West Hollywood’s Formosa Café is one of 25 places in the United States on the ballot for Vote Your Main Street, a campaign to choose recipients of $2 million in preservation funding from American Express.
The campaign launched today and runs through Oct. 31. Votes can be cast online.
“Let’s save a West Hollywood staple,” says the campaign’s pitch for the Formosa Café, which is at 7156 Santa Monica Blvd. at Formosa Avenue. “The beloved Formosa Cafe along Route 66 will be rehabilitated, passing on an icon to future generations. Threatened by development pressures, places like the Formosa Cafe are exceedingly rare today. This project will help its owners keep the building alive.”
The Formosa closed in January after 92 years in which it served as a major dining spot for actors and actresses and other film industry professionals at the movie studio next door now known as The Lot.
New York City prize fighter Jimmy Bernstein bought the restaurant, then known as the Red Post Café, in 1925. In 1945 he partnered with Hong Kong-born chef Lem Quon with whom he worked for 31 years.
Bernstein died in 1976 and Quon died in 1993, leaving the cafe to his grandson, Vince Jung. Over the years, fans of the Formosa have waged several campaigns to preserve it against threatened demolition. In 1991, the Friends of the Formosa preservation group was formed to fight Warner Bros., which owned the property the café sat on at the time and wanted to turn it into a parking lot. In 2001, another fight to save the Formosa ensued when the West Hollywood Gateway Center—a two-story shopping center that would take up a full city block—was proposed. Although the Formosa was left alone, it ended up in the middle of West Hollywood’s largest shopping complex.
The Formosa went through a number of menu changes in partners with others and in July 2015, its classic interior went through a complete transformation. All of the 8 x 10 glossies were taken down, the red interior was painted a battleship gray, and a rooftop garden bar was added. There are efforts underway to restore that interior and the 1933 Group has signed a long-term lease with Clarion Partners, owner of the Gateway shopping center, and intends to return it to a semblance of its original style.
The Vote Your Main Street campaign is a project of Partners in Preservation, an initiative created by the National Trust for Historic Preservation and American Express to engage the public in preserving and increasing awareness of America’s historic places. Since its creation in 2006, Partners in Preservation has awarded over $19 million in support of more than 200 sites.
Chartered by Congress in 1949, the National Trust for Historic Preservation has more than 60 years experience saving America’s historic places and promoting preservation.
An announcement of the contest says “America’s Main Streets represent a diverse tapestry of our history and culture. They also contribute to the local identity and vitality of our communities. To put this into perspective, according to a recent National Main Street Center Reinvestment Statistics Study, the presence of a Main Street program leads to an average of $3.1 million more in retail sales each year than would be expected otherwise. Between 2015 and 2016, this amounted to $3.3 billion nationwide.
During this campaign, the public is invited and encouraged to vote once a day for up to five Main Street projects at VoteYourMainStreet.Org. They are also invited to support their favorite Main Streets by attending special events during Open House Weekend, which is scheduled for Oct. 6-9. The Main Streets with the most votes at the end of the voting period will be awarded grants, until the full $2 million is distributed.