Vista del Arroyo Menus, Pasadena, CA, 1927

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Originally built in 1920, the Vista del Arroyo is listed in the National Register of Historic Places, but is known today by its more business-like moniker, the Richard H. Chambers United States Court of Appeals. Pretty cool courthouse, if you ask me. The original Spanish Colonial Revival architecture featured just two stories (as pictured above), but additional stories were added in the 1930s in the same style. The building served as War Department’s McCornack General Hospital during World War 2, and for a few years afterward.

Aside from revealing a sketch of the building from its earliest days, the font on the dinner menu is what sets it apart — the dropped “T” is over-the-top Art Deco, and the lettering is sublime. You can tell by the layout that this menu was originally a piece of stock pre-preinted letterhead, with the dinner menu printed on it afterwards (if it had all been designed together, the “y” and the “P” probably wouldn’t dip into “Dinner” like they do).

Nut Tree Menu, Vacaville, CA, 1950s

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I’ve seen similar Nut Tree menus as this one dated all the way back to the 1940s, but the 20-cent coffee on this menu has me questioning such an early date. My rule of thumb for the 1940s is that coffee was 10 cents, so 20-cent coffee seems awfully expensive for that era. I suppose it’s possible that the Nut Tree used this menu design during the 1940s and the 1950s. Or could the Nut Tree have been so far ahead of its time that they were already fetching exorbitant prices for a simple cup of joe? Impressive. Or, maybe there was a wartime coffee shortage that had driven up the price? Either way, I would kill for a club sandwich right now.

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Vintage Fruit Crate Labels, Lodi, CA, 1940s–1960s

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I finally became bored enough to scan some of my favorite vintage fruit crate labels from my hometown of Lodi, CA. For this posting, I focused specifically on grapes, which of course, includes lots of Zinfandel, as well as table grapes, such as the Flame Tokay.

These crate labels date from the 1940s, 1950s and 1960s (any label that features a zip code is post-1963), and I love their beautifully lithographed artwork. Once printable cardboard boxes arrived on the scene, these old crate labels were phased out pretty quickly, but lots of them still exist as new old stock.

A handful of the growers and shippers might be recognizable to anybody who has lived in Lodi, with Cesare Mondavi being the super-obvious example, and W.G. Micke representing another very familiar name.

Eventually, I’ll delve into the asparagus and cherry labels that also abound from this era, but it made the most sense to begin with the almighty grape.

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Paul Bocuse Menu, Lyon, France, Spring 1980

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I was extremely fortunate the day I discovered a sizeable collection of vintage menus, all from the finest restaurants in France. I found them while rummaging through an antique shop in Berkeley, and from what I could gather, they were simply souvenirs collected by someone who liked to travel abroad and eat well.

All in all, I purchased about two dozen menus for just $20 total (a few weeks earlier, at the same shop, I scored an autographed early edition of Julia Child’s first cookbook for an almost embarrassing $3). Picks like this one fuel my motivation to keep digging for more treasures.

Eventually, I’ll post scans of all the menus from this amazing collection, but I thought I would lead off with what I consider the centerpiece, a signed menu from Paul Bocuse, who is considered the greatest chef of his generation, and the greatest living chef today.

Bob’s Big Boy Menu, Burbank, CA, 1970s

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Bob’s Big Boy is perhaps as iconic as any Southern California restaurant chain, with its familiar Big Boy statues and its ties to L.A.’s classic Googie movement (architect Wayne McAllister also designed the original Lawry’s location on La Cienega, along with several other restaurants throughout the southland).

Bob’s Big Boy was originally founded by restaurateur Bob Wian in 1936 (as Bob’s Pantry), and the chain was acquired by the Marriott Corporation in 1967, which likely dates this particular menu to the early 1970s (I’m guessing by the number of locations listed that the Marriott had already spent several years expanding the chain into Nevada and Arizona).

Earlier iterations of Bob’s Big Boy menus are in serious demand, which speaks to the level of nostalgia that so many Angelinos have retained for this SoCal landmark. My grandparents lived in Glendale during the 1970s, so although I was too young to have any specific recollections of Bob’s Big Boy, I do remember that we dined there quite a few times, and that I was always eager to visit.

You can click on any of these images for a larger view. Enjoy!

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“The Appledore Cook Book” by Maria Parloa, 1878

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I pulled this 1878 edition of the Appledore Cook Book at an estate sale today. There were probably 400 cookbooks in the collection, and I skimmed off all of the old ones, probably 70 in total. Most of the cookbooks were from the 1930s to 1960s, with lots of book club editions that still have very nice dust jackets (Julia Child, Craig Claiborne, et al).

The Appledore Cook Book was by far the oldest of the bunch, a relic that immediately stood out, despite being relatively petite. The book shows its age, but it’s all there and the binding has held its own for almost 140 years.

The two or three blank pages in the book are filled with writing, mostly in fountain pen, featuring additional recipes (naturally). A couple newspaper recipes (one showing the date 1927) are also affixed in the book, along with several more whose glue had given out (but I’ve kept them in there on principle).

The Appledore Cook Book was author Maria Parloa’s very first work, and it’s probably the most interesting book I’ve found all year. A book this old has fallen into the public domain, and the full Appledore Cook Book can be found in PDF form here. But be warned, Victorian cookbooks are notoriously vague compared to our cookbooks of today.

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The endpapers of the Appledore Cookbook that I found. More recipes. I wish I could decipher all of it.

Lawry’s Prime Rib Menu, Beverly Hills, 1940s

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I’d never turn down at meal at San Francisco’s House of Prime Rib, but Los Angeles and Lawry’s still take the crown for being the original and the best. Lawry’s first opened its doors on La Cienega Boulevard in 1938; House of Prime Rib came along in 1949. This menu — with its 10-cent coffee — most likely dates from the mid-1940s. Back then, you’ll notice that they only offered one style of cut, no fussing around with petite cuts, and certainly no catering to some Philistine who might prefer chicken or fish. No. Everybody gets the same fat slice of prime rib, end of story, you’re welcome.

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1960s High-Hand Fruit Crate Label, Loomis, CA

This fruit crate label for High-Hand dates from the 1960s (the zip code is an easy tell). After the zip code’s creation in 1963, the USDA soon required fruit crate labels to display this new piece of data. It’s fairly easy to see that with this particular label, this zip code was simply tacked on to an existing label template (a common practice), since “Loomis, California 95650” is not center-justified, although “Loomis, California” (sans zip code) would have been. This particular label caught my attention because the High Hand Nursery still exists, and it’s worth a visit for lunch at the High Hand Cafe. The official website for High Hand offers the details, although I wish their site offered a more robust history section. Perhaps I missed it?

Fishermen’s Grotto Menu, San Francisco, 1940s

Crab Cioppino, Fishermen’s Style… $1.90.

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Submitted for your approval today is a post-war menu from San Francisco’s famous (and once proud) Fishermen’s Grotto. Aside from the super-low prices, clues to the age of this menu include a $10 bottle of 1941 Ruinart Champagne on the wine list, as well as a “Victory Dinners” option in the main menu.

Fishermen’s Grotto was founded by Mike Geraldi in 1935, and was a operated by the same family until 2016, when the slumping restaurant was sold to new investors. Actual menu size is about 9 inches by 12 inches. Enjoy!

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Back page wine list.

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Menu from Dinah’s Shack, Palo Alto, 1960

Sadly, there was no actual Dinah, as far as I can tell.

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I won this old menu in an auction lot, and didn’t even realize it until I got home. I conducted a bit of research on Dinah’s while I was scanning these images, and I found an excellent article about the restaurant’s history. Suffice it to say, the imagery on this menu is dated (to put it kindly), but Dinah’s witnessed many social changes during its six decade run in Palo Alto. To wit, the restaurant itself became the target of an NAACP protest in 1968.

Dinah’s ultimately closed in 1989, due to seismic building code violations. I suppose the Loma Prieta earthquake prompted quite a few seismic inspections throughout the Bay Area, although I’m not sure if the restaurant closed before or after the quake. Regardless, any restaurant that old is bound to be missed, no matter what.

There’s an inscription on the inside of this menu, which is normally kind of a bummer from a collector’s standpoint. However, if this menu hadn’t been preserved as a personal momento, it probably wouldn’t exist today. Who knows if there are other menus from Dinah’s out there? In many cases, I like finding old, personal notes, because they can be fascinating. This note features a bit of charm, and an inside joke. I wonder how they ended up.

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Back page wine list.

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