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March 18, 2008 |  8:01 am

Goodfellows_grotto_1953_1228_bruce_
Photograph by Bruce H. Cox / Los Angeles Times

Goodfellows (or Good Fellows, the restaurant used both names) Grotto, 341 S. Main St., shortly before it closed. Notice the old-fashioned "Family Entrance."

Goodfellows_03_2 Until it closed on New Year's Eve in 1953, Goodfellows Grotto, 341 S. Main St., was the oldest continuously operating restaurant in the city. Founded in 1905 by Matteo Dujmovich, Lucky Baldwin's cook, Goodfellows was in the heart of what was once the theater district, near the Orpheum, Belasco and Adolphus and two blocks from the opera house.

Sarah Bernhardt was a patron, as were Clark Gable, Adolphe Menjou and Edward G. Robinson. Over the years, Goodfellows served every mayor and police chief of Los Angeles, every governor of California and countless attorneys and executives.

Seating 75 people in a main dining room, with booths that could accommodate another 75 patrons, Goodfellows was originally a steak and chop house, but later specialized in seafood. It was apparently a popular spot from the beginning. In 1908, Goodfellows was one of the first restaurants to be targeted by the city in its crackdown on " 'women of the town' in large cafes and the boldness of their conduct."

Time stood still at Goodfellows through two world wars, the Depression and the Cold War, then left it in the past. Writing in 1948, Paul Coates noted: "The ancient looking waiters seem lost without the handlebar mustaches you would expect of them. Only recently have they abandoned their long church warden coats and white aprons in favor of lighter jackets. Curtained booths are still in service for diners wishing discreet privacy. The floors gleam with white and black tile which were in vogue for plushly decorated dining rooms a half-century ago."

Goodfellows remained popular, but it was gradually surrounded by the pawnshops, striptease theaters and penny arcades of skid row, losing many of its patrons to upscale restaurants near Pershing Square, Wilshire Boulevard and La Cienega.

 

1953_1228_goodfellows

John Dujmovich, who took over the restaurant from his father, said in 1953 of his decision to close:

"A few weeks ago the Fire Department said we had to fireproof the booth curtains. And a few days later the building inspectors said the wiring had to be in conduits by Jan. 3. Even the bricks themselves are powdering away.... I suppose they'll tear it down and make this another auto park."

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