Architecturally significant chocolate: A sweet find in downtown Los Angeles

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Sixth Street between Spring and Broadway in downtown Los Angeles is a rather non-descript, okay, kind of ugly street. It’s also busy, as buses careen by and screech up a storm. But a recently unearthed hidden treasure is sure to perk things up.

The boards have come off to expose the historical landmark Dutch Chocolate Shop, circa 1914, tiled with 21 one-of-a-kind tile murals made by Ernest Batchelder, the famed arts and craft tile-maker.

For decades, the murals have been concealed and the space has been used most recently as a flea market, said Linda Pollack, an artist who is documenting the restoration. Thanks to the building’s owner, and a surge of interest in downtown, the chocolate shop is now undergoing restoration–and will re-open to the public.

This past weekend, a bunch of architectural aficionados  (and regular folks, like me, who live nearby) stopped by for a dip into a chocolate fountain (not historic, but a nice touch) and a short lecture by preservationists who explained the store’s significance.

An article from 1996 in the LA Times depicted the space when it was last up for lease: “The tiled interior remains intact and flawless, just as Batchelder conceived it–in the somber and luminous shades of brown of his Arts & Crafts period. It incorporates a series of panels in bas-relief depicting a Dutch boy and girl, windmills and landscapes, including the water gate at Hooen.”

In its incarnation as a flea market

Scenes all researched from the library, said Pollack, who speaks Dutch and studied in Maastricht, which she says is said to be depicted in several of the murals–although she has yet to identify which ones.  The faux walls only came down at the shop about 8 weeks ago. And the old door to the street has been hoisted so pedestrians can peer in.

The way things were

“You walk by and this is a treasure trove of eye candy,” she said. “People walk by and you can hear them say, ‘Wow!'” Imagine what they’ll say once chocolate is actually made on the premises again, and the tiles are sparkling as originally intended.

Here’s a video of the Los Angeles Visionary Association gathering at the shop this past Sunday: