Historic & Vacant
I drive by this modest building at 6000 Monterey Road every morning. Last year, the property was up for a long-term lease, with a structure in a “non-leasable condition.” Now it’s up for sale. I am pretty sure it will be demolished one day to give way to a multi-family development. It stopped my eye, however, as something not quite ordinary.
By Marina Khrustaleva
From the early 1950s and for over 35 years, the building was owned by George M. F. Lee and was a family business known as the Dragon Pearl restaurant. The newspapers of the time called it one of the finest Cantonese restaurants outside of China Town and enticingly described a comprehensive but affordable menu.
In 1970, the street frontages were expanded to accommodate a waiting area, a bar, and a cocktail lounge. I believe this is when the Japanese flare came in place: blue Kawara roof tiles, projecting rafters and “ribs” between the screened windows, a solid wood door with vertical glass stipes, pine and juniper trees, and a whimsical Gongshi rock in a planter.
The architect of 1970 remodel was Yukio Onaga. His architectural career was pretty brief because he switched to his true passion – pottery. In 1976, he and his wife Joanne became founders of the California Japanese Ceramic Arts Guild. They established the annual Nisei Week Ceramic Arts Exhibit bringing together Japanese artisans from around the State. In 1983, they opened a storefront at 106 N San Pedro Street near the LA Arts District to showcase Nikkei ceramic talent year-round. The Little Tokyo Clayworks housed a store, an exhibition space, and a workshop. It closed in 2008 when Joanne decided to retire.
The Dragon Pearl restaurant disappeared in the late 1980s. The space became a photostating studio in 1988, and it continued in operation under the same ownership until the pandemic under the name Mika Color Printing. The faded pole sign is the last remnant of what used to be an everyday attraction for creatives of all sorts.
Scott Rubel and Helen Driscoll from Rubel Castle shared some memories: “Mika printed most of the graphics and newsletters for Rubel Castle and Glendora Historical Society since 2013. They made the special dark negatives that we used to make photopolymer plates for letterpress printing. The lobby with the receptionist and bookkeeper was to the left of the door. Behind that through a door was the large room with the digital presses. Danny Peng, a very skilled technical guy, was the wizard in that room. Collating and cutting machines were in the very back, where Danny’s wife worked.”
It looks like the bookkeeper sat in the former cocktail lounge, and digital presses occupied the dining room that remembered different smells. Today, the building is boarded up and ready to go. Cantonese cuisine, Japanese design, and elaborate printing won’t leave a trace.
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