My aunt has been sifting through family photos and letters, graciously creating a digital archive. I loved seeing this restaurant menu that my grandmother saved. The date shown, Monday, June 30, 1941, falls between the dates of my grandparents’ civil and religious wedding ceremonies. This would have been a special occasion for them, to drive 80 miles to Los Angeles and have a night out on the town.
They were ranchers. Lillian Ruth Hodenfield and Ulrich “Walter” Mueller met and fell in love while working at the Giese Chicken Ranch in Mentone, CA. They later purchased the small ranch and operated it until 1955. My grandfather would slaughter the chickens, grasping four or more birdnecks between the fingers of each giant hand. My grandmother plucked them and sorted the eggs by size. I am certain that a lot more work was involved, but this has been the picture in mind since childhood.
The bustle of a metropolitan evening must have felt exciting and glamorous. I imagine the young newlyweds on their romantic date: Grandma in her best dress and gloves, Grandpa in his steel blue, corduroy wedding suit, the glow of candles on the white tablecloths. I wonder if they had prime rib or halibut meuniere. (I am tempted to look for a recipe for ox joints bourgeoise.) When they finished their caramel custard, did they go dancing? Did they stroll to the Golden Gopher for a nightcap?
The restaurant Rene and Jean is no more, the site of the building is now a public parking alley. When I offered these images to latimemachine.com, a digital museum of classic Los Angeles restaurants and bars, the curator wrote a sweet note telling me that, “Rene and Jean was definitely one of the greats.”
Renowned L.A. literary figure and O.G. Echo Park hipster, Jake Zeitlin, once wrote, “Whenever somebody interesting would come into town, we’d rope them in. We had Louis Untermeyer one evening, and Lewis Mumford. The routine was usually they would come into the shop, then I would take them over to Will Connell, and Will would pose them and shoot these old-fashioned, cabinet-type photographs of them. Then we would all go to dinner to a French restaurant on West Sixth Street, Rene and Jean… and we would then gather at my shop and talk and make a lot of noise and argue and generally have a hell of a good time.”
That is what I hope Lillian and Walter had that night in the City of Angels, one hell of a good time.