A 1964 San Marino High School graduate will visit Crowell Public Library this month to speak about his famous grandfather Clifford Clinton – Clifton’s Cafeteria founder and political activist.
Dr. Edmond Clinton III will be in the library’s Barth Community Room on April 11 at 7 p.m. to promote his biography, “Clifton’s and Clifford Clinton: A Cafeteria and a Crusader.”
Clifton’s Cafeteria, which reopened at 648 S. Broadway in downtown Los Angeles last autumn after renovations, has long been considered one of the most famous restaurants in Los Angeles. Clifford Clinton opened the first Clifton’s Cafeteria in Los Angeles in 1931 at 618 S. Olive Street with $2,000, 2,500 recipe cards and an operation manual he made for his father’s cafeteria in Berkeley. The name was a portmanteau of his first and last names. Clifton’s Cafeteria became very popular with numerous other locations opening up in the Los Angeles-area. Clifford Clinton became known for his kindness during the Great Depression when rough times fell upon the United States allowing people to eat when they could pay very little or nothing.
What many don’t know about Clifford Clinton is how much he changed the political climate in Los Angeles, including leading the recall of LA Mayor Frank Shaw in 1938. Clifford Clinton took on Los Angeles City Hall, the Los Angeles Police Department and the Los Angeles Times. His Los Feliz home was even bombed on Oct. 29, 1937 by alleged gangsters as retribution for fighting corruption in Los Angeles.
Edmond Clinton said his grandfather’s activism sent a powerful message to him, explaining, “If you do the right thing, you can win. If your cause is just and you work hard and you have other peoples’ interests at heart, you’re going to win. He made me believe that.”
Edmond Clinton originally grew up in the Los Feliz area, but the family moved to San Marino after he finished fifth grade.
“I started sixth grade at Huntington Middle School,” he said. “Then I lived in San Marino until I got accepted to Occidental College.”
Edmond Clinton’s family lived in two different houses in San Marino – one along Westhaven Road and another on Woodstock Road.
“I liked San Marino,” he said. “I thought it had a very good education system.”
Edmond Clinton worked at several Clifton’s Cafeteria locations while he was growing up in high school and college.
He went on to graduate USC Medical School. Edmond Clinton is currently an internist in Pasadena and lives in La Cañada. He said he never had any intention of writing a book about Clifford Clinton until approximately 10 years ago.
“My mother-in-law, my wife and I went to a presentation at The Autry on the Progressive Era in Los Angeles politics,” Edmond Clinton said. “The speaker was Tom Sitton, a well-known historian. He talked about Clifford and his role in politics in Los Angeles. I was never aware of this role he had.”
He said his mother-in-law encouraged him to write the book saying, “Someone has to write it.”
Edmond Clinton ended up finding a three-ring binder full of letters his grandfather had written detailing many important aspects of his life.
“I became more and more interested,” he said. “It sounded more and more doable as far as the book goes.”
The process of writing the book took approximately nine to 10 years. Sitton wrote the foreword for “Clifton’s and Clifford Clinton: A Cafeteria and a Crusader.” The release of Edmond Clinton’s book happened to coincide with the reopening of a renovated Clifton’s Cafeteria.
“It was almost providential the way the two things came together,” Edmond Clinton said. “The book was published and the Broadway location reopened at the same time.”
The Clinton family no longer owns Clifton’s Cafeteria. They sold it to developer Andrew Meieran in 2010.
Edmond Clinton said his grandfather had a very Christian philosophy of living his faith through action, not words.
“Feeding people during the Depression, he was able to provide food for a good portion of Los Angeles,” he said. “This was a good example how Christians can do better by actions than by words. The thing that impressed me the most is how he was able to fight City Hall and win. He was told to stick to his restaurant and stay out of politics. He showed that you could actually fight City Hall.”