June 28th, 2019

carole lombard 05
  • vp19

For the Formosa, forward into the past

For Carole Lombard, making "To Be Or Not To Be," a smart if dark comedy directed by Ernst Lubitsch (whom she had long admired, and vice versa), was a dream come true. It was made for United Artists on its one-time lot, in what's now known as West Hollywood, and then known as the Samuel Goldwyn studio.

Today, the area will be jumping, because a fabled restaurant nearby with ties to classic Hollywood is making a triumphant return.

It's a happy ending for the Formosa Cafe, which Lombard would have known as the Red Post Cafe. Its proximity to the studio makes it likely she ate there during the several weeks "To Be Or Not To Be" was in production in late 1941. The luncheonette used part of the interior of this 1902 Pacific Electric streetcar no longer in service:

Restauranteur Lem Quon became a partner in 1945, and the Red Post was renamed the Formosa Cafe for nearby North Formosa Avenue (but serving Chinese food, natch), although its actual address is 7156 Santa Monica Boulevard. Its noir-ish ambience made it a favorite with the film set.

While we aren't certain Lombard ever ate at the site, it's known Clark Gable did. Other notable patrons included Marlon Brando, Humphrey Bogart, Judy Garland, Grace Kelly, Dean Martin, Marilyn Monroe, Elvis Presley, Frank Sinatra, Elizabeth Taylor and John Wayne. Now that's star power! The cafe was used for two sequences in the 1997 thriller "L.A. Confidential," set in its heyday of the early 1950s.

So what happened? Several years ago, new owners decided to modernize the place, shredding its ambience, and the venue closed in December 2016. New owners painstakingly restored the Formosa's retro look to something Gable, Sinatra or Presley would have appreciated, along with the classic Chinese cuisine.

Facebook friend Alison Martino (Al's daughter) of Vintage Los Angeles fame is second from right, part of a recent private opening with, from left, decorator Kimberly Biehl Schmidt, chef George Geary, musician Greg Boaz and DJ Rodney Bingenheimer. Alison also received a pleasant surprise, as her father's photo has joined the list of notables pictured at the Formosa.

This promises to be a fun foray for any classic Hollywood fan.
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