The Golden Age of Hollywood
Post Publication Note: Perino's Restaurant can also be viewed in the movie "Mulholland Falls", beginning four minutes into the film.
Some of my fondest memories of growing up were of the times that I spent at my grandparent’s home in South Central Los Angeles, near the intersection of 80th Street and Western Avenue. It was a modest mission style home with stucco walls and a red tile roof. There was a huge back yard, and back in those days we still used an incinerator to burn the trash.
During times when I would spend the night, my grandfather “Pop” would get up at 4AM every morning to go to Perino's Restaurant in Hollywood and check in the fresh meats and produce that would come in on the daily truck. He would arrive home at 3PM every day (except when he worked late for special events) with a large produce box full of goodies like fresh steaks, produce, pies and even cheesecakes. The cheesecakes always had a crack in them, making them “imperfect” and were not good enough for the guests.
On those rare and lucky occasions, my mother would take me up to Wilshire Blvd. to “Pop’s Restaurant” and we got to sit in the kitchen at a small table and eat lunch or an early supper. The owner of the restaurant, Alex Perino would wait on us personally and we had a great time. My mother would look out of the kitchen windows at the clientele and make comments or giggle at who was eating there that day. I remember looking through the cracks in the door at the diners. I loved to watch them eat, never knowing who they were.
As the years rolled by, I began to realize just what an iconic historical landmark Perino’s Restaurant was on the Hollywood Social Scene. When my grandfather passed away in 1967 when I was ten, I was devastated. His funeral was the first one that I had ever been to; there were hundreds of people there, many of whom I had seen as diners in the restaurant. As I had come to learn, these people were the cream of Hollywood’s Elite.
On the first day of the funeral, after the Rosary Mass, I wandered outside and sat on the steps that led down to the rectory of the old St. Anselm’s Church. I was overwhelmed by it all, and sat and cried. Out of the darkness, a tall man came and sat next to me and comforted me and gave me words of encouragement. It wasn’t until I met this man again about three years later that I realized that it was James Stewart, the actor. I also didn’t realize that the man that spent so much time with my grandfather as a close friend was Anthony Quinn. Because of my youth, I was only allowed to call him “Mr. Quinn”.
During its long history as a Los Angeles landmark, Perino’s Restaurant would have two locations, the original at 3927 Wilshire Blvd. and later 4101 Wilshire Blvd. When Perino's first opened in 1932, the restaurant and its owner, Alex Perino, immediately became favorites of both Hollywood elite and the city's demimonde. Perino's popularity would last over 50 years. On August 15, 1934 a fire gutted the interior of the original restaurant, but the eatery reopened better than ever. Frank Sinatra played the piano in the bar, Bette Davis permanently reserved her booth, the mobster “Bugsy” Siegel was a regular patron in the '40s, and Cole Porter supposedly wrote a song on the back of a Perino’s menu. Ironically, as a child I colored a lot of pictures on the backs of Perino’s Menus.
On September 10, 1954, another fire gutted the building, causing over $250,000 in damages. Fire investigators believed it started when someone left a lighted cigarette in an upholstered chair. The restaurant reopened in 1955 with newly designed interiors. Perino's was enlarged to seat 360 people and added two private dining rooms. As the new Hollywood crowd began to emerge, the traditions of old Hollywood soon faded. The restaurant closed in 1986 and was torn down in 2005, replaced by a 4-story, 47-unit apartment building. The lobby of the original Perino’s was kept intact and used as a memorial and reminder of the great Hollywood Tradition that once stood there.
So aside from about 300 Perino’s matchbooks, some ashtrays, old menus and a tablecloth or two (which are scattered around the family) the best souvenirs we have from the restaurant are the memories. But you can still catch a glimpse of Perino’s Restaurant in the movies, the most recollectable one being “L.A. Confidential”. The scene where the police officers insult Joan Crawford while in a restaurant was filmed inside of Perino’s.
As for me and my memories, the memories of Jesse Deleon, my grandfather will always be alive, and his persona was immortalized in the film “A Walk in the Clouds” by his good friend Anthony Quinn.
Thanks for reading.