Intl. Notebook Jun 1 2012
Neon light glows in Los Angeles restaurant for 70 years, but not as brightly as the chain's former owner.

There’s a story on the wires right now about a neon light that was left burning for 70 years. Found in a Los Angeles restaurant, the light had gotten sealed behind a women's restroom wall during one of the place's many renovations. The owner of the restaurant, who uncovered the light when he recently decided to remodel anew, was shocked to find it plugged in and functioning. He estimates that the electricity consumed over the decades cost about $17,000. All very interesting. But what’s really fascinating about this story is the restaurant itself—Clifton’s Cafeteria.

Though none of the stories we saw mentioned it, Clifton’s was a chain of restuarants that was historically noteworthy for important reasons. The original branch, located on Olive Street, started as a beautiful Spanish revival building but was transformed into a fantastic, jungle-themed, one-of-a-kind example of programmatic architecture. The exterior, which you see below, featured cliffs, working waterfalls, and hanging tropical plants. These sorts of specialized structures that served as their own advertising were popping up all over Southern California, but this was a particularly gaudy and effective conversion. The newly junglefied eatery was named Clifton’s Pacific Seas.

Clifton's adopted a pay-whatever-you-can-afford policy. There was even a neon sign on the front of the building that told customers to “Pay what you wish.” This was during the crushing years of the Great Depression and, needless to say, Clifton’s Pacific Seas became a hot spot,giving away thousands of meals for free each month. The policy continued until the proprietor, Clifford Clinton (not Clifton) opened a place for needy customers called the Penny Caveteria in a nearby basement (he came up with the name by combining “cave” and “cafeteria”).

It’s worth noting that Clifford Cliinton had business acumen. He had calculated exactly what margin of profit he needed to earn per plate to make Clifton’s Pacific Seas viable, and had enough full price customers to maintain that level. His approach would be heresy by today's standards, which dictate that corporations must make the most possible profit by any means neccessary (usually by squeezing workers and dodging taxes). Despite the radical approach, Clifton’s did more than merely survive—it thrived. It went on to become a chain of eateries run by generations of family members, and Los Angeles residents never forgot Clinton’s generosity at that first Clifton’s, and made the other locations popular for decades.

The original Clifton's is now a parking lot, but we wanted to make sure at least one story about the uncovered neon light mentioned the special history of the chain, and paid respect to Clifford Clifton, who was the real light in the darkness. We probably don’t need to point out that nothing even remotely like the original Clifton’s Pacific Seas could happen today, and indeed, we live in such hardhearted times thatif a restaurant adopted a pay-what-you-can-afford policy, it's easy to imagine some loud-mouthed cable pundit excoriating the owner for helping the undeserving or having socialist beliefs. That isn’t a nice thing to believe about modern day America, but does anyone really doubt it’s possible? 


History Rewind
The headlines that mattered yesteryear.
September 27
1964—Warren Commission Issues Report
The Warren Commission, which had been convened to examine the circumstances of John F. Kennedy's assassination, releases its final report, which concludes that Lee Harvey Oswald, acting alone, killed Kennedy. Today, up to 81% of Americans are troubled by the official account of the assassination.
September 26
1934—Queen Mary Launched
The RMS Queen Mary, three-and-a-half years in the making, launches from Clydebank, Scotland. The steamship enters passenger service in May 1936 and sails the North Atlantic Ocean until 1967. Today she is a museum and tourist attraction anchored in Long Beach, U.S.A.
1983—Nuclear Holocaust Averted
Soviet military officer Stanislav Petrov, whose job involves detection of enemy missiles, is warned by Soviet computers that the United States has launched a nuclear missile at Russia. Petrov deviates from procedure, and, instead of informing superiors, decides the detection is a glitch. When the computer warns of four more inbound missiles he decides, under much greater pressure this time, that the detections are also false. Soviet doctrine at the time dictates an immediate and full retaliatory strike, so Petrov's decision to leave his superiors out of the loop very possibly prevents humanity's obliteration. Petrov's actions remain a secret until 1988, but ultimately he is honored at the United Nations.
September 25
2002—Mystery Space Object Crashes in Russia
In an occurrence known as the Vitim Event, an object crashes to the Earth in Siberia and explodes with a force estimated at 4 to 5 kilotons by Russian scientists. An expedition to the site finds the landscape leveled and the soil contaminated by high levels of radioactivity. It is thought that the object was a comet nucleus with a diameter of 50 to 100 meters.
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