After a busy year of design, architecture, hiking and biking, we deserved a break. We gathered for one last toast to 2015 at the newly renovated Clifton’s Cafeteria in downtown LA in December. While sipping on forest-themed cocktails in the tree top bar, owner Andrew Meieran discussed the meticulous care and surprising finds he discovered while refurbishing this 80-year-old institution. After four years and $14 million, the 47,000 square foot, five story space is opening progressively (look for a new tiki bar and a subterranean space in 2016). Meieran’s renovation uncovered Los Angeles’ longest continually running neon light, multiple diaries, all sorts of vintage ephemera such as cigarette and gum packs, and even a half-eaten, long-petrified lunch.
Meieran caught the restoration bug while still in college, when he bought a 1907 craftsman bungalow in Berkeley and renovated it. His experience renovating multiple projects (including the nearby Edison), brought him to his magnum opus, Clifton’s. As a resident of downtown, Meieran loves to find projects that have both a rich cultural and architectural history that are also in danger of disappearing without a dedicated steward. It took nearly five years and $10 million but Meieran has opened an adult wonderland that still pays homage to its origins. New additions to the space include a four-story replica of a redwood tree in Muir Woods (the inside is hollow for performers to climb and the branches are structurally sound enough for aerialists to hang from) and wildlife dioramas done in partnership with the Natural History Museum. Four time capsules are hidden in the restaurant for patrons to eventually find. Meieran has also partnered on multiple programs that fulfill a mission of social responsibility, working with downtown advocacy groups Chrysalis, The Midnight Mission, and CORE designed to assist downtown LA’s most disadvantaged citizens.
A project like Clifton’s perfectly exemplifies the qualities of some of favorite design projects in LA: a dedication to preserving historically significant architecture, a willingness to innovate for the future, a very personal aesthetic, a passionate advocate, and a desire to work with the people who inhabit the neighborhood.
Here’s looking towards more great projects in 2016!