such as bars and restaurants. When smoking bans took place in the 2000s, demand for matchbooks initially declined, but then they came back as a novelty item. “As it turns out, matchbook collectors are everywhere,” writes Hannah Selinger, “and they view their collections as ways to connect with the places they’ve visited. Collecting matchbooks is tantamount to collecting postcards from vacation destinations.”
U. S. Bar & Cafe Tape Measure
I’ve got so many questions about this object that we believe dates to around 1910. Who is the beautiful woman posed with clasped hands? Why is her image on the tape measure? Was she affiliated with the establishment? Most definitely the tape measure was a useful tool for someone, but was it also supposed to remind the individual of someone or something else? The invitation to “MEET ME AT THE U. S. BAR & CAFE” written on the opposite side leads me to think that one might expect to find this woman, or one like her at the bar/cafe. Maybe that was the selling point!
In looking up 204 North Main Street today, it is now home to offices for the City of Los Angeles’ Fire Department, directly across the street from City Hall, which was not completed until 1928, but the location was still a center of activity in downtown Los Angeles, so the location of this establishment was a good one. The proprietors of the establishment are noted as Dutzler and Zitzelsberger, but I could not find anything about them.
Paris Inn Cafe Blotter
This blotter/ruler/advertisement for the Paris Inn Cafe dates to the late 1920s. We know this because it notes its location was close to the “New City Hall.” Listed at 110 East Market Street, this was the first of three locations the Cafe occupied over its lifespan, two of which were on Market Street, a short street that was removed when Parker Center, the headquarters for the Los Angeles Police Department from 1955-2009, was constructed.
A couple of fascinating regional history blogs contain information and images pertaining to the Paris Inn Cafe and its longtime owners, Bert Rovere (whose last name was misspelled on the blotter!) and Innocente Pedroli. Elisabeth Uyeda’s blog notes “dining entertainment included an orchestra, acrobatic dancers, a singing cigarette girl,” and Rovere, who billed himself as “California’s best baritone.” Martin Turnbull’s blog is filled with images of matchbooks, postcards, menus, and more.
Going back to the blotter itself, we see classic examples of suggestion and persuasion at play. On the top left, you see a “Bored and Hungry” man sitting at his desk, but presumably after his lunch at the Paris Inn Cafe, he’s “Happy and Satisfied,” ready to take on the rest of the day. Relatively small in size, this blotter could easily fit in a businessman’s desk where he might pull it out mid-morning and be reminded of a nearby place to grab a bite.
Pop Ernest’s Restaurant Postcard
Aside from matchbooks, an advertising tool that many have put to use are postcards from restaurants that are often given away to patrons for free. We’ve got a few of these in our collection, the most interesting of which, I think, is this one written to Walter Temple and family from Perry Worden in 1927. Temple hired Worden, who is well known for editing the widely read memoir, Sixty Years in Southern California about Los Angeles merchant Harris Newmark, to write a history of his family that was never completed. Fortunately, some fascinating correspondence between the Temples and Worden survives, including this postcard sent from Pacific Grove, which was donated to us by Temple descendant Ruth Ann Michaelis.
Worden filled up the postcard so much that he ended up mailing it to the Temples in an envelope. With the help of my colleague Gennie Truelock, we deciphered the first few lines of the postcard, which sent me down a rabbit hole:
What Mrs. W. + I did not do to Pop Ernest’s Abalone!
he being the first, you know to so cook it.”
I was surprised to see Worden refer to Pop Ernest as someone Temple might know. Was Pop Ernest’s reputation that established? The answer is yes. What a story is to be found in Pop Ernest Doelter, a larger than life immigrant from Germany who fell in love with Monterey and is credited for making abalone palatable to eat by preparing it like schnitzel.
A quick search through newspapers in Central and Northern California reveals that Pop’s restaurant was well-known to many who passed through the area including numerous politicians. On May 16, 1923, the Santa Cruz Evening News published an article about newswriters and their wives being treated to a meal at “Pop Ernest’s famous sea food eating house and seated at long tables arranged on a veranda opening out over the clear blue waters of Monterey bay.” They reported enjoying “a delicious fish dinner served in the style which has made ‘Pop’s’ name famous all over the state as a caterer.” Two years earlier, Shelden Davis, writing for the Stockton Daily Evening Record, noted “No story of Monterey would be complete without mention of Pop Ernest, the abalone specialist who presides over the sea food restaurant on the pier. For this is one of the institutions of Monterey…”
Pop died in 1934. Biographer Tim Thomas notes that his family continued operating the restaurant after his death, but eventually sold it in the early 1950s and the site is no longer a restaurant today.
In many cases, objects like these are all we have left of old establishments that played a role in our lives. Sometimes passive, sometimes incredibly meaningful and/or memorable, they have value, and they are part of a much bigger story.