Sunday, September 15, 2013

Around Town: An at-risk gem in downtown L.A.

There's always a La Cañada connection.

Case in point: Michael Connelly's mystery, “The Black Box,” doesn't exactly mention La Cañada, but his lead character, Detective Harry Bosch, stops at Giamela's in Atwater Village for a meatball submarine sandwich. Atwater is close enough. Back in the day, we were all, more or less, part of José Verdugo's Rancho La Cañada.
There are historical connections as well. La Cañada was the home of Rattlesnake James Lisenba, the last man hanged in California, and Lemuel Veilex, who was acquitted of burning down the La Cañada schoolhouse. Both men were tried in downtown Los Angeles.

La Cañada Flintridge is practically a sister city to downtown Los Angeles. Check out the Glendale (2) Freeway in the morning. Look at all those La Cañadans, including me, headed to downtown Los Angeles.

Last week after court I headed to the Time-Tec Watch Service Center to get a new battery for my Polar sport watch.

“Leave it for an hour,” the nice lady suggested.

“OK,” I said.

With time to kill, I decided to take a walk. I headed east. That's when I discovered the historic and charming St. Vincent Court.

I am ashamed to say that despite my interest in local history, I had never heard of St. Vincent Court, a picturesque alley accessed from 7th Street between Hill and Broadway. It is full of small yet wonderful cafes and restaurants.

It was once the home of L.A.'s first college. In 1865, St. Vincent's College was founded at the request of Bishop Thaddeus Amat, a member of the Society of Saint Vincent de Paul. The college accepted both lay and seminary students. After a while, the Vincentians gave control over to the Jesuits. The college was reorganized. It was moved to a new location, where it became known as Loyola High School. And now, the future of St. Vincent Court is uncertain.

Imagine an alley with only one entrance, full of European-style cafes, flowers, plants and outdoor seating. There are Middle Eastern restaurants, a Lithuanian café, a Kosher restaurant, Italian food, a French café and several delis. There's a shoeshine guy. You'll also find a coffee stand that sells lottery tickets, and lots of awnings and twinkle lights. There's very little traffic because there's no public parking on St. Vincent Court. There are several parking lots nearby.

My favorite is the Tulip Café, with an incredibly fresh salmon Caesar salad with homemade croutons, served with fresh bread and butter al fresco on a table with a crisp white table cloth. They also serve snapper, scampi, swordfish, grilled chicken, steaks and shish kebab. The owner, Kacin Celik, is passionate about food. His place is open from 11 a.m. until 5 p.m. weekdays and 9:30 p.m. on Saturdays.

The street is a hidden gem and it is at risk of disappearing.

The outdoor seating did not meet city code. A few months ago, there was a complaint and the city of Los Angeles ordered all the cafés to remove their seats, tables, potted plants and trees.

City Councilman Jose Huizar is trying to mediate the dispute, “if asked.” He told the L.A. Times, “We get a big bang economically and socially if each side gives a little.”

Maybe the councilman can try to mediate without being asked. A lot of us in La Cañada are late to this rodeo. We knew about Loyola High School but we didn't know about St. Vincent Court. Even now, without the street seating, it's way cuter than Disneyland or the Americana at Brand.

I wonder if there's any empty space on Foothill Boulevard.,0,7220352.story

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