Mary Mallory / Hollywood Heights: L.A.’s Vegetarian Roots More Than a Century Old

Veg Cafe Day
A vegetarian restaurant opened near Angeles Flight in 1900.

From earliest recorded history, many people have searched for a clean and healthy diet that benefited society as well as their health. Prehistoric persons originally survived on a meatless diet since plants couldn’t run away, gradually adding in meat. Centuries later, many practiced vegetarianism for ethical and religious reasons, including Ancient Greek philosopher Pythagoras, believing all creatures possessed souls.

Certain religious and spiritual sects continued the custom, picked up by those of an academic bent. Such followers established the Vegetarian Society of England in the mid-1800s as an additional way to pursue abstinence, temperance, and self-control. Early practitioners included Leo Tolstoy, George Bernard Shaw, and Bronson Alcott, father of “Little Women” author Louisa May Alcott.

Mary Mallory’s “Living With Grace”
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Veg Cafe Interior
By the late 1890s, vegetarianism reached America, thanks to vegetarian congresses and exhibits at World Fairs. Like-minded people established groups in New York City and Chicago, as well as the Vegetarian Society of America in Philadelphia. In 1894, Los Angeles resident Dr. L Gossman organized individuals to establish a vegetarian society here, with hopes of eventually creating a vegetarian restaurant in order to lure others to their philosophy.

On the evening of January 25, 1894, Dr. Gossman and 34 guests met at his 630 S. Broadway home to form the Vegetarian Society of Southern California. Former Paris resident Mr. H. Wallerstein, an exhibitor at the 1893 World’s Fair and participant in the Vegetarian Congress in Chicago, heartily promoted the idea, noting that “the climate, people and agricultural possibilities of Southern California were most admirably adapted to the propagation of the new dietetic faith,” per the January 26, 1894, Los Angeles Herald. After passing by-laws and electing officers, the group moved for the establishment of a Los Angeles vegetarian restaurant as soon as possible.

Boston and New York opened vegetarian restaurants quickly thereafter, but not until 1900 did Los Angeles follow along. Ads in local newspapers on April 1, 1900, announced the opening of the “hygienic vegetarian restaurant” at 315-317 W. 3rd Street in the former location of the Ralston Pure Food Co., following the practices of the Battle Creek, Mich. and St. Helena sanitariums advocating healthy and clean living at the behest of Dr. John Henry Kellogg. Situating the restaurant at the foot of Angels Flight made it accessible to more high end residents on Bunker Hill as well as those shopping downtown.

An advertisement and advertiorial in the paper a week later promoted the healthy diet, a practice of Buddhists for more than 2,500 years. The story noted that vegetarians find every nutrient required in clean grains, nuts, fruits, and vegetables, without the “poisonous elements contained in meat.” More eating disorders and stomach conditions occurred in the United States than anywhere else because of our more carnivorous diet, the article stated, which virtually disappeared by not eating meat. Nervous conditions and irritability disappeared in those eating a clean, healthy diet.

Vegetarian Restaurant Menu To see its effects in person, the article suggested visiting the clean, neat vegetarian restaurant. “…Handsome young women, robust, healthy-looking men and well-preserved older men and women” assembled in the restaurant, with “refined and thoughtful appearance” and the absence of community undesirables. Thanks to Southern California’s wonderful climate, bumper crops of fresh, locally produced fruits and vegetables comprised the quality, tasty meals.

As with New York’s vegetarian restaurant, mouth-watering desserts and coffee proliferated, with “the vegetarians going pretty strong on sweets and coffee. They use no lard or other slaughter products, but they eat animal products like butter and milk.” In 1903, the restaurant even promoted its Thanksgiving dinner.

For a short while, vegetarianism really took off after the publication of Sinclair Lewis’ muckraking novel, “The Jungle,” documenting the deplorable conditions of America’s meatpacking industry, which lead to the creation of the Pure Food and Drug Act in 1906. Sickened at the description of the horrible process of preparing meat, many looked for a cleaner and safe form of food.

Over the next 20 years, the restaurant operated as a vegetarian restaurant or cafe, first at 315-319 S. Hill, and later at the new address 259 H. Hill. In 1909, a vegetarian cafeteria opened at 622 S. Broadway, surviving for a number of years. Dr. Gossman also opened his own vegetarian cafe for a short time as well.

By the 1920s, vegetarianism saw a large decline in Los Angeles as in other places. The vegetarian establishments closed, only becoming popular once again in the 1960s as younger people experimented with new philosophies and healthier practices. Though only surviving for a few decades, Los Angeles’ early vegetarian establishments promoted clean, healthy eating built on the plentiful, beautiful fruits and vegetables grown on Southern California’s many farms and ranches.

About lmharnisch

I am retired from the Los Angeles Times
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