• Walker’s Cafe in San Pedro spruced up and ready for...

    Walker’s Cafe in San Pedro spruced up and ready for a film shoot. Undated photo. (Courtesy San Pedro Bay Historical Society)

  • The staff is decked out for Halloween at Walker’s Cafe...

    The staff is decked out for Halloween at Walker’s Cafe in San Pedro in this undated photo. (Courtesy San Pedro Bay Historical Society)

  • An old ice box, T-shirt and other decor from inside...

    An old ice box, T-shirt and other decor from inside Walker’s Cafe in an undated photo. (Courtesy San Pedro Bay Historical Society)

  • Walker’s Cafe temporarily closed in 1994 but reopened in 1996....

    Walker’s Cafe temporarily closed in 1994 but reopened in 1996. (Courtesy San Pedro Bay Historical Society)

  • Debbie Flowers plays guitar on the roof of Walker’s Cafe...

    Debbie Flowers plays guitar on the roof of Walker’s Cafe in San Pedro during a gathering in this undated photo. (Courtesy San Pedro Bay Historical Society)

  • Walker’s Cafe in San Pedro was a popular stop for...

    Walker’s Cafe in San Pedro was a popular stop for bikers through the years. (Courtesy San Pedro Bay Historical Society)

Ongoing work at San Pedro’s historic and now-shuttered Walker’s Cafe has sparked concerns by some residents and Los Angeles city officials — who issued an order for the work to stop — who are concerned about anything that could violate the building’s landmark historical-cultural status.

But that work, a spokeswoman for new owners Prospect Group Inc. said this week, was all immediately necessary to fix existing health and safety hazards.

City officials are expected to meet with the owners this week when an inspection will be conducted, said  Silva Harapetian, spokeswoman and marketing director for Prospect, which is based in Burbank. Company officials held a Zoom meeting with city officials earlier to talk about the work, she said.

For onlookers, however, the activity was something of a mystery, hidden behind a tall barricade-style fence that kept everything hidden from view.

“There was a stop work order posted July 14,” said Noel Gould, who lives next door to the cafe.

“They are doing major electrical work, major plumbing work, they’re putting in windows where no windows were before,” he said. “They’re doing major un-permitted work.

Harapetian said that stop work order came from the South Coast Air Quality Management District — not the city — and centered around an inspector showing up and not being able to gain access because the owners were not on-site and could not be reached.

She also denied windows were put in where there were none, saying they’ve only replaced broken panes.

The process so far, Harapetian said, has involved cleaning out two large garages in back that were “filled to the ceilings with stuff, boxes and trash” and making needed health-and-safety repairs to the inside of the main building.

That work has involved addressing a leaking roof, exposed electrical wires, broken windows, dry rot, peeling paint and graffiti, she said.

Throughout the process, Harapetian said, the owners have been collecting anything that looked as if it was of historical importance, from items on the wall to cups to an antique ice box used as a display in the cafe for decades. The goal is to reopen the cafe to look as much like the original as possible.

“We had to get through all of that to make sure we preserved what was historical and what was important to the property,” she said, “and it took some time.”

But the city’s Department of Building and Safety, responding to community concerns, also issued a “stop work” order along with orders to comply with the Office of Historic Resources, which has requested an outline of the work to review.

“The owners discussed minor maintenance-related work they were planning to do,” a city planning representative said in an email, but the department is still waiting for a response.

A Building and Safety spokesman did not respond to an email asking whether the city would enforce the violation of the earlier stop-work order.

Prospect will provide the city with further details when officials come out to visit this week, Harapetian said. The new owners’ plans remain as initially stated, she said, which is to abide by the historic monument status and reopen Walker’s to continue operating as a cafe as it has since the 1940s.

“Our goal from the very beginning,” Harapetian said, “has been to preserve Walker’s and to bring it back to its glory days.”

To that end, Harapetian said, she is researching the building’s original awnings to create replicas.

She’s also sent out an appeal for anyone who can provide images of the original mermaid sign, she said. That sign was replaced once but now the replica has vanished.

There are also plans to fix and restore the broken neon sign that still remains on the building, 700 W. Paseo del Mar, which is next to Point Fermin Park and the town’s scenic ocean-top bluffs.

When a tall fence went up and workers could be heard inside this summer, however, it caused concerns among residents who have been keeping an eye on the closed cafe, including Emma Rault, who spearheaded the effort to win landmark status for the site through the Cultural Heritage Commission for the city of Los Angeles.

From its “world famous” Bessie burgers to a clientele that has included neighborhood regulars, longshore workers and leather-clad bikers, Walker’s Cafe had been a legendary piece of San Pedro since the 1940s.

The cafe has even featured in several films over the years, including “Chinatown.”

Walker’s operated only spradically during the early part of the pandemic before closing permanently last autumn, with the son of its longtime owner saying his father was no longer able to operate it.

The Cultural Heritage Commission unanimously approved the designation in March but it still needs to go to the Los Angeles City Council’s Planning and Land Use Management Committee and then to the full council for finalizing. The PLUM meeting is set for Aug. 16.

The cafe’s current owners have had experience in historic renovation, Harapetian said, including winning an award for restoring a craftsman home in Pasadena.

“We went through (Walker’s) and saved whatever was on the walls for a couple decades,” Harapetian said. “We saved cups, we saved little knickknacks and will look at how best to present” those items.

Newer furniture that had been added to the cafe in more recent years won’t be kept, she added, but anything that appears to have dated from the cafe’s earlier days will be restored and reused.

And while the property is now zoned for residential use, there are no plans to add a housing component onto the back, Harapetian said, citing some speculation that had risen in the community. But the owners are asking the city for clarification on how the cafe use can be protected going forward considering the residential designation, which came about after Walker’s was opened originally.

“We have the resources and the team and we’re prepared to finish it as soon as possible,” she said of the restoration and reopening project. But she added that the city process is slow.

The “charm and integrity” of the 1936 building will be brought back, Harapetian said, but first it needs repairs.

It’s clear, she said, that there have been repeated break-ins since the cafe has been closed and sitting empty so work began quickly to clean the property up and protect it.

“We are still looking for an operator,” Harapetian said, adding that they’ve had about a dozen inquiries on that front but haven’t accepted — or turned down — any as of yet.

Gould said residents heard the operator monthly charge would be $12,000. Harapetian said that’s “no necessarily true” and would depend the specific arrangement.

City permits are now being sought for whatever is needed to finish up the repairs, she said.

“The question from people coming in to operate it is when are you going to open the doors,” Harapetian said, adding that the uncertainty of a timeline has made that selection difficult. “We don’t really know and it’s like a Catch 22. We want to move this forward.”

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