From the Los Angeles Public Library Menu Collection: Afternoon Tea Through the Ages
Exploring the LAPL menu collection is an ongoing project in which we'll take a close look at the menus owned by the Los Angeles Public Library. Read about the project here.
LAPL.org Afternoon tea menu, Coral Room at Bullock's Pasadena
There aren't many meals you can trace through the LAPL's menu collection that have remained basically the same throughout the last 80 years or so. Styles change, tastes change, ingredients change. So it was interesting, when looking though the archives for examples of afternoon tea, to see that the ritual has remained fairly similar, at least since the 1940s and probably before that as well.
Of course, America is all about progress and England is all about tradition, at least if you buy the stereotypes. And afternoon tea is not our tradition, it belongs to Britain, so it makes sense that, as a borrowed ritual, we stick to the elegant pageantry of tea sandwiches and little pastries. In looking over the menus there are a few hints of the times in each one -- most notably prices, of course.
The first mention of afternoon tea I can find in the collection is in 1927, when a restaurant called the Glen Garden Tea Room in Glendale located at 400 Glendale Ave. (where there is now a Bank of the West, in a building obviously much newer than anything that might have been there in 1927) advertised its opening. It would serve luncheons, dinners and afternoon tea. Unfortunately a Glen Garden Tea Room afternoon tea menu is not in the collection, and I can find no other mention of the restaurant anywhere.
From there we go to the late 1940s, to a department store cafe in Pasadena. When Bullock's was built in 1944, it was considered one of the world's most modern buildings (it is now a Macy's). The library dates this menu as coming from some time in the 1960s, but the prices and some internet research make it clear that the menu is actually from the late '40s (things were still relatively cheap in the '60s, but you couldn't get assorted sandwiches for $0.60).
Even better known than the Pasadena Bullock's was (and is) the Bullock's Wilshire, the amazing art deco building at 3050 Wilshire Blvd. This was the flagship store for the Bullock's chain, and the library has an afternoon tea menu from the Bullock's Wilshire Tea Room dated 1976. This is perhaps the afternoon tea menu that strays most from the classic format, offering tea and sandwiches, but more American-style sandwiches as well as crepes.
LAPL.org Coral Room at Bullock's Pasadena menu, late 1940's Bullock's Wilshire Tea Room menu, mid-1970's
Rendezvous Court in the Biltmore downtown still serves afternoon tea , and the library has menus from the '80s and '90s showing that the service hasn't changed much at all. Although now afternoon tea costs $35 -- in the '80s it was $9.95, in the '90s it was $16.95.
LAPL.org Rendezvous Court menu, 1987
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