Random Lengths News

Walker's Café May Live On

Local activist submits applicatio­n for historic-cultural monument status

- By Hunter Chase, Community News Reporter

Walker’s Cafe was one of the places that convinced Emma Rault to move to San Pedro. So, when it closed down in October, she was very concerned. “The first time that my wife and I visited here … we just had this really wonderful experience,” Rault said at the Jan. 18 meeting of the Coastal San Pedro Neighborho­od Council. “It kind of drove home that this might be a place where you can find things that … can be quite difficult to find in Los Angeles, which are community and historic continuity. And Walker’s Cafe kind of represents both of those things and is now under threat.”

The café, which is right next to Point Fermin Park, has been a beloved mainstay of San Pedro since its founding in 1944 by Bessie Mae Petersen and Ray Walker. Before its closing, it was open on and off during the pandemic.

Rault, who is a board member of the Central San Pedro Neighborho­od Council, began looking into ways to preserve the café shortly after it closed.

“I was very concerned because suddenly the prospect of this place possibly disappeari­ng from the community forever began to seem very real,” Rault told Random Lengths News.

Rault was already somewhat familiar with preservati­on advocacy, so she started a petition on change.org to preserve the café, which has gathered more than 2,500 signatures.

“I had a lot of people reach out as well … and share these memories, about … how much the place meant to them,” Rault said. “They were kind of devastated about the prospect of it possibly disappeari­ng from the San Pedro landscape.”

Her efforts paid off. On Jan. 20, the Cultural Heritage Commission of the City of Los Angeles voted unanimousl­y to consider declaring Walker’s Cafe a historic-cultural monument.

Rault laid out the reasons why it should be made a monument at the Cultural Heritage Commission meeting. She said that it was an example of early commercial developmen­t in San Pedro, as well as its longest continuall­y running café. In addition, the café is associated with multiple transporta­tion mode histories of Los Angeles, including jitneys, streetcars and motorcycle­s. It has been in lots of movies and TV shows, such as Chinatown and the recent Perry Mason prequel.

“But above all, it is significan­t as a much-beloved institutio­n central to the identity and social fabric of San Pedro over 80 years,” Rault said.

When a building is declared a historic-cultural monument by the city, it allows the Cultural Heritage Commission to delay its demolition for up to 180 days, plus an additional 180 days if approved by the city council, according to Los Angeles City Planning’s website. The reason for this is “to create opportunit­ies for preservati­on solutions to emerge.”

In addition, if designated a monument, the Office of Historic Resources must review and approve any alteration­s. After an applicatio­n is submitted for the considerat­ion of making it a monument, a temporary hold is placed on all permits for demolition or alteration­s. Rault submitted her applicatio­n in December.

“The desired outcome of landmarkin­g would be to see this iconic place protected and pave the way for continuity of use,” Rault said. “A number of local stakeholde­rs have expressed serious interest in stepping in to take over the business, if indeed the owners are looking to move on.”

Derek Brummett, the trustee of the café, confirmed his family intends to move on when he spoke at the Cultural Heritage Commission on Jan. 20.

“Since my grandmothe­r, Bessie Petersen, passed away, her son, my father, Richard Brummett, has been the sole proprietor of Walker’s Cafe,” Brummett said. “My father is currently 89 years old and is in poor health, which is why the restaurant had to be closed in October. And he will no longer be able to run the café. The remaining family members will not reopen the café. It will either be sold or closed permanentl­y and boarded up.”

Brummett said that neither he nor his family had been told about the applicatio­n and were surprised when they heard about it from something they received in the mail.

Brummett also said that for the café to continue to function as it was before closing, it would need certain exemptions. He said the alcohol permits had been grandfathe­red in.

“I believe it’s been re-zoned as residentia­l from commercial,” Brummett said. “If that wants to continue as an operating café as it is, then any new owner, I believe, would need to have the ability to maintain that sort of operating stature.”

The café passed into Richard Brummett’s possession when his mother died in 1996. His father, Ray Walker, died in 1953, but Bessie Mae Petersen continued running the café for nearly 50 years.

Unfinished Business

Rault is not the only one refusing to give up on Walker’s Cafe. Nick Noussias, who has worked for the café for many years, is refusing to leave the property — at least until he finishes repairs he started back in 2008.

“I own all the appliances,” Noussias said. In addition, he said there is a garage in the back that contains new electric parts.

Noussias has his mail delivered to the café, and has lived there on and off since its closing. He has also spent time at his sister’s house, who was the manager of the café. He said that Richard Brummett’s daughter locked his sister out of the café. Prior to that, he had not been paying his sister fair wages for years, Nussias said.

“I looked at the labor board laws,” Noussias said. “He owes her $78,000 since 2008. He paid $126 as a manager, a week since 2008. That is not appropriat­e for a manager in California to manage a restaurant, seven days a week 10 hours a day.”

Noussias said he has had $15,000 worth of materials dropped off at the café and that he could finish it within five days if he had help — and if he could get the proper permits. But Noussias is still recovering from a spider bite, which he was hospitaliz­ed for. And Richard Brummett and his family are no longer returning his calls.

“I was going down to the city [to] get the permits to extend it two feet by 10 feet on one side, and four feet in the back, raise the ceiling up, and make it a 1,000 meal kitchen, instead

of the little tiny grill that was there,” Noussias said.

Noussias said that Richard Brummett still owes him money for the constructi­on job. While he wants to be paid, he does not want to sue.

“I want to finish what I was doing,” Noussias said. “And then we can talk about what’s going on. Either give me the 10-year lease, let me finish it, and then I’ll buy the place, whatever. Or let me get my stuff out and just pay me what he owes me.”

In addition, the Brummett family has declared a no trespassin­g order. Noussias spoke with the police a week before Jan. 27. They told him to leave, but that they could help him get his stuff. Noussias refused.

“I said, ‘You want to fight with me?’” Noussias said. “I have LAPD in my family, Orange County Sheriff and U.S. Coast Guard. Let’s do this and I know the law, I know administra­tive law.’”

Noussias said the café has been broken into three times since closing. It’s boarded up to prevent further break-ins, and Noussias has someone else watching the property when he’s not there.

“I didn’t do all this work for nothing,” Noussias said. “I’m not just going to walk away.”

Since the Cultural Heritage Commission has voted to consider making Walker’s Cafe a monument, the next step is for two members of the commission to visit the property in person, according to Los Angeles City Planning’s website. After that, the Office of Historic Resources makes a final staff report on whether the building qualifies as a monument.

The Cultural Heritage Commission then holds a hearing on whether to recommend the nomination to the city council. This must be held within 75 days of the commission’s initial vote to consider the nomination.

If the commission approves the nomination, the city council has 90 days to act on it, with a possible 15-day extension. Then the planning and land use management committee holds a hearing and makes a recommenda­tion to the full city council, followed by a vote by the city council.

“There’s sort of multiple stages of … checks and balances built in,” Rault said. “And multiple levels of discussion, and seeking input from members of the public.”

Richard Brummett could not be reached for comment on this story.

 ?? ?? Emma Rault stands in front of Walker’s Cafe, which closed in October. Rault is leading the effort to make the café a historic-cultural monument. Photo by Arturo Garcia-Ayala
Emma Rault stands in front of Walker’s Cafe, which closed in October. Rault is leading the effort to make the café a historic-cultural monument. Photo by Arturo Garcia-Ayala
 ?? File photos ?? Left: Bessie Mae Petersen, one of the founders and owner of Walker’s Cafe until her death in 1996. Above: Walker’s Cafe, which has been in operation since its founding in 1944, closed in October.
File photos Left: Bessie Mae Petersen, one of the founders and owner of Walker’s Cafe until her death in 1996. Above: Walker’s Cafe, which has been in operation since its founding in 1944, closed in October.
 ?? ??
 ?? Photo by Arturo Garcia-Ayala ?? Emma Rault pets a cat in front of Walker’s Cafe.
Photo by Arturo Garcia-Ayala Emma Rault pets a cat in front of Walker’s Cafe.

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