The area of Los Angeles now known as Studio City was mainly farm and ranch land up into the late 1920s, when investors founded the Studio City Business District and decided to try and create a film industry in the city. Businesses began springing up along the highway connecting the far Valley with Hollywood, the street now known as Ventura Boulevard. As the business area grew around what was originally the Mack Sennett Studio, and then Republic Studios, so did restaurants. One of these was Eaton’s Rancho Restaurant.
According to the February 2, 1938 issue of Daily Variety, actor Hugh Herbert, Studio City’s honorary mayor, broke the ground for the restaurant using a spoon and fork. The February 13, 1938 Los Angeles Times reported that a new $125,000 construction development was underway at 12012 Ventura Boulevard, “…modeled after early California hacienda architectural style…”, and would be known as Eaton’s Rancho. Gladys C. Norton owned the property, and was leasing it to Charles Eaton.
The restaurant knew where its bread was buttered, and really catered to the Republic Studios crowd. The menu included a Gene Autry cowboy sandwich for sixty cents and a Three Mesquiteers present a Texas Steer three decker hamburger and American cheese sandwich for thirty five cents. The menu really played up the Spanish history of the area, with little blurbs on the Capitulation at Cahuenga (now above the Universal City subway station) and the San Fernando Mission.
Because of being only a block away from Republic, the restaurant soon became a hopping place attended by celebrities. A December 17, 1938 gossip column in The Los Angeles Times noted that Fred MacMurray, Gene Autry, Dick Powell, and William S. Hart were all spotted in the restaurant at the same time the writer was there. In the January 24, 1939 Los Angeles Times, the odd pairing of Hoot Gibson and Julian Eltinge was spotted dining together in the restaurant. Director Al Rogell hosted a cast and crew party for the film “Hawaiian Nights” on July 5, 1939, with Eddie Quillan and Mary Carlisle headlining the floor show, and Sol Hoopi’s and Matty Malneck’s bands providing music.
The restaurant became very popular, and The Los Angeles Times included it in a report of “Famous Southland Cafes” on October 27, 1939, reporting on its menu and facilities. “Eaton’s Rancho on Ventura serves a choice of the specialties of the other houses (there were three other locations). You may dine in the coffee shop, in the patio, on the veranda, or in your car, as well as in the main dining room.”
In April 1940, the restaurant spent more than $50,000 to expand, increasing seating capacity by 200 and giving additional banquet space. This large space led many charity, literary, social, and industry groups to rent it for parties or meetings. Groups as diverse as the Shriners, the San Fernando Valley GOP, Native Daughters of the Golden West, Studio Clubs, real estate boards, Civil Air Patrol, The Los Angeles Times classified department, United Appeals, and film organizations met here for special occasions. Bob Hope even led a rally to raise $525,000 to build seven YMCA-YWCAs in the San Fernando Valley here on May 11, 1941.
On July 8, 1942, Attorney General Earl Warren spoke at the restaurant to 300 Democratic and Republican leaders during his run for governor. In words that ring true to today, the paper stated, “Branding partisanship the cause of the “evils in Sacramento today,” Warren declared that the people are demanding the spirit of unity and an end to party bickering in government leadership.”
The restaurant’s popularity led to dark circumstances as well. On April 22, 1941, two middle-aged bandits, guns firing, robbed Lorna Craig, the 35 year old cashier of the restaurant, of $4,300 in receipts as she walked to the bank to deposit it. Usually patrolman D.C. Farran accompanied her to the bank, but she left earlier that day to conduct personal banking. On September 16, 1941, five young masked men pulled what the newspaper called “a spectacular holdup” of the restaurant, now listed at 12010 Ventura Blvd. They tied up four employees with neckties and telephone cord, and escaped with about $3,500 from the safe, after threatening to kill the men if the safe wasn’t unlocked.
Eaton’s also was the location where a couple of young women working as waitresses were discovered by Republic Studios. The Thursday, April 8, 1943 Daily Variety mentioned that the restaurant had been swamped with applications after Jane Dillon was discovered there. She continued to work as a waitress while waiting for the first film to shoot, while it appears the Studio had big plans for her. “Studio plans glamour build-up, in keeping with her dark Latin appearance. She formerly was nightclub singer, warbled at Scherazade and Wilshire Bowl.” Daily Variety also reported that Daphne Silva had recently been signed to a contract by Republic, but she also continued to work while waiting for “Three Little Sisters” to start filming. There was hesitation by the Studio, because the government decreed on April 28 that restaurants were essential in the war effort, freezing waitresses and other employees in their jobs.
The restaurant continued to expand, spending $150,000 to remodel and redecorate in early 1948, also adding the Garden Room and the Roundup Room, a western designed cocktail lounge. Unfortunately on November 9 of that year, Santa Anas sparked around Los Angeles. Eaton’s was more than two-thirds destroyed by fire, with damages estimated at $250,000. The owners invested more than $500,000 to rebuild and reopen on August 28, 1949, in a new modern building designed by Douglas Honnold of Beverly Hills, per The Los Angeles Times. “In the large, sound-proofed main dining room, a change of planes, broken ceiling lines, different floor levels and varying color schemes break up the room to give the feeling of privacy at every booth. At the same time, wide aisles and multiple serving stations allow for prompt and efficient service.” The new restaurant contained two banquet rooms seating 300, an entrance foyer, cocktail lounge, coffee shop, and main dining room, along with almost two acres of parking.
It remained open for the next ten years, mostly as a large banqueting facility. By 1959, however, it changed ownership and name. The February 21, 1959 Los Angeles Times stated that “Don Avalier and Bill Dove’s place, called The Tahitian, opened last night with a press preview party at 12010 Ventura Blvd., Studio City. Even the bartenders were imported from Hawaii, the proprietors say.” Daily Variety reported that the restaurant catered the premiere of the film “Flower Drum Song” in 1961.
In May 1968, The Tahitian, its fixtures, and equipment were put up for auction. A McDonald’s went up on the property in 1976.
Photo: Ashtray from the Tahitian restaurant, listed on EBay at $6.99.