Iconic Walker’s Cafe in San Pedro under construction despite concerns over historic status – Daily News

  • Walker’s Cafe in San Pedro has had a makeover and is ready for a shoot. Undated photo. (Courtesy of San Pedro Bay Historical Society)

  • The staff is dressed for Halloween at Walker's Cafe...

    Staff are dressed for Halloween at Walker’s Cafe in San Pedro in this undated photo. (Courtesy of San Pedro Bay Historical Society)

  • An old cooler, T-shirt and other interior decoration...

    An old cooler, t-shirt and other decorations from inside Walker’s Cafe in an undated photo. (Courtesy of San Pedro Bay Historical Society)

  • Walker's Cafe temporarily closed in 1994 but reopened in 1996....

    Walker’s Cafe temporarily closed in 1994 but reopened in 1996. (Courtesy San Pedro Bay Historical Society)

  • Debbie Flowers plays guitar on the roof of Walker's Cafe...

    Debbie Flowers plays guitar on the roof of Walker’s Cafe in San Pedro during a rally in this undated photo. (Courtesy of San Pedro Bay Historical Society)

  • Walker's Cafe in San Pedro was a popular stop for...

    Walker’s Cafe in San Pedro was a popular stop for bikers over the years. (Courtesy of San Pedro Bay Historical Society)

Ongoing construction at the historic Walker’s Cafe in San Pedro, now closed, has raised concerns among some Los Angeles residents and city officials – who have ordered work to stop – who are worried about everything which could violate the historical and cultural historic status of the building.

But that work, a spokeswoman for new owners Prospect Group Inc. said this week, was immediately needed to address existing health and safety risks.

City officials are expected to meet with owners this week when an inspection is conducted, said Silva Harapetian, spokesperson and chief marketing officer for Burbank-based Prospect. Company officials held a Zoom meeting with city officials earlier to discuss the work, she said.

For onlookers, however, the activity was something of a mystery, hidden behind a tall barricade-style fence that kept everything hidden from view.

“There was a stop work order posted on July 14,” said Noel Gould, who lives next door to the cafe.

“They’re doing big electrical work, big plumbing work, they’re putting in windows where there were none before,” he said. “They are doing major unauthorized work.

Harapetian said the stop work order came from the South Coast Air Quality Management District – not the city – and centered on an inspector showing up and not being able to access it. as the owners were not on site and could not be reached.

She also denied that windows had been installed where there were none, saying they had only replaced broken panes.

So far, Harapetian said, the process has involved clearing out two large garages out back that were “filled to the ceilings with stuff, boxes and trash” and carrying out health and safety repairs. needed inside the main building.

That job involved dealing with a leaky roof, exposed electrical wires, broken windows, dry rot, peeling paint and graffiti, she said.

Throughout the process, Harapetian said, the owners collected everything that seemed to be of historical significance, from wall-hung objects to mugs to an antique cooler that had been used as a display in the cafe for decades. The goal is to re-open the cafe to look as much like the original as possible.

“We had to go through all of that to make sure we preserved what was historic and what was important to the property,” she said, “and it took time.”

But the city’s Department of Construction and Safety, responding to community concerns, also issued a “stop work” order as well as orders to comply with the Bureau of Historic Resources, which requested a outline of the works to be examined.

“The owners have discussed minor maintenance work they plan to do,” a planning representative said in an email, but the department is still awaiting a response.

A building and safety spokesperson did not respond to an email asking if the city would enforce the violation of the earlier stop work order.

Prospect will provide the city with further details when officials visit this week, Harapetian said. The new owners’ plans remain as originally set out, she said, to respect historic landmark status and reopen Walker’s to continue operating as a cafe as it has since the 1940s.

“Our goal from the very beginning,” Harapetian said, “has been to preserve Walker and bring him back to his glory days.”

To that end, Harapetian said, she is researching the building’s original canopies to create replicas.

She also appealed for anyone who can provide images of the original mermaid sign, she said. This sign was replaced once but now the replica is gone.

There are also plans to repair and restore the broken neon sign that still remains on the building, 700 W. Paseo del Mar, which sits adjacent to Point Fermin Park and the scenic ocean-top cliffs of the town.

When a tall fence was erected and workers could be heard inside this summer, however, it raised concerns among residents watching the closed cafe, including Emma Rault, who led efforts to get landmark status for the site through the City of Los Angeles Cultural Heritage Commission.

From its “world famous” Bessie burgers to a clientele that included neighborhood regulars, tank tops and leather-clad bikers, Walker’s Cafe had been a legendary piece of San Pedro since the 1940s.

The cafe has even featured in several movies over the years, including “Chinatown.”

Walker’s operated only sporadically at the start of the pandemic before closing permanently last fall, with the son of its longtime owner saying his father was no longer able to operate it.

The Cultural Heritage Commission unanimously approved the designation in March, but it still needs to go to the Los Angeles City Council’s Land Use Planning and Management Committee and then to the full council for finalization. The PLUM meeting is scheduled for August 16th.

The cafe’s current owners have experience in historic renovations, Harapetian said, including winning an award for restoring a craftsman home in Pasadena.

“We went through (Walker’s) and saved everything that was on the walls for a few decades,” Harapetian said. “We’ve been saving mugs, we’ve been saving little trinkets, and we’ll be looking at how best to present” these items.

New furniture that had been added to the cafe in recent years will not be retained, she added, but anything that appears to date from the cafe’s early days will be restored and reused.

And while the property is now zoned for residential use, there are no plans to add a housing element to the rear, Harapetian said, citing speculation that had been growing in the community. But the owners are asking the city for clarification on how the cafe’s use can be protected in the future given the residential designation, which took place after Walker’s opened.

“We have the resources and the team and we are ready to complete it as soon as possible,” she said of the restoration and reopening project. But she added that the city’s process is slow.

The “charm and integrity” of the 1936 building will be restored, Harapetian said, but it needs repairs first.

It is clear, she said, that there have been repeated break-ins since the cafe was closed and stood empty, so work began quickly to clear the property and protect it.

“We’re still looking for an operator,” Harapetian said, adding that they’ve received a dozen requests about it, but haven’t yet accepted – or refused – any.

Gould said residents had heard the operator’s monthly fee would be $12,000. Harapetian said that was “not necessarily true” and would depend on the specific arrangement.

City permits are now being sought for whatever is needed to complete the repairs, she said.

“The question of people coming in to exploit it is when are you going to open the doors,” Harapetian said, adding that the uncertainty of a schedule has made this selection difficult. “We don’t really know and it’s like a Catch 22. We want to get things done.”

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