|Wood panel from The Arches, carved by "C. Abel," and found in Costa Mesa.|
It began as a service station, built in 1925 on Pacific Coast Highway, at the intersection of Newport Blvd. in Newport Beach. This was the same year the highway opened between Huntington Beach and Newport.
Historian Phil Brigandi writes, "John Vilelle (1897-1981) built The Arches. Originally he had a partner named James Sturgeon, but he didn’t stay around long. Vilelle & Sturgeon ran the gas station, and their wives, Fern Vilelle and Anna Sturgeon [later] ran the restaurant."
|One of several wood panels from The Arches seen at Normandy's.|
"Not long after prohibition ended in 1933, Johnny Vilelle got a liquor license, and started serving cocktails." says Brigandi. He sites as 1941 ad bragging of "unexcelled Steak Dinners and Good Coffee. Cocktail Bar in connection" and a 1949 ad for "Steak, Chicken, Lobster in Season, Cocktails.”
In 1936, a large bridge was built nearby, taking Newport Blvd. over the highway at what was then one of the most dangerous intersections in Orange County. Soon, the bridge was unofficially dubbed "Arches," and the name stuck. Soon, not just the business, but also the bridge and the surrounding area was known as The Arches. It was a landmark, and remains so today.
|An early image of The Arches service station (left) and market/cafe (right)|
Eventually the service station disappeared. And what started as a diner eventually completed its transition into a high-end restaurant and watering hole for the well-heeled. John Wayne, Shirley Temple, and other famous folk were regulars.
"By the early 1970s," Brigandi writes, "The Arches was being touted for its French food, and – if the old Orange County Illustrated magazine is to be believed – the bar had a reputation as a place for 'swingers.'"
|A view of The Arches from across the highway, circa 1955.|
But Marcheano took the name with him. After a certain amount of unpleasantness between the old and new owners, Marcheano opened a new "The Arches" in Cannery Village -- and then, when that didn't work -- to a location on Westcliff Dr. This forced the owners of the old location to come up with a new name. Keeping a big curlicued "A" on the beginning of their roadside sign maintained a familiar look, so the place became "A Restaurant."
|The Arches shortly before its renovation into A Restaurant, 2008.|
Meanwhile, the new The Arches on Westcliff struggled and finally closed at the end of 2010.
|Revisiting the old Latin maxim, "De gustibus non est disputandum."|
|More relics of The Arches at Normandy's New York Hardware.|