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New details emerge about plans to salvage the shuttered Formosa Cafe

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What can and can’t be done and when this all may happen

Richy! / Flickr creative commons

The historic Formosa Cafe closed abruptly last month, but the building's owners say they don't want to demolish the building or alter it significantly, Gabe Kadosh, the real estate broker handling the disposition of the property for the landlords, told Curbed.

Still, it’s unlikely the restaurant—which had a long and colorful history—will return as it had operated since the 1930s. The owner of the business, Vince Jung, grandson of original co-owner Lem Quon, is completely out of the picture, Kadosh said.

Here’s what else we know:

  • The building is protected under the city of West Hollywood’s preservation ordinance. Any new tenant will have to seek city approval to change the cafe's signature red color, its prominent neon sign, the front entrance, the roof and any other important features of its exterior, West Hollywood city official Antonio Castillo told Curbed. The city likely wouldn't allow such changes without a good reason.
  • The landlords plan to meet with city officials and architects in the next 10 days to clarify what can be done to the structure, Kadosh said.
  • The plan is to reopen the building for business under a new lessee/tenant no later than nine to 12 months from today, said Kadosh, a vice president, retail services, with Colliers International.
  • All of the interior decoration, including the historic celebrity 8-by-10s that once lined the cafe's walls, was removed by Jung. No one's spoken to him since he shut the cafe down, so it's unclear what will become of everything.

Whoever ends up taking over the old Formosa Cafe space, "Ideally, it's someone who's local, who's passionate, and who really cares about it," Kadosh said. "It's not just another restaurant in their book."

Kadosh cited as examples recent reuse and rehab projects such as Jared Meisler and Sean MacPherson's The Pikey Cafe & Bar (which took over the venerable Ye Coach & Horses), and the 1933 Group's Highland Park Bowl and Idle Hour.

"We’re not trying to put in some national chain," Kadosh said. He declined to say with whom the landlords have spoken about setting up shop in the building.

The Formosa Cafe, photographed in 2008.
Steve & Michelle Gerdes / Flickr creative commons
Postcard from 1960s
Courtesy of Vintage Los Angeles' Alison Martino

At least on the surface, the Formosa Cafe will have to look pretty much the same as it does now, according to Castillo, a planner in the West Hollywood community development department.

The city's historic preservation ordinance covers "the building, the roof, the neon sign, the red color," Castillo said. It also protects the building's overall orientation, its front entrance and especially the Red Car: "Those are what makes it more significant [and are features] that are meant to be preserved," Castillo said.

Castillo added: "When the Gateway was built, [the landlords] were required to maintain [the cafe], to keep the building and preserve it as a historic resource. ... The reason why it’s that red color is the Formosa has the Red Car attached to it, and the Red Car ... is the primary contributor, and the building itself is more secondary.”