First of all thanks to my friend Becky for taking all these pictures.
A plug for LA Conservancy walking tours, specifically Downtown Renaissance and Broadway. It is on these tours that you can visit this treasure. It is not 100% guarantee, life happens, but you’re best bet is on one of these tours.
On an average day, walking on the north side of 6th St. from Spring to Broadway, you will see standard downtown businesses as well as some of those roll up metal doors. Behind one of those door is this treasure. For years it too was simply another electronic shop. Charles Aslan, a member of the family that owns the building, is the man with a smile who greets our tours and loves showing off the space.
Looking in from the street, can you see how the whole surface is covered in tiles. Not just any tiles, all are made by Ernest Batchelder.These tiles are very typical of his style – these are in the Art Nouvaux feel. What is very different is the finish on the tiles. They are very dark and somewhat shiny. One of Batchelder’s signatures was the matte finish on his tiles. He did seal them, but not with a shiny glaze. The owners of the shop wanted a brown tile, they probably wanted the shine because there are no windows and having the walls and ceiling reflect the light would be helpful. Unfortunately, they shellacked the whole space. With time the shellack aged, darkened and obscures many of the details of the tile. This is a problem art restorers see all the time.
As you enter the shop, you walk under this archway with the two Dutch children blowing bubbles – which are in fact lightbulbs.
In the early 20th The Chocolate Shop Corporation was hoping to be the Starbucks of it’s day. Of course they were going to sell chocolate and sweets. They commissioned Ernest Batchelder in 1914 to make all of these tiles – which he did. The Chain concept never really got off the ground. In 1922, C.C. Brown opened Brown’s Chocolate Shop here and sold his invention – the chocolate Sundae. Then in 1928 it became a vegetarian cafeteria and remained so until 1942. For more than 40 years, this was the location of Finney’s cafeteria. In 1986, after it closed, in went the drywall and the electronic store came in.
It was during the Finney period, in 1975 that the city of Los Angeles declared the interior a historical cultural monument.Part of the Batchelder commission was creating these murals with Dutch scenes. You can see that the tiles were colored, but that shellack is dulling everything.I must commend Becky for touching up the photos, in reality is hard to see this kind of detail, the space is very dark. Sometimes the camera can capture more than the naked eye can see.A shelf may have been affixed to the wall here, you can the that not only was the shellack removed but so was the original color. For all the problems with the shellack. There are a number of tiles where the shellack has been removed. I hope it stops there because all that remains is a dull fired tile. This is a problem all art conservators have – sometimes you can’t get back to the original intent – so better to stay with the added layers than lose everything.A wonderful close up of a windmill.Dutchman in the role of gargoyle, holding up the lintel about him.
The detail work is incredible. I just love the different ways of laying tile on the ceiling and the walls. Here you see the top of the pier with it’s many decorations. Also, this is the one picture I took, you can see the difference in quality.
Charles Aslan is fighting to get permission from the building at the rear of the shop to open up an additional exit. This would open up on the Spring/Broadway arcade. Different building, different owners. They are not interested. Charles cannot turn this into a viable coffee or chocolate shop without that additional exit. So it is not clear what will happen.
My advice is get on either the Broadway or Downtown Renaissance tours soon. This treasure may soon be hidden again behind the metal door. Being a cultural monument is very nice – but with the many players involved, it may be a hidden one.