Charles Phoenix’s Slide of the Week: Clifton’s Pacific Seas Cafeteria, 1950s

clifton’s pacific seas

Gigantic neon flowers, lushly landscaped rock wall, and a multi-colored waterfall dwarf a sea of dining tables in what truly may be the ultimate Polynesian restaurant ever!

Clifton’s Pacific Seas is the younger and shorter lived “sister” cafeteria to Clifton’s Brookdale, which has been serving up steam table savories and delicious desserts in downtown Los Angeles since 1935. Clifton’s Pacific Seas came four years later, in 1939. It was located on the west side of Olive just below Sixth, and then closed (for what reason? I don’t know) in 1960 after just twenty-one years. A parking lot replaced it.

Picturesque bamboo huts, grass shacks and hand painted murals gave the spectacular hyper-themed dining room even more ambiance than what you see in this slide. Employees wore tropical print uniforms accessorized with flower leis. Polynesian entertainers performed live on a tropical stage. And there was even a “rainstorm” every twenty minutes in the Rain Hut Dining Room. And, God forbid, you should leave without a souvenir, a gift shop was well stocked with exotic keepsakes. This was Adventureland before Adventureland – the Tiki Room before the Tiki Room.

Themed interiors and environments were not invented in Southern California, but they certainly were perfected here. Miraculously many of the oldest and most charming examples still exist in the heart and soul of Los Angeles. Yes, even without our dearly departed Clifton’s Pacific Seas Cafeteria, downtown is still a hotbed of unique, unusual, bizarre and breathtaking vintage places to experience.

Here’s to you and Clifton’s Pacific Seas Cafeteria

Charles Phoenix

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