Ray Bradbury and Clifton's Cafeteria: Death and Rebirth
Ray Bradbury, an author considered one of the greatest science fiction and short story writers of the 20th century, died yesterday at age 91.
Bradbury's 27 novels and story collections, which include classics Fahrenheit 451, The Martian Chronicles, Dandelion Wine and Something Wicked This Way Comes, as well as his more than 600 short stories, undoubtedly will be what Bradbury is most remembered for -- but for many, Bradbury will also be remembered for the intricate, lifelong bond he wove with the city of Los Angeles.
One of the most endearing relationships Bradbury forged in his early years was with Clifton's Brookdale Cafeteria on Seventh and Broadway, where he became a member of the Los Angeles Science Fiction Society founded by Forrest J. Ackerman. The group included authors Robert Heinlein, Leigh Brackett and Emil Petaja, and would host guests such as Scientology founder L. Ron Hubbard and filmmaker Ray Harryhausen.
Their meetings in the so-called "Brown Room" on the third floor would include big plates of roast turkey and cornbread dressing covered in gravy, meatloaf sandwiches, or plates of fried chicken and mashed potatoes. Clifton's policy of pay-what-you-want vibed well with many struggling writers -- you'd tip well when times were good, and help yourself to pitchers of free limeade when they weren't. Years later, Bradbury would write the manuscript that would become Fahrenheit 451 on a rented typewriter in the basement of UCLA's Powell Library, for the price of 10 cents per half-hour.
Two years ago, Bradbury celebrated his 89th birthday at Clifton's Cafeteria. He went through the cafeteria line as usual, remarking that the food was still as good as ever. He even received a cake and a cafeteria tray as a birthday gift. He told a collection of reporters about his wish to see the downtown neighborhood revitalized to its former self: "I want to rebuild all of Broadway. That's why I'm here today."
In late 2011, Clifton's closed for an 18-month remodeling, with plans to revive the food and atmosphere to that of the original establishment. In February, the 1904 building facade was revealed in all its Beaux-Arts glory, and a just few weeks ago, after removing a partition wall, workers discovered a neon light that had been left on continuously since 1935 -- 77 years in all.
Bradbury, only a teenager back then, once referred in an interview to "the great blizzard of rejection slips of 1935," which lasted until his first literary break. We'd like to imagine that the warm glow of Clifton's nightlight offered the young author a bit of solace -- along with a hot meal, of course.
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