The Velvet Turtle Sign

The Velvet Turtle Sign

Once a popular chain of fine dining restaurants, all that remains of the Velvet Turtle today is a single sign in Downtown Los Angeles.

The Velvet Turtle: A Sign of the Times

Once upon a time, starting around 1965, the Velvet Turtle was a beloved fine dining destination famous for its cold cucumber soup and beef wellington. In its heyday, it had 21 locations spread across California in Los Angeles, Fresno, Torrance, Redondo Beach, Menlo Park, and more.

The Velvet Turtle Sign at the corner of Ord and Hill. Photo from the author’s collection.

The owner, Wally Botello, sold the chain in the early 1970s when he moved to Palm Desert (where he opened Wally’s Desert Turtle — dude liked turtles, apparently).

The Velvet Turtle’s Demise

After Botello sold, the chain was owned by the Saga Corporation, which was purchased by the Marriott Corporation in 1986. Marriott wasted no time selling the whole Velvet Turtle chain to a private equity firm who then did what private equity firms do best — they ran it into the ground in just a few years. Its demise, however, was blamed on the increasing popularity of casual dining that started in the 1990s.

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The Downtown location of the Velvet Turtle closed up in the early 1990s, but the building it once occupied wasn’t torn down until March 2014. What was once a popular dining destination at the corner of Ord and Hill is now a vacant lot, wrapped in dark green shadecloth and overgrown with weeds.

The fondly remembered Velvet Turtle once stood here. Photo from the author’s collection.

The Velvet Turtle is for the Birds

In 2016 the corner was slated to be the home of a new seven-story mixed-use high-rise with apartments, ground-floor retail, and underground parking developed by Avant Development, but that all seems to have stalled. So who knows when this vacant lot might be developed into something the community needs.

But until then, it’s a good place to feed pigeons, though, if you’re into that sort of thing.

People often feed the pigeons under the Velvet Turtle Sign. Photo from the author’s collection.

Velvet Turtle Sign

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Tom Fassbender is a writer of things with a strong adventurous streak. When not exploring Los Angeles, he’s been known to enjoy a cup of coffee or two. You can find him at Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.


3 thoughts on “The Velvet Turtle Sign

  1. I have fond memories of the Velvet Turtle sign and restaurant .What were all their locations before they closed?


    1. I don’t know where all of them were located. In addition to this one in Chinatown, I know of one that was in Redondo Beach that closed in 2009. The others that I’m aware of were in Thousand Oaks, Torrance, West Los Angeles (on Sawtelle) and Menlo Park.


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