Food for Thought While Looking Through the Viewfinder: The Vegetarian Cafeteria, Hill and 3rd Streets, Los Angeles, 1915

by Paul R. Spitzzeri

There are quite a few historic photographs taken of the area where Hill and Third streets meet in the Bunker Hill neighborhood of downtown Los Angeles and this is mainly because of the presence of the Angels Flight funicular railway, which opened to the public on the last day of 1901. A couple of photos from the Homestead’s holdings have appeared on this blog showing the attraction, which was moved half-block to the south and where it remains today, though it is now closed for roof restoration on both of the cars.

The featured artifact for this post from the Museum’s collection is a 1915 snapshot taken right at the intersection and it shows the railway at the left with one car at the bottom and the other toward the top, but also two gents in a convertible heading into the 3rd Street Tunnel, which was highlighted in a prior post here. A horse-drawn conveyance waits for the car to pass before making its way south on Hill and there are some pedestrians scattered throughout the view.

Los Angeles Times, 7 January 1900.

As for some of the structures partially visible, there is a mix of commercial and residential specimens, including a hotel, an apartment building, and the Elks lodge at the top of Bunker Hill on Grand Avenue, where the Crocker house prominently stood in another photo from the Museum’s collection. What will be the focus here, however, is the three-story building at the right side of the image on what was the northwest corner. The structure had a hotel, known at one time as the “Hotel Guiles,” on its upper floors, while the street level contained the “Vegetarian Cafeteria,” one of the first vegetarian restaurants in the Angel City.

At the time, for many people, vegetarianism smacked of extremism and was often linked to left-wing politics while its practitioners were often considered eccentric and removed from the mainstream. Yet, there was a small, but growing, movement perhaps best known in the era for the proselytizing done by the Kellogg brothers, cereal titan Will K. (also later owner of a horse ranch that was donated to be the site of Cal Poly Pomona) and his brother Dr. John H., whose sanitarium at Battle Creek, Michigan, headquarters of the cereal company, bred the Battle Creek diet system.

That movement spread throughout the nation and at the dusk of the 19th century reached the Angel City in the form of the opening of a “first-class” vegetarian restaurant. This was part of the Los Angeles Sanitarium opened just east of this intersection on the north side of Hill and still another post from this blog touched upon that institution.

Times, 17 February 1901.

It should also be noted that the Kelloggs were members of the Seventh Day Adventist Church and the connection between the church and the gospel of healthy eating along with preventive medicine was also essential in the development of the sanitarium and the vegetarian restaurant movement in Los Angeles as one century receded and other ascended.

The 7 January 1900 edition of the Los Angeles Times, which tended to mock and be critical of vegetarianism, reported:

Los Angeles has now a first-class vegetarian restaurant and it appears to be well-patronized. The restaurant, which also keeps health foods for sale, is connected with a well-known hygienic institution in Michigan, which manufactures these foods on a large scale, and has branch sanitariums all over the world.

The paper listed a dinner bill of fare at the new restaurant, including all manner of fruit, vegetables, legumes, non-alcoholic beverages, breads and biscuits and much more, including eggs. Yet, the TImes occasionally made jokes referring to vegetarianism, whether it was about what a practitioner would do without turkey on Thanksgiving; or that, when a vegetarian claimed that the diet precluded any desire for stimulants, this explained why vegetarian restaurants were not doing well in the Angel City.

Express, 2 October 1901.

In April 1902, the paper covered a meeting establishing the Vegetarian Society of Los Angeles, but did so in a mocking manner. It reported that the group adopted the purpose of “to advocate the use of pure fruit and vegetable products, and to finally accomplish entirely the disuse of the flesh of animals for food.” It stated that a minister tried to add a statement about “pure thought” in a religious sense, but then claimed that a women rose and asked that, in addition to that, could a window be opened to admit pure air.

Having, purportedly, incorporated the clergyman’s suggestion, the organizers went on to discuss the question of pure food, leading to a lady asking “is there any place where a person can get pure food?” Chair Ralph Hoyt then responded, “there is a vegetarian restaurant over he on Third street, where you can get absolutely pure cereal and vegetable goods,” to which applause was given. Yet, the inquisitor supposedly rejoined, “I have been there and if that’s the case they must have poor cooks,” to which the Times inserted parenthetically that there was no applause, but “sly glances.”

Times, 16 April 1902.

In its 2 October 1901 edition, however, the Los Angeles Express, in squelching a rumor that the Battle Creek Medical Missionary Association was looking to build a sanitarium in Pasadena, while it acknowledged that other sites were sought, reported that “since the establishment of the sanitarium on Third street, with the Vegetarian restaurant as an annex, the patronage has grown so that . . . though well equipped, this sanitarium is so small as to be totally inadequate to accommodate the number of applicants for admission.”

The Los Angeles Sanitarium, run by Dr. Frank B. Moran, an 1890s convert to Seventh Day Adventism while being treated at John H. Kellogg’s Battle Creek Sanitarium, did not survive through the end of the first decade, being not only considered too small, but, likely, too enmeshed in a rapidly growing urban environment as the Angel City underwent its next big boom by the first years of the 20th century.

In fact, Moran, who also opened an unfermented wine business at Alhambra, not long after his sanitarium opened, purchased the northwest corner of Hill and 2nd streets just a block north of the sanitarium site with the plan to build a six-story sanitarium, but this was soon abandoned and the property sold. In 1905, a hotel built in Glendale during the previous major boom in the 1880s, was acquired from the town’s major developer, Leslie Brand and was called the Glendale Sanitarium. That institution developed into Adventist Health Glendale, where the 2 and 134 freeways meet now.

Los Angeles Record, 8 June 1906.

Around that time, a major national scandal burst forth when investigations, perhaps best summarized in Upton Sinclair’s 1906 novel, The Jungle, revealed just how much of the meatpacking industry was operated. While one of the results was the passage of the Pure Food and Drug Act of 1906 and the establishment of what eventually became the Food and Drug Administration.

Another consequence was a sudden and striking turn towards vegetarianism by many Americans. There had been something of a local controversy at the start of the decade when the Woman’s Christian Temperance Union, crusading against alcohol manufacturing and consumption, accused local butchers of imbibing too much, leading to concerns about the quality of the meat being provided by such firms and individuals as Louis Sentous, Julius Hauser, Simon Maier and the Cudahy Packing Company.

Los Angeles Herald, 11 May 1908.

Meanwhile, in 1905, the Times reported that the vegetarian restaurant attached to the relocated sanitarium relocated to Broadway between 4th and 5th and would “continue to carry a full line of St. Helena [the northern California branch] and Battle Creek Sanitarium foods, fresh from the above factories.” The paper, however, also latched onto a report that the restaurant bought milk from a dairy operator on the eastern outskirts of the city whose operation was considered filthy and unsanitary and it seemed to delight in linking the two to denigrate the restaurant.

But the fallout from the meatpacking investigations (and others) and the sensation caused by the work of Sinclair, later a Los Angeles resident, ACLU figure and frequent political candidate, including a run for California governor in 1934, did, for a time, bestow a great boon on vegetarian restaurants.

Herald, 26 November 1908.

The Los Angeles Record of 6 June 1906, for example, noted that

That the consumption of meat will be greatly lessened by the startling revelations in the recent government expose of the barbarious [sic] beef trust methods is a fact unquestioned, and already the well-filled ranks of the vegetarian class are being augmented by thousands formerly possessed of the “meat” appetite . . .

Vegetarians in Los Angeles, who have long contended that packing houses were veritable cesspools, are delighted, and most generously extend the glad hand to those who wish to join them.

Men who a few days ago laughed at vegetarians and called them long-haired theorists, can now be seen daily patronizing vegetarian restaurants.

The business of the vegetarian cafes in Los Angeles has increased 25 per cent the past week. [One was quoted as asking diners:]

“Good evening, have you had your Nuttolene steak, with crabapple jelly this evening? No? They you must have some Protose, the latest meat substitute on the market. Don’t you know what Protose is? Why, how strange!”

Two months later, the Los Angeles Herald reported on the flourishing condition of vegetarian eateries and spoke to one patron who told the paper “he feels like a fighting cock and is chipper all the time” since going meatless (well, he did eat eggs) and listed all of the food he turned to instead. The man then proclaimed “some day I will open a restaurant where vegetables, eggs and milk only are served, cooked in my style.”

Times, 7 September 1913.

Yet, in May 1908, the paper recorded that the vegetarian fad had faded as fears about tainted and rotten meat dissipated. Talking to one of the owners of the several vegetarian restaurants in town, the Herald quoted him as lamenting, “I remember for a time after that book [The Jungle] came out . . . that we owners of vegetarian restaurants had the time of our lives.”

He recalled that those “who would generally pass up [us] by with a guffaw and go and stuff themselves with enough steak and roasts to put them to sleep for a month, would crowd into our places and eat the cleanest food they had partaken of since they were hungry.” The restauranteur had “a sad, dreamy look of reminiscence” as he poured out his tale.

Record, 23 May 1914. Note the first question and reply!

The Vegetarian Cafeteria shown in this photo was opened by at least May 1908, when an ad in the Express noted:

All the sages of antiquity, notably the Egyptians and later the Greeks, taught the doctrine that a strictly vegetable diet for human beings was the most healthful and conducive to peacefulness in temperament and to longevity.

Averring that this was reinforced by later practitioners, including “teachers of hygiene,” but, of course, with no citations of specifics, the ad went on to suggest that “a strictly vegetarian cuisine, with toothsome and cleanly prepared dishes, can be had at two locations, the one in the photo and another on Broadway, south of 6th Street. Despite the Thanksgiving crack by the Times seven years before, the eatery offered an eight-course holiday meal, the “finest and biggest” in the Angel City,” for fifty cents.

Express, 11 August 1914.

Still, with the brief trend towards forsaking meat long gone, little mention was made of the restaurant in subsequent years. The Herald tried its own humor when it joked in 1910 that “it is now said that a diet of only vegetables will produce auto-intoxication [a digestive poisoning due toxic substances in the body]. So that unsteady party coming up [the] street may be on his way from a vegetarian cafeteria.”

In May 1912, the restaurant, known as Wiley’s Vegetarian Cafeteria advertised that it was closing on Sundays and was particularly informing theosophists, “Globe Hygienic” followers, “and all societies advocating vegetarianism” about the change. This, no doubt, lent credence to those who felt that only fringe figures in the “land of Fruits and Nuts” would patronize such an establishment. Speaking of Theosophy, the Krotona Institute, which soon opened in Beachwood Canyon in Hollywood, operated its own vegetarian restaurant.

Express, 14 March 1917.

The Times of 7 September 1913 ran a feature on the rapidly growing cafeteria trend that would include major institutions like Boos Brothers and Clifton’s, and it addressed the vegetarian variation, or “the calfless cafeterias,” which offered “denatured coffee, their emasculated butter” and “where no one dares order the demon tea, and where one must know the language to know how to order at all.”

After offering a mocking couplet of: “You stroll among the shredded wheat / When grape-nuts are in bloom,” this latter cereal offered by C.W. Post, another acolyte of the Battle Creek system, the piece added that,

though the sacred name of beefsteak is never uttered here, and though the ‘mock turkey’ wouldn’t deceive a cannibal, and the wildest orgy in the way of dessert is a prune-whip, one may simply revel in a glorious wealth of vegetables, cooked to perfection.

“Cynthia Grey’s Column” in the 23 May 1914 edition of the Record addressed a question about shortening used for frying and the response included, “I believe in using breads without shortening” and advised, “It would be a good plan for you to call at some of the vegetarian cafeterias about here and ask them how they make bread and what kinds of oils they use.”

G.M, Madigan, the Vegetarian Cafeteria’s manager, addressed a potato price jump, advising a boycott, during a post-World War I recession (this might sound familiar to you), Record, 3 May 1920.

As a sidelight, whenever the Seventh Day Adventists held their outdoor tent camp meetings, usually for several thousand devotees, one tent included a vegetarian cafeteria, with one contemporary example concerning the August 1914 confab at Alhambra where the Express reported the meatless eatery, with a deli attached to it, “has proved popular.”

The last located newspaper reference to the Vegetarian Cafeteria was in 1922, though, the following year, the Times reported that a group, including several doctors opened an eatery at 4th and Olive and that it was, suspiciously, no doubt, to be “a center for liberal and progressive thinkers.” One of the founders was Otto Carque, a prominent proponent of the pure food philosophy.

The last located reference (there were frequent meetings and lectures given there) to the Vegetarian Cafe, Express, 15 June 1922.

While it has been said that vegetarianism languished during this era, there was also Neily’s Vegetarian Cafe on 6th Street and Grand Avenue; a restaurant in Pasadena in the late Teens and early Twenties; one in Pomona in the mid-1920s; a well-known cafe in Long Beach at the end of that decade and into the Great Depression years; and a Jewish vegetarian cafe in Boyle Heights during the Thirties (I had the pleasure of conducting, more than two decades ago, an oral history interview with Frieda Ginsberg, the daughter of its owners, for a Japanese-American National Museum project on that eastside community.)

Having said this, vegetarians obviously remained few in number and still looked upon with bemusement, suspicion, occasional hostility and so on until not all that long ago, though there is far more acceptance and accessibility to vegetarian food than there used to be. Discussions, for example, of the impact of beef and dairy cattle with regard to climate change, while often mocked or characterized with questionable or outlandish claims, are increasingly held in the public forum.

What the future holds for vegetarianism and the many other variations that involve refraining from eating meat or animal products broadly will be interesting to see, for sure, but the historical context in our region, going back nearly 130 years, is significant. The site, incidentally, of the Vegetarian Cafeteria is now the Angelus Plaza senior residential community.

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