A still from “The Hope Chest,” courtesy of Mary Mallory.
Serving both sweet and medicinal purposes, chocolate has been served up as a special treat since at least 1900 BC and continues as a favored gift and treat today. As it became more mass produced, it gained a wide following in Europe and America. By the early 1910s, the chocolate craze overtook Los Angeles. A gorgeous chocolate shop would be designed and constructed at 217 W. Sixth Street in 1914 to feed this mania. In business for less than a decade, the striking artwork still survives, though somewhat hidden away in downtown Los Angeles.
Los Angeles businessman Gerhard Eshman bought and sold property in the downtown area from the late 1890s into the 1900s, “a firm believer in the future greatness of this city…,” per his 1915 obituary in the Los Angeles Times. He purchased land on West Sixth Street in 1903 and hired the architectural firm of Morgan and Walls to design a building at 217-219 W. Sixth St. A Sept. 6, 1903, Times article stated he would spend $25,000 to construct a four-story building on the site. Little is known of its earliest tenants, save for ads for the high-class Davis Massage Parlor listed in the Los Angeles Herald from 1906-1909. The Meyberg Co., designers and manufacturers of fixtures, occupied the building from 1910-1913.
Mary Mallory’s “Hollywoodland: Tales Lost and Found” is available for the Kindle.
The Nov. 2, 1913, Los Angeles Times notes in an article that the Chocolate Shop Corp., open for three years, had signed a 10-year lease on the building in order to open their fourth location in the Los Angeles area, to join their shops at 207 W. Fifth Street, 20 E. Colorado in Pasadena, and 731-733 S. Broadway. E. C. Quinby and P. W. Quinby served as president and vice president, with W. M. Petitfils serving as secretary and general manager.
The Chocolate Shop Corp. hired Richards-Neustadt Construction Co. to design alterations to the building, with the upper three floors to be turned into modern lofts. “The whole interior is to be refinished and a handsome marble and tile entrance created at the west end of the building. The corporation will install on the first floor one of the finest confectionary shops on the coast.” They intended to spend $40,000 on fixtures and decorations, and $10,000 on renovating the upper floors.
To ensure the beauty of the shop, the company quickly employed the architectural firm of Plummer & Feil to design eye-catching thematic architecture for the establishment, and hired the young Ernest Batchelder Co. of Pasadena to devise and manufacture spectacular original tilework for the interior. Plummer & Feil sent notices to the Copyright Office in January-February 1914 noting their work on the project. The listings note “revised floor plan of dining room for chocolate shop no. 4—revised plan and elevation of front room for chocolate shop no. 4—revised plan and tile elevations for chocolate shop no. 4—revised tile elevation in dining room for chocolate shop no. 4.”
Batchelder himself created chocolate-colored tile to mimic the product to be sold. Featuring rich caramel and chocolate colors, it also featured images of gargoyles in one room, Dutch children and landscapes of windmills, canals, and bridges in another, and also featured Romanesque arches of chocolate tile in the final room.
A redwood box used to pack chocolate, listed on EBay in 2011.
Work proceeded quickly, and by early July, 1914, Los Angeles Times ads note the business serving a la carte meals in its Old Dutch room, just like the 733 S. Broadway facility. Advertisements promoted all the establishments as places for “dainty” meals or desserts, after theater snacks, or full lunch or dinner meals. They served lunch at noon, dinner at six, and offered dainty desserts from 3-5 pm.
By 1916, the shops packed chocolates in small redwood boxes featuring Dutch girls on the box’s interior to be shipped locally or across the United States. They even announced in newspaper ads that they delivered free to any part of Los Angeles.
Fashionable film stars visited the shops, as Picture-Play Magazine noted in May 1916 that the Talmadge and Gish sisters often took tea there.
Two years later, when Dorothy Gish began making films for Paramount, she must have remembered this pleasing place, as it was employed as a location in her film, “The Hope Chest,” starring Richard Barthelmess, Lew Cody, George Fawcett, Sam de Grasse, and Carol Dempster, directed by Elmer Clifton and supervised by D. W. Griffith. The book on which the film was based had the main female character working in a chain of important candy stores, adapted into an upscale chocolate store. The Dec. 28, 1918, Moving Picture World featured an advertisement noting that Gish played a chocolate girl selling chocolate in a store.
“The Hope Chest” in Picture Play Magazine.
According to the Sept. 1, 1918, Los Angeles Times, “The Hope Chest” crew descended on the store a few days previously to film from 11:30 pm (short dinner) to 7 a.m. for the opening scenes of the film, with Gish and three other young women wearing exact replicas of the Chocolate Shop’s waitress uniforms, as ordered by Gish. She was approached by a real waitress at 11:30 who realized there were four more girls than normal and asked when she had come. Gish replied that she had just arrived, and the waitress told her to remove her lipstick, as a previous girl was fired only 30 minutes after starting when discovered wearing lipstick.
Business was booming so much by December 1918 that the Quinbys leased 20,000 square feet in a Santee street building to strictly manufacture their chocolate, leaving all space in their four local establishments for retail purposes only.
The Quinbys bought out Petitfils in 1919 and changed the name of the company to Quinby’s California Chocolate Shops, shipping across the United States and to Hawaii, Cuba, South America, Australia, the Philippines, and China. They promoted their chocolate as high grade and popular with fashionable people across the country, costing $1.50-$2 a pound.
Unfortunately, sugar prices were rising in early 1920, and the country was soon to enter a deep recession. The Quinbys announced special 50-cent lunches and dinners with choice of soups, meat entrees, vegetables, and desserts around this time at most locations, and they also leased the second floor of the Sixth Street location to the Los Angeles Trust and Savings Bank, which was expanding rapidly.
The Dutch Room at the Chocolate Shop, 207 W. Fifth St., in a postcard listed on EBay with bids starting at $2.
In July 1922, they leased the remaining upper floors to the bank for 15 years at a cost of $270,000, with the bank expected to make alterations on the building’s exterior. The Chocolate Shop would move to a store in the Metropolitan Theatre around Aug. 1, with O. A. Olin paying around $200,000 for a fifteen-year lease on the shop space to open a cafeteria. Within several years, all the Chocolate Shop locations would close.
Over the next 90 years, several businesses occupied the former Chocolate Shop location at 217 W. Sixth St., all lovingly maintaining the gorgeous tile. The Health Cafeteria offered the “Ehret Non-Clogging Diet” of fruits, vegetable salads, meat substitutes, and whole wheat breads and desserts through at least 1928, when their ads disappear.
Finney’s Cafeteria later occupied the site, and local organizations held meetings and luncheons in the establishment, still decorated in gorgeous style. In 1975, the interior was added to the list of Los Angeles Historic-Cultural Monuments. Eventually, the cafeteria closed and an arcade took its place, later itself replaced by a Metro PCS store. Many people feared removal of the tile, but businessman Charles Aslan discovered it mostly intact when he ripped down particle board in 2012. He stated in newspaper articles of the time that he intended to renovate and reopen the building, but nothing new has been announced lately.
Downtown Art Walk offers occasional tours to see the delectable Chocolate Shop, a hidden and rich taste of Arts and Crafts beauty for patrons dining at the fashionable establishment, and a perfect example that retail and artistic vision can coexist and thrive.