Thursday, February 17, 2011

The Marcell Inn - Altadena's Famous Speakeasy Club, 2900 Lincoln Avenue

The Marcell Inn opened in 1922 on Lincoln Avenue and was very popular with the Hollywood crowd, bootleg alcohol being served along with fine French food, and all that was necessary to find the out-of-the-way location was to look for the searchlight beacon mounted on a tower on the roof of the Inn. Altadena Drive back then was called North Foothill Boulevard, and was used as a major east-west thoroughfare, so most folks could see the beacon coming from either direction without too much trouble.
The story was, during Prohibition, that if you needed to find the Altadena Sheriff, just look for his car in the parking lot of the Marcell Inn first, as usually he hung out there as his unofficial office. Apparently, he was good pals with the owner, Joe Marcell Annechini. However, the local cops weren't able to help Joe on November 12, 1923, when the Feds busted him and nine others, after showing up unexpectedly and a full house of 300 headed for the hills. The L.A. Times story doesn't say if the Altadena Sheriff got hauled in, too, but back in those days law enforcement usually gave other law enforcement a free pass. Joe posted $2000 bond and could go home.
The Marcell Inn was written up at the time in the 1930's as a great place to go and get excellent cuisine. It was also popular with the Santa Anita horse racing set when California allowed horse racing again in 1933 at the same time Prohibition was ended.
However, the Marcell Inn was just too out of the way as the Depression dragged on and it was out of business and sold in 1937. For a number of years the Mt. Lowe Military Academy used the buildings and grounds for their school, and now the grounds, the buildings being long since demolished, are the location of a community garden, with only the front gate stone columns and ornamental ironwork still surviving to be seen on West Palm Street just east of Lincoln Avenue.


  1. Great story!!! I wish the buildings still existed!!!

  2. Oh Thal, I love stories like this. Thank you.

    Gave your email address to someone tonight. I hope that's okay.

  3. I know where that community garden is. Just south is a little house that was a serious contender when I was looking for a home to purchase. (maybe you know the history of that home; small wood faced cabin on a little "off" street called zapata or Zingna or? with a secret little river running behind it) Anyhow, I'm going to have to stop and look for those remains. Funny how just a few river rocks glued here and there are what is left of so many of these places.

  4. Pasadena Star News, August 5, 1922

    Marcell Inn,
    Lincoln Ave. Above Piedmont Blvd.
    Altadena, Calif.


    How New Enterprise to Be Started on Lincoln Avenue, Just Above Piedmont, by Marcell Annechini, Noted Restaurateur, Will Look.
    Plans Were Drawn by Cyril Bennett, Architect.

    Nearing completion on Lincoln Avenue, just above Piedmont Drive, Altadena, is an attractive building that will house Marcell Inn, a new suburban dining place to be opened by J. Marcell Annechini, well known Los Angeles restaurateur and for many years proprietor of the Maison Marcell.

    The Marcell Inn will be opened the first week in September, announces Mr. Annechini. He states that it will be a high class restaurant with moderate prices, with the same surroundings as in downtown restaurants but with the additional attractions of garden settings. He says that it will be in no sense a “roadhouse,” as the term goes, but a dining and tea place for Pasadenans. Luncheons, teas, bridge parties, dinner parties and so forth will be the facilities provided.

    The Inn building is now under construction. The building is of the suburban Italian theme of architecture. It was designed by Cyril Bennett, architect. The building will contain a reception hall, main dining room, two private dining rooms for special parties, a ladies’ restroom, a gentlemen’s room and open-air terraces which will supplement the main dining room.

    The new enterprise is situated on Mr. Annechini’s ranch on Lincoln avenue. It is on the road to Millard Canyon, a block above the Foothill boulevard. Parking place for cars will be provided. The grounds and building will be electrically illuminated. The ranch has its own spring to supply water, and poultry and produce used will be from the ranch.

    While retaining some of his interests in Los Angeles, Mr. Annechini, or M. Marcell, as many friends know him from his trade name, will devote all of his time to personal direction of Marcell Inn here.

    this point the first American mention of zucchini in the 1919 catalog of Los Angeles' Germain Seed and Plant Co. -- making it likely that the company introduced the vegetable commercially in this country.
    This was the golden age of Southern California nurseries and the zucchini was only one of the important introductions at the turn of the 20th century. Local seedsmen also pioneered the Hass avocado (discovered in Whittier) and the Washington navel orange.
    The zucchini evidently caught on quickly here. The next year, less than 20 years after its discovery in Italy, the Germain catalog had an entire page devoted to the squash, including pictures and recipes from a downtown restaurant called Cafe Marcell, run by Joe Marcell Annechini at 215 W. 4th St.
    In a 1921 story in The Los Angeles Times extolling the treasures to be found in local ethnic restaurants, the writer enthuses: "Wise is he who waives his customary steak and potatoes, and instead scans the menu for real fare of sunny Italia. Zucchini, for instance, that Italian squash which Signor Marcel-- and others -- import especially. It may be served in different styles, but the favorite is when, cut into small succulent squares it is breaded and fried in olive oil. Ah!"

    That squash at Marcell was almost certainly not imported -- can you imagine what a zucchini would look like after a several-weeks ocean voyage? But the fact that it was described as such is testimony to the cachet of the new vegetable. As is the fact that later in that same year, the Thanksgiving menu of the Victor Hugo restaurant, at 623 S. Hill St., gave zucchini prominent billing alongside ravioli "genoise" and Imperial Valley Tom Turkey.