Dutch Chocolate Shop
Hidden behind a non-descript storefront in Downtown Los Angeles, you’ll find a series wondrous handmade tile murals from the kiln of a Southern California tile-making master.
Chocolate Shop #4
This once forgotten and oft-mistreated store just south of Broadway in Downtown Los Angeles was once the crown jewel in a well-regarded Los Angeles chocolate shop chain owned Quinby and Petitfils’ Chocolate Shop Corporation. This was Chocolate Shop #4, and it was built as the model for a chain of chocolate shops, each to be decorated with stylized images of a different European country.
Today this vacant store is commonly referred to as the Dutch Chocolate Shop because the walls are covered with tiles showcasing scenes of daily life as it would have unfolded in an Old-World Netherlands.
The Dutch Chocolate Shop
Chocolate Shop #4 was designed by architectural and design firm Plummer & Feil (who also designed the Oviatt Building) in 1914. The shop was meant to look like a German beer hall, complete with groined arches and covered completely — floor, columns, walls, and ceiling — in chocolate-colored tilework.
But the most noticeable feature of the shop is its 21 bas-relief murals showing scenes of daily life in Holland, including windmills, milk maids, the Dutch countryside, fishing boats, numerous wooden shoe-clad boys and girls, and the prominently featured Hoofdtoren, the water gate at the town of Hoorn in the Netherlands.
The largest murals are upwards of six feet wide and five feet tall, and each is comprised of four-inch tiles hand-crafted by Pasadena’s own Ernest Batchelder.
A leader of the post-war Arts and Crafts movement in California, Batchelder served as the Director of Art at Throop Polytechnic Institute (which later became CalTech) for nearly a decade before he founded the Batchelder Tile Company in 1909. Here he employed upwards of 150 people who made all the company’s tiles by hand, conforming to Batchelder’s moto: “No two tiles the same.”
Every single tile in the Chocolate Shop #4 came from Batchelder’s kiln, hand-made by employees under his supervision. In addition to the murals, there are countless blank tiles, some tiles with intricate designs, and other more stylized decorative pieces.
The Chocolate Shop was the largest commission Batchelder, but you can see more of his work in the Fine Arts Building (HCM #125), the Roebling Building (now Angel City Brewery), and the Batchelder Home (on the National Register of Historic Places), which still stands in Pasadena.
On January 15, 1975, the shop was designated as Los Angeles Historic-Cultural Monument number 137 — but not as the Dutch Chocolate Shop. The landmark status was granted under the name Finney’s Cafeteria, a popular Downtown dining destination that opened in the Chocolate Shop space in 1947 (or thereabouts; no one seems to know for sure). It operated until 1986.
Since Finney’s closed, the shop hasn’t really been cared for, a testament to the fact that Los Angeles Historic-Cultural status doesn’t necessarily mean a site will be protected (see also: Hermon Car Wall).
For a while the Chocolate Shop served as a multi-stall swap meet, and at some point during this incarnation the tiles were partially covered by plywood. The artifacts were re-discovered in full in 2012 during a tour of the space.
The current owners have said they have plans to restore the space and turn it into a restaurant, but that’s proving to be problematic due to obtaining the proper permits from the city.
Originally, a rear entrance from the Chocolate Shop opened into the ground floor of the Spring Arcade Building, but that was sealed up with brick sometime in 2002. Without such an entrance, seating capacity would be severely limited. To make it more viable as a dining space, the pathway through to Spring Arcade would have to be re-opened, and that work is proving to be cost prohibitive.
In the meantime, the Dutch Chocolate Shop sits vacant, mostly unseen, and largely unappreciated.
Visiting the Dutch Chocolate Shop
It’s very hard to visit the Chocolate Shop and see Batchelder’s tiles in their full glory. Most of the time, the metal roll-top door to the shop is closed and locked.
The best way to see this iconic space in person is via Esotouric’s Lowdown on Downtown walking/bus tour. But with the current Pandemic protocols in place, Esotouric proprietors Richard and Kim aren’t currently hosting their fabulous in-person tours. So the next best thing is their “Inside the Dutch Chocolate Shop” on-demand webinar ($10).
You can also explore the site in three dimensions thanks to the work of 3D photographer Craig Sauer.
If the distinctive walls of the Dutch Chocolate Shop look familiar, you may have seen the Castle episode “The G.D.S.,” where it served as the headquarters of the Greatest Detective Society. The shop is also a major setting for the 1918 silent film The Hope Chest starring Dorothy Gish.
Dutch Chocolate Shop
- 217 W 6th St, Downtown
- GPS Coordiantes: 34.046380, -118.251526 [ Google Maps ]
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