Clifton’s Cafeteria: A Piece of L.A. History Restored for a New Generation

Its unapologetic kitschiness just seems to transcend time

For generations of Angelenos, Clifton’s was the heart of downtown. The first time I walked through its doors, as a six-year-old whose sole encounters with the area had been trips to Olvera Street, I thought I was at Disneyland.

The forest motif and kitschy redwood-inspired dining room immersed me in a world of faux mountains and wildlife, which wasn’t always comforting: The fake bear and deer looked primed to attack.

In the cafeteria, unlike anything I encountered at school, you took your tray into a dark room that featured a waterfall. My mother and I were regulars on Sundays, when the kids’ beef patty plate with mashed potatoes and corn weighed in at less than a dollar. The terrazzo renditions of oil derricks, City Hall, the Griffith Observatory, and other landmarks in the entry have been cleaned up.

I’d add to that list Clifton’s itself: a piece of L.A. history that has been rightfully restored for a new generation of Angelenos to enjoy.

Alison Martino is a writer, television producer and personality, and L.A. pop culture historian. She founded the Facebook page Vintage Los Angeles in 2010. In addition to CityThink and VLA, Martino muses on L.A’s. past and present on Twitter and Instagram