clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Big Questions Loom as LA’s 101-Year-Old Pacific Dining Car Seeks Historic Protection

Untouched for years, the late night staple has been mostly boarded up and auctioned off, with ownership lacking details on reopening

The historic Pacific Dining Car’s exterior, showing a statue of a cow.
Pacific Dining Car
Courtesy of Pacific Dining Car
Mona Holmes is a reporter for Eater Los Angeles and a regular contributor to KCRW radio. She has covered restaurants, dining, and food culture since 2016. In 2022, the James Beard Foundation nominated her for a Jonathan Gold Local Voice Award.

A new push to designate the shuttered Pacific Dining Car as a historic cultural monument is underway, and the 101-year-old restaurant’s current owners are asking for the public’s support at a Cultural Heritage Commission meeting scheduled for Thursday, April 7. If approved, the historic designation would likely put the Westlake restaurant and its land from redevelopment — but whether or not the actual restaurant and its menu of famous steaks and late-night drinks would return is a question that, so far, remains unanswered.

Over the decades, greater LA’s historic and cultural commissions have preserved beloved buildings throughout the Southland, including the Original Pantry and the building that houses Cole’s French Dip. Los Angeles’s historic cultural monument status doesn’t absolutely guarantee that buildings will be saved, but any changes to the property must be presented to the commission which can delay demolition or alteration for up to one year. Fans of Echo Park’s Taix are still battling to save remnants of the building before development breaks ground at the 55-year-old restaurant, for example, even over the objections of the owners themselves. To succeed down this path, Pacific Dining Car will need two additional hearings to receive an initial “yes” vote from the commission.

In the case of the 1921-era Pacific Dining Car, owner Wes Idol III — the great-grandson of Pacific Dining Car founders Fred and Grace “Lovey” Cook — closed the Westlake and Santa Monica locations back in 2020 due to the pandemic, shifting to the online sale of steaks, rubs, and other food items. The family even auctioned off basically anything that wasn’t nailed down at the two locations in September 2020, though Idol told Eater LA at the time that some photos, artwork, and items of historical or personal interest were being held back for possible use later. Some of those items could return, should the restaurant reopen, with much of the rest of the equipment and decor replaced entirely.

The biggest missing piece is the restaurant itself, with ownership demurring on an actual plan for the Westlake building, which hasn’t been touched since 2020. The Idol family has yet to confirm whether or not the Pacific Dining Car restaurant, if marked as a historic cultural site, would ever reopen as it had pre-pandemic. They have said that some investors may be interested, but “right now our focus is the historic designation. With that, more possibilities are available.” It’s unclear, still, what those possibilities are or who would run the day-to-day operations of the restaurant should it attempt a revival. Eater reached out to determine if there is a long-term strategy for the restaurant beyond garnering support and asking for public comment to attain historic cultural monument status, but did not receive a full comment or statement. In a 2020 Eater LA story, Wes stated that “Pacific Dining Car is not going away. We’re rethinking the whole business model.”

What’s more, the property is currently listed for sale on Loopnet as a commercial property, and in April 2020 the company accepted $625,715.00 in Paycheck Protection Plan loans. A spokesperson stated by email that the amounts of that loan that are ineligible for federal repayment forgiveness will be repaid.

As of today, the Pacific Dining Car invited the public to Zoom into the April 7 Cultural Heritage Commission meeting at 10 a.m., or send an email directly to the panel.

Pacific Dining Car

2700 Wilshire Boulevard, , CA 90403 (310) 453-4000 Visit Website