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Why Gutting The Pig 'N' Whistle Was A Betrayal For Hollywood History Buffs

PIG N WHISTLE HISTORY
The exterior of the Pig 'N' Whistle with its iconic sign, circa 2008.
(jondoeforty1/Flickr Creative Commons)
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Historian April Clemmer, leader of the popular Old Hollywood Walking Tour, first noticed the changes in late July, 2021. "I looked inside, and it's hard to see just through windows, but it looked like they were gutting it," she says of the Pig 'N' Whistle. "They took down the two little pigs playing the whistles that were on the exterior and they put in skulls."

For some Angelenos, that may seem like a minor detail. For local historians and preservationists, it was a betrayal.

After opening in 1927, the Hollywood outpost of the playful Pig 'N' Whistle became equally popular with Golden Age movie stars and tourist families from Omaha. How many restaurants can you say that about? It expanded into a major West Coast chain that eventually died out, leaving only one outpost, at 6714 Hollywood Blvd. After it closed during the COVID-19 pandemic, a new tenant came in to revamp the space… but radically altered both the exterior and interior of the space, which had been designed like an old English pub.

On October 25, 2021, the city of Los Angeles issued a stop work order on the building, according to Alison Martino, a local historian who runs Vintage Los Angeles and is often the first to know about historic happenings in L.A. Unfortunately, it may have been too late. The Pig 'N' Whistle's famous neon sign had already been removed by restauranter Jorge Cueva, who plans to open Mr. Tempo (part of his expanding Tempo Cantina empire) in the building, which is owned by Fulcor Investment.

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Since the site is in the Hollywood Blvd. Commercial and Entertainment District (which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places), the owners needed permits to make changes to the building's exterior but hadn't filed any, according to the Beverly Park Press. That isn't uncommon. Adrian Scott Fine of the L.A. Conservancy notes that owners of historic properties often make such changes without filing the proper paperwork. The only difference is that this time, people noticed.

PIG N WHISTLE HISTORY Across_the_street_Egyptian_Theatre
A view of the Egyptian Theatre, located at 6712 Hollywood Blvd., and the Pig 'N' Whistle next to it, from across the street.
(Security Pacific National Bank Collection/Los Angeles Public Library Collection)

Capitalism And Kitsch

Before its closure, the Pig 'N' Whistle was the last restaurant standing in what was once a mighty West Coast chain.

In 1908, former San Francisco hotel manager John H. Gage opened the first Pig 'N' Whistle at 226 South Broadway, next to L.A.'s third City Hall.

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"The origin of the name is traced back to English taverns where the Anglo-Saxon 'Piggen' (Pig in the diminutive) was a vessel for milk or ale, and the 'Wassail'… meant 'Be in Health,' " Veronica Gelakoska writes in the definitive 2010 book, Pig 'N' Whistle.

It billed itself as a "High Class Candy and Luncheon Place" with elegant interiors, comfort foods such as chicken pot pie, and candy counters and soda fountains for the kiddos. With the help of pioneering Dutch immigrant Sidney Hoedemaker, who later founded the chain Hody's, Pig 'N' Whistle quickly opened new outposts in large cities up and down the West Coast. Its dancing pig mascot came to represent a uniquely American eatery, a place where capitalism and convenience met whimsy and kitsch.

As Gelakoska notes, new Pig 'N' Whistles opened near hotels, department stores and theaters including the famous Orpheum Theater in downtown L.A. Eventually, you could find outposts inside the Alexandra Hotel, the Biltmore and the Fine Arts Building. According to the Los Angeles Times, the restaurants featured more than a dozen sundaes including the tango sundae, the Peter Pan and the automobile sundae (with wafers serving as tires).

The chain worked hard to court parents who were shopping with their children or catching a movie matinee. They also introduced a relatively new novelty, children's menus that doubled as coloring books or could be made into masks. Kids could order combos like the "Old Mother Hubbard," which included a peanut butter sandwich, apple sauce and Ovaltine.

The Pig 'N' Whistle also splashed its storybook theme on all sorts of merch, including scenic postcards, one of which read, "That piping dancing little Pig with the jolly, come hither smile has all sorts of good things for your refreshment and entertainment."

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In 1927, a new Pig 'N' Whistle opened on Hollywood Blvd. "Hollywood was originally an elegant shopping district. A multitude of high-end stores and five and dimes with plenty of places to eat and socialize," says Hollywood historian Gregory Paul Williams, author of The Story of Hollywood

In July 1927, the Pig moved into an old soda fountain next to Sid Grauman's Egyptian Theatre, which had opened five years prior. Architecture firm Morgan, Walls & Clements overhauled the space while McBean and Company completed the tile work. Redone in the Spanish Revival Style, it featured wrought iron grills, rafters of oak and frescos recounting the story of Don Quixote. There was a soda fountain on one side, a candy counter on the other and a blue painted dining room in the back, according to a 2001 Los Angeles Times story.

Advertised as the chain's "newest and most beautiful shop," it included a Wurlitzer organ to enhance the ambiance. According to a 1927 article in the Hollywood Daily Citizen, diners were served by 40 waitresses wearing matching "Alice blue frocks with circular skirts and perky collars and cuffs with ruffled caps, pleated aprons and black ties."

A sweets showcase can be seen at left, while long benches for waiting can be seen across the showcase at right. A bar with a few stools in front of it can be seen at right behind the bench. Tables and chairs can be seen in the background, while wooden beams are visible on the ceiling. Decorative pillars are visible down the center of the room.
The empty interior of the Pig 'N' Whistle, 1920-1929.
(Title Insurance and Trust, and C.C. Pierce Photography Collection
/
California Historical Society/University of Southern California Libraries)

By 1929, the Pig had two more Hollywood Blvd. spots, a tea shop at 6902 Hollywood Blvd. and a restaurant called the Plaza Pig, inside the Plaza Hotel. During the 1920s and '30s, the street was a bustling, family-friendly area, and the Pig fit right in, Williams explains:

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"Seeing a movie and then going for ice cream or shopping and stopping for ice cream was what everyone did when visiting Hollywood Boulevard. At Christmas, merchants would go all out to lure the strollers to the boulevard.  Shops would compete with each other to make the most attractive window. At the Pig 'n Whistle, there were regular evening organ concerts and at Christmas, guest choirs would be added. The Egyptian built a Santa's village filled with little people playing elves."

In a bid to lure shoppers and theater-goers, the Pig often hosted luncheons on holidays and special occasions. In Pig 'N' Whistle, Gelakoska writes:

"A Mother's Day menu from 1939 offers a special coconut layer cake decorated with a candy rose for one dollar. [A] pre-World War II menu from the 6714 Hollywood Boulevard location offers a variety of entrées, including sauerbraten with potato pancakes, braised ox joints, and Hungarian goulash with spätzle. [A] Santa Claus menu from 1953 has a choice of roast young tom turkey, baked Virginia ham, or grilled top sirloin steak accompanied by candied sweet potatoes, a Bartlett pear, and hot mince pie."

PIG N WHISTLE HISTORY Broadway_north_at_Eighth
This view, circa 1937, looking north up Broadway from 8th St. includes pedestrians, cars, streetcars and a long vista of buildings. The President Theater on the right is showing Stella Dallas. Further up the street, you can see a blade sign for the Pig 'N' Whistle (712 South Broadway).
(Herman J. Schultheis Collection/Los Angeles Photographers Collection)

Illustrious guests patronized the Pig. "It quickly became a mainstay for the Boulevard and a hangout for Hollywood celebrities of the era," says Fine of the L.A. Conservancy. Clemmer thinks many a celebrity attending a premieres at the Egyptian Theatre used the small doorway in the forecourt to sneak into the Pig for a late-night sundae.

In Gourmet Ghosts, James T. Bartlett writes about some of the patrons:

"More often than not, they were dressed in their best following a premiere, and Cary Grant, Spencer Tracy, Clark Gable, Judy Garland and Barbara Stanwyck all came in here at one time or another. Child actress Shirley Temple often visited too, but that's not as odd as it sounds — in those days the Pig ' N' Whistle had an ice cream parlor and a candy counter in front  and was known as a 'candy and luncheon' place."

Actors would also pop in while shooting at nearby studios. "You saw actors walking around in their makeup… The studios didn't have commissaries so there were all these little restaurants where actors would go in their makeup, when they had a break, and get their lunch, right on Hollywood Boulevard," Clemmer says.

According to Williams, comedian Bob Hope was a frequent patron. His offices were nearby, in the Bank of America Building. After a long writing session, well past midnight, Hope would often send a junior writer to pick up a pineapple ice cream sundae from the Pig. He would eat it in front of his staff, never offering to buy them food.

A crowd has gathered in the street and on the sidewalk around a car with a sign, "Magical No-Jinks."
An exterior view of the Egyptian Theatre and the Pig 'N' Whistle Cafe on Hollywood Blvd., circa 1933. The theater is showing "Charlie Chan in Egypt" and "The Girl from Tenth Avenue."
(Security Pacific National Bank Collection/Los Angeles Public Library Collection)

Pig In A Poke

By World War II, the West Coast was home to dozens of Pig 'N' Whistles (along with even more locations of Melody Lane, another chain dreamed up by Hoedemaker). But times had started changing.

The post-WWII era saw the great suburbanization of the United States and the Pig's expansion model was no longer viable. The Hollywood Pig 'N' Whistle closed in 1952 and its famous Wurlitzer organ was carted out. Restauranteur Carmen Miceli bought the Pig's booths and stools, and they can still be found at Miceli's (1646 N. Las Palmas Ave.).

By 1968, only two Pig 'N' Whistles remained open. Although the U.S. government in 1970 shut down the Pig 'N' Whistle Corporation for failing to pay taxes, the restaurant's cultural impact endured.

In the 1974 movie Chinatown, villain Noah Cross is seen in front of a Pig 'N' Whistle, a nod to the Pig's importance in L.A. during the 1930s. The scene, however, was shot at another recently shuttered, equally legendary restaurant — Pacific Dining Car.

Hollywood Blvd. spiraled into a deep decline over the next few decades, one from which it is still emerging. Over the years, the former Pig 'N' Whistle space housed several businesses. For a time, it was Vallera's Café Di Lusso. By the 1990s, it was a Numero Uno Pizzeria.

In 2001, the Hollywood Pig 'N' Whistle came oinking back to life, bringing with it a little Hollywood glamor. Nightlife impresario and ex-rugby player Chris Breed, along with partner Allan Hajjar, spent $2 million to restore the venue, using archival photos as a guide. According to Gelakoska, the grand opening of the new space, on March 19, 2001, was a star-studded affair with Kevin Costner, Rod Stewart, Dennis Quaid and Jack Nicholson in attendance.

The new Pig 'N' Whistle soon became a popular watering hole with locals and tourists (unlike the old Pig, liquor was one of the main attractions). Clemmer would often send folks from her tours there for old school Hollywood atmosphere and a stiff drink. Musical acts performed in the back bar and tourists loved posing in front of the iconic sign.

In 2015, the backrooms in the Pig 'N' Whistle were turned into semi-secret goth club Cloak and Dagger, which was the subject of a 2021 Los Angeles Times story alleging sexual misconduct and poor working conditions. Actor Thomas Middleditch, best known for his role on the HBO show Silicon Valley, was singled out for alleged sexual misconduct.

The real damage, however, likely came from COVID-19. Like countless restaurants and bars, the Pig 'N' Whistle closed for various stints during pandemic. At some point in the summer of 2021, it seems to have shuttered for good.

At some point after that, Cueva began transforming the space in preparation for the debut of Mr. Tempo. The new restaurant, which is part of the Tempo Cantina chain, will offer Mexican food and an array of cocktails. In keeping with the chain's edgier vibe, Cueva has made changes to the venue's interior and exterior features.

Adrian Scott Fine describes some of the alterations that have taken place:

"Paint now covers previously exposed wood details on the interior, and several changes were made to the outside, from new white paint, signage, enclosure of the large, open entry, and modifications to the original decorative cartouches (medallions). This work was done without necessary permits or review by the City's Office of Historic Resources which has oversight for the Hollywood Boulevard National Register historic district. Given this is not an isolated incident affecting and damaging yet another L.A. historic building, we hope the City does everything possible to ensure original elements are restored and maintained for the future."

Since local history buffs raised the alarm in late October, construction seems to have stopped and the restaurant remains closed. Attempts to reach Cueva for this story went unanswered.

Historian Clemmer would love to see fewer chain restaurants and multinational stores and more historic sites being refurbished in a historically sensitive way. It's a quixotic vision for late capitalism. Still, she cites 101-year-old Musso and Frank as an example of a venue that not only revels in history, it uses it as one of its chief selling points.

"People come here because it's Hollywood. They want that even if they're not 100% into it. I know that because people [on my tours] don't all know who Cecil B. DeMille is but… they want to know why Hollywood is Hollywood and what's cool about it," she says.

Although it may be too late to save the Pig 'N' Whistle's famed facade and fanciful interior, its spirit remains. According to Gelakoska, former owner Chris Breed claims that in 2001 he was awakened by the sounds of ghostly organ music while visiting the site . Perhaps the new wave of customers at Mr. Tempo will also feel the lure of those old timey strains.

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