Before + After: Long Beach's Beloved Hot-Cha Cafe
Today marks the completion of our work at the historic Hot-Cha Café on 4th Street near Downtown Long Beach. To celebrate this milestone, we’re sharing the unique history that surrounds this important place:
Around 1910, a Shingle Style Victorian-inspired house was built at 957 E 4th Street. In the midst of the Great Depression, the property owners most likely needed to capitalize on the land and generate revenue, so they stripped the house down to its studs to rebuild it as a restaurant in 1932. The owners decided that they would build in the popular Programmatic Style so they could capture attention from passing cars… and from there the coffee pot became a reality.
Using bricks, the owners built an octagonal shape projecting off of the front of the building into what was then the front yard. They used newspapers to stuff the framing for insulation, and salvaged wood from a variety of buildings to cover the exterior sides and back of the building. To make the café extra eye-popping (not that it was necessary on a giant coffee pot-shaped building) they painted the roof spout a metallic silver, used multi-colored bricks on the front façade, used red, white, and blue roofing materials, and painted the sides of the building a rose color. Meanwhile, they kept the upper attic portion of the original house and left it exposed on the interior of the restaurant just to keep things as quirky on the inside as they were on the outside. The house was later painted a rainbow pattern, which it still bears today as it hides in the attic right underneath the roof-mounted spout.
In 1933, the building was listed as the “Coffee Pot,” but it found its long-time moniker when the Hot-Cha Café opened at the location in 1936. The café operated until 1960 when a tavern took over, keeping the name and operating as simply “Hot-Cha” throughout the 1970s. At various points afterwards the building served as a church classroom, a barber shop, and a medical marijuana clinic until it was purchased by Long Beach Development, LLC in 2014 (just months after the building was declared a public nuisance and hazard by the City of Long Beach.)
We Are the Next was first hired by the property owners to guide them through the Cultural Heritage Commission process as they sought approval to renovate the historic building in 2015. However, the building soon revealed deeper layers of history and damage that were unanticipated. Our Executive Director, the Property Owners, and the team at Citron Design Group worked with Cultural Heritage Commissioners Alan Burks and Louise Ivers to identify a long-term solution for the resource. As a result, We Are the Next created a comprehensive Preservation Plan for the Historic Character-Defining Features of the building by identifying the key features to protect, their current condition, and a plan for treatment.
Throughout the last several months, we have acted as Construction Manager and Historic Preservation consultant. Our team has communicated with the public about the project and its progress, and overseen the work performed by contractors on-location to ensure that it follows the approved Preservation Plan.
In this round of renovations, we couldn’t bring back everything. However, we have reintroduced new interpretations of the historic roofing, color scheme, and leaded-glass windows that were removed throughout the years.
When we first came to visit the Hot-Cha Café, the building seemed in danger of collapse and had been horribly maltreated. We’re so proud of the work our project team has completed in bringing back this historic resource. The before and after comparison of this project is absolutely striking!
We’re so grateful for the outpour of support we’ve received from the Long Beach community for our work on this building – it would not have been possible without our local historic preservation advocates and concerned members of the community… and after sitting vacant for six years, the Hot-Cha Café is ready for its newest occupant! We can’t wait to see what becomes of it.