Carl’s Sea Air Café, built in 1938 was designed by Burton Alexander Schutt and A. Quincy Jones. It was a one-stop oasis for food, gas and a motel room at the base of Potrero Canyon.
Located across from lifeguard headquarters at Will Rogers State Beach, a Palisades resident, the late Ted Mackie, joked that it was the best place in town to take a date: “a bar, a restaurant and a motel, all in one location.”
The restaurant/motel was used as the location of “Mildred’s at The Beach,” in the film, Mildred Pierce and in an episode of the 1970s series, The Rockford Files.
By the mid-1970s, Carl’s located at the foot of the Pacific Palisades bluffs had evolved into the Sunspot, a bar and mecca for the disco dance craze.
The City of Los Angeles took over the land in a swap with Occidental Petroleum Corporation, which had planned to drill for oil below Via de las Olas. (An extensive campaign, by activists and residents, prevented the drilling.)
The city had planned to make money by having the motel/restaurant run by concessionaires.
According to a 1991 L.A. Times Story (“Sun Set a Long Time Ago on Ex-Beach Oasis: Redevelopment: Improvements have languished because of red tape and concerns that the property may be endangered by landslides”), “But by the mid-1980s they [the City] had become disillusioned with the Sunspot. The bar and disco did not fit the family entertainment orientation of a recreation department. And Sunspot operator Edward Andrews had failed to improve the property.”
In 1986, the city evicted Andrews and requested proposals for a new operator to run the property for three to six years. It was felt by the city that was the time period that would be needed to complete filling the canyon. (Editor’s note: George Wolfberg Park at Potrero opened in December 2022, 36 years later).
Businessman and attorney Andy Camacho made the sole offer to rehabilitate the Sunspot as a restaurant, lounge and motel, that would be called the Tides Inn.
He would open a family-oriented restaurant and adjoining bar, and the rent he paid to the City would help pay for the construction of a park in Potrero Canyon, immediately behind the property.
There was a lack of parking, but L.A. City officials said they had been told by the State that an adjoining property could be made available for parking.
But Caltrans, which used that land to store equipment for repairs on Pacific Coast Highway didn’t want to relinquish the land. (Editor’s note: Caltrans is also the holdup now for the completion of a trail from Potrero to Temescal).
It took three years for the Department of Recreation and Parks and Caltrans to negotiate a lease for the adjoining property and it was finally resolved in 1989.
Local historian Randy Young said that eventually “an agreement was hammered out for parking to be situated on the old right of way that was cut off by the Killer Slide of 1958.”
According to the Times, “In October, a city zoning official rejected plans for construction of a 1 1/2-acre, 131-space parking lot. Associate Zoning Administrator Albert Landini said studies for the parking lot did not adequately assess the danger of landslides.”
Landini also said the plan failed to describe how cars would enter and exit Pacific Coast Highway, without a traffic signal.
Another city official raised concern about landslides, noting that the Sunspot was at “moderate to high risk” of suffering landslide damage.
“Recreation and Parks officials had never anticipated such problems, despite a history of landslides in neighboring Potrero Canyon dating back at least 50 years. No one had ever raised the possibility that the Sunspot property might be unsafe,” the Times wrote.
Then on December 22, 1994, in a Times story (“Chance to Fix Up Pacific Palisades Fabled Sunspot Motel Slides Away”), “A landslide seems to have definitively buried renovation hopes for one of Pacific Coast Highway’s first motor hotels.”
About 700 tons of earth crashed into the building. “The slide crushed the westerly portion of the building–the part that would have been the restaurant,” said Joe Cobarrubias, chief geologist for the city’s Building and Safety Department. “It was 11 a.m. and there’s no telling who would have been in there. I’m glad to see we didn’t use it. Sometimes you win a few.”
After the slide, the city walled off the area, the remaining building was demolished, and the remaining Sunspot debris removed.
Great bit of history! Thank you.
My parents lived it and loved it!
To add a little bit of personal history – my parents celebrated their 1st wedding anniversary in the original restaurant in 1941. They were living in Burbank at the
time but they loved the place. The story they told me was that that was when they decided to start a family even though it was war time. They were very young and had waited to prove to everyone that they had not needed to get married. In order to avoid a costly wedding my mom had announced to everyone that the couple and the 3 parents should elope and get married in Las Vegas over a weekend. She knew that everyone would probably think she was pregnant but she just didn’t want any fuss at a time when money was tight. She was 18 then, a wonderful smart woman with a mind of her own.