West Hollywood’s Historic Preservation Commission will celebrate the renovation and restoration of the Formosa Café on Monday, July 8.
The commission will hold its monthly meeting there from 6 to 8 p.m. The Formosa is located on the southeast corner of Santa Monica Boulevard at Formosa Avenue. Those interested in attending are asked to RSVP to MPeterson@weho.org by Wednesday because space is limited. The event will include some appetizers and nonalcoholic beverages; the bar will be open for guests who’d like to purchase something a little stronger. Parking is available at the West Hollywood Gateway ramp for a small fee (first hour is free), but those attending are encouraged to walk, bike or take a bus or shuttle.
The Formosa is one of the city’s most iconic restaurants and bars, famed as the dining spot for actors and directors involved in films made across the street at what now is known as The Lot, which was the original Pickford-Fairbanks Studio in 1922. And it was a bit infamous for its mob connections. For years, Los Angeles gangster Johnny Stompanato and his lover, actress Lana Turner, frequented the Formosa for their “back room” meetings with Johnny’s boss, mobster Mickey Cohen.
For the past two years, the Formosa Café has been undergoing a renovation by by its owner, the 1933 Group, whose collection of bars includes the Harlowe in West Hollywood. The design of its bars reflects the era of the company’s name. The restaurant was originally called the Red Post Café. New York prizefighter Jimmy Bernstein bought it in 1925, added a red train car to its side for more dining space and called it Formosa Café. New owners purchased it in July 2015 and transformed the interior by taking down the 8 x 10 black and white celebrity photographs, painting the red interior a battleship gray, and adding a rooftop garden bar was added.
The 1933 Group has put old black and white photographs back on the walls of the café and restored the seating there and in the bar. An old bar from a location in Chinatown has been added as part of a bar in the back.
The Formosa has been designated as a cultural resource because it is identified with persons or events significant in local, state or national history, one of the criteria for such a designation. Another criterion the Formosa Café meets is that it has “distinguishing characteristics of an architectural or historical type or specimen.” That distinction is based on the Formosa’s repurposed Pacific Electric Red Car, a trolley built between 1901 and 1906 that is now home to the Formosa’s bar.