History of 702 Anacapa Street and the La Paloma Café

 

In 1938 Jennie Luera purchased the 13,000sf corner property for $7,000 with money she saved working at the laundry on State Street, to fulfill her lifelong dream of owning a restaurant.  The vintage brick and stucco building, designed by Chester Parker, was constructed in 1915 and housed an Italian grocery store and bakery.  Opened in 1940, Jennie’s La Paloma Cafe was the premier Mexican restaurant on Ortega Street’s “restaurant row” and was frequented by stage and screen stars like Leo Carrillo who is rumored to be featured astride his horse on the exterior mural. During Old Spanish Days, vaqueros and cattlemen tied their horses in front of the corner bar and stumbled in to whet their whistles and to visit Jennie, “La Patrona.” Ahead of their time, the original La Paloma Cafe was led by three generations of hardworking Luera family women; the family matriarch Jennie Luera, and then her two daughters Hortencia and Virginia. The building continues to be owned by the Luera family, specifically by Jennie’s granddaughter, Josephine Reynoso.

The restaurant buzzed with energy day and night where locals enjoyed the Luera family’s hospitality delivered in hearty meals and stiff drinks. The family lived in the three bedroom/one bath attached Victorian house that now houses the upstairs dining room. In 1950 the family expanded the restaurant by adding the square footage of their home and they built a new three-bedroom addition to the rear of the building for the family to live.

Jennie commissioned the interior and exterior murals in 1940. The mural over the bar was completely restored in 2020 and a plan is in place to restore the exterior mural as well.  The interior mural depicts a tragic romance of Aztec Legends Popocatepetl (“smoking mountain”) and Iztaccihuatl (“white woman”). [artist unknown] Legend says Itza, a princess and daughter of a mighty ruler was in love with Popo, a brave but commoner Aztec warrior, who was sent away to battle to prove his worth of Itza to her father. While he was away, Itza was lied to about her warrior lover’s supposed death and she died of a broken heart. Upon his return, Popo was informed of his love’s death. He suffered great pain but carried her to her tomb atop a great mountain. There he kissed her lips one last time, and sat until the snow covered both of their bodies which formed two majestic volcanoes. It is said that every time the great warrior remembers his beloved his heart starts to beat faster; the fire and passion then causes the volcano to erupt. The exterior mural is commonly interpreted to be of Leo Carrillo (vaudeville and Broadway star and “adopted son of Santa Barbara”), though this cannot be confirmed. This mural was painted over an original Coca Cola advertisement that can still be read “Coca-Cola, the real thing”.

The original neon was restored as it is valued for its familiarity and has become an icon of a traditional corner restaurant that has been an important gathering place for people in Santa Barbara for more than 80 years. Lyle Reynolds, a quiet elder statesman on Santa Barbara City Council in the early 1980s made the defining statement that went something like this: “I worked in the News Press building during the war, when we had periodic black outs as cautionary practices for Japanese invasion or attack. It was grim, dark and scary. When power was restored, the first thing I could see from my window was the red and green neon sign saying “La Paloma”. It was then I knew we would be all right.”

In 1983 (after 43 years) the property was leased to Randy Rowse and Kevin Boss who reopened the restaurant as Paradise Cafe, a classic American restaurant. They expanded the restaurant further by creating a terrace on Anacapa Street, and brought in the first and only (at the time) grill to use Santa Maria live oak. Paradise was a beloved Santa Barbara institution for 37 years.

Acme Hospitality is honored to be a steward of this iconic property and to bring Santa Barbara a reimagined La Paloma Café,
one that will pay homage to the restaurant’s storied past, retain its familiar old-school vibe
while celebrating its long history serving our community.