Wednesday, May 30, 2018

Anaheim's Original Pancake House

Something about fluffy pancakes, crispy bacon and fresh squeezed orange juice really fires up the imagination. Perhaps that’s why the lore behind Anaheim’s Original Pancake House (1418 E. Lincoln Ave.) has evolved rather fancifully over the years. Urban legends range from the building dating to the 1800s to the building having once been a mortuary. Nope and nope. But the real story is interesting, too.


The home that eventually morphed into the Original Pancake House was built in 1910 by Fred W. and Maria M. Lee.

Fred Lee had been a prominent merchant, sheep rancher, and investor in mining, timber and real estate in Yellowstone County, Montana. He’d also served as a County Commissioner, Grand Jury member and County Clerk there. Assuming there weren’t two men named Fred W. Lee in that part of Montana in the early 1900s, it appears he got  entangled in the infamous range wars between the sheep farmers and cattle ranchers. In any case, a local Fred W. Lee ended up spending 1903 in the state penitentiary for setting fire to a neighbor’s stockpile of hay.

Perhaps because of that awkward situation, or perhaps for his asthma, he and Maria left Montana for California around 1910 along with his ailing mother, Harriet Malvina Lee. It appears Fred had the little house built for his mother, and they lived there with her for some or all of the remaining two years of her life. She died of senility in Anaheim in 1912 and was buried across the street, at the Anaheim Cemetery.

The house was then bought and sold several times until someone finally really settled in for any length of time. Citrus rancher Frank (Francis) Norbert De Cock (1864-1939) and wife Mary (Maria) De Cock purchased it in 1920. The De Cocks were from Iowa, had seven children (including future Anaheim policeman Frank, Jr.), and would live in the house for fourteen years. 
Norbert (Frank Jr.) DeCock, 1954 (Photo courtesy Anaheim Heritage Center)
In 1936, with Frank in poor health and the economy in the tank, the property soon fell into the hands of the First National Bank of Santa Ana. It was then purchased by Casper C. and Nellie A. Reinert who in turn gave it to their son, Afton, and his wife, Mary.  But the Reinerts weren’t there for long, and the house sat vacant for several years during the Great Depression. The house became a rental again in the later 1930s and early 1940s and tenants included Marion E. and Lydia E. Shafer, and Marjorie (Mrs. Clifford B.) Chalenor and her children.

James H. and Anne S. Johnston bought the house in 1942 but sold it in 1945 to the couple who converted the first floor into a restaurant.


Wilber Wade Parker (1909-1947) of Anaheim had married soda jerk Dorothy May Close of Santa Ana on Aug. 25, 1939. They settled into a home on Philadelphia St. in Anaheim with his two children from an earlier marriage, Arthur and Sharen. In Oct. 1942, Dorothy purchased Finch’s Café at 242 W. Center St. Later Wade and Dorothy ran the Parker House Café at 120-122 E. Center St. In 1945, they also bought the property at 1418 E. Center. They initially just lived there and continued to run the Parker House Café. But in November they sold the business, presumably to focus on opening a new restaurant at 1418 E. Center.
The Dorothy-Wade Café (Photo courtesy Original Pancake House, Anaheim)
Sometime in 1946, their Wade Dorothy Café began operating in the future Original Pancake House. In the directories of the day, Dorothy Parker was listed as the proprietor of the café, which went by a variety of names: The Dorothy-Wade Café, Dorothy & Wade's Restaurant, the Dorothy & Wade Dinner House, etc.

By 1953, the proprietor signed her name as Dorothy Parker Ford on building permits for an addition to the building. She expanded the café 18 feet west, enlarging the kitchen and dining area. Public restrooms were in a separate building out back.


Meanwhile, up in Portland, Oregon, the groundwork was unwittingly being laid for the café’s future. Alpenrose Dairy salesman Ray C. Birkland had just found a pair of friendly regular customers in Lester Earl “Les” Highet (1897-1985) and Erma Emma Marie Hueneke (1908-1968) – the owners of a popular new restaurant called the Original Pancake House.
Les Highet and Erma Hueneke
Although Highet had only a second-grade education, he learned the restaurant business working his way up through the kitchens in hotels and taverns across the Pacific Northwest. By 1953, he’d saved enough to open the Original Pancake House. Two years later, the first franchise has was spun off in Salem, Oregon by his initial business partner, Erma Huenke and her family.

“My father, [Les Highet,] figured out how to market the food of middle-class European housewives to a mass audience,” Ron Highet told Portland Monthly magazine in 2009. “The average person at that time had never seen big, fluffy pancakes with apples and cinnamon—at least not in a restaurant.”

In contrast to the self-taught Les, his wife, Doris Highet, was a medical doctor with a PhD in biochemistry. Her expertise, the Highets claimed, was the secret to their success. Doris found a way to break down the gluten in the wheat flour used in their batter. Her secret formulas for the restaurant’s five main batter types (German, French, Swedish, buttermilk, and waffle) resulted in pancakes that were consistently “light, airy,” and with excellent “flavor and body.”  Only franchise owners and prep cooks are allowed to see these recipes.
Les Highet serves breakfast at the original OPH.

Birkland watched the growth of the Original Pancake House with interest – especially when the they began to spin off franchises in 1955.

That same year, back in Anaheim, Disneyland had opened and a booming local tourist industry was beginning to unfold. But old fashioned roadside cafes and hash houses weren’t bringing in the traffic they once had. In 1957, Dorothy tried to rekindle public interest in her business by redecorating and rebranding her place as Dorothy Wade's "Gay 90s" Restaurant.
Newspaper ad, 1957.
But the new name and theme didn’t help, and in 1958 Dorothy (now also known as Dorothy M. Brothers) sold both the property and all the cafe's fixtures and equipment to Ray and Anita Cadonau Birkland, who by then had purchased the rights to open what would be the fifth Original Pancake House franchise from Highet and Hueneke. (Today there are more than 100 in the chain.)

The Birklands did major reconstruction and remodeling before opening their restaurant, although the bones of the old 1910 house were still under there somewhere. Ray and Anita lived upstairs and handled every detail of the restaurant’s operations personally downstairs. Ray was great with the customers and a well-liked figure, but was a bit of a tyrant in the kitchen according to even some of his most admiring employees. Things had to be done a certain way – the right way!

The Birklands hired Ronald A. “Ron” Voll as a cook. Years earlier, Voll, fresh out of the Marine Corps., had started washing dishes at the original Original Pancake House location and quickly moved up the ladder. He later moved to Southern California and they sought him out to help them at their new franchise. Voll started work at the Anaheim restaurant on opening day as a cook and would have a long career there. 

When Anaheim’s Original Pancake House began advertising heavily in early 1961, their hours were 6am to 8pm. Over time, it must have become clear that it didn’t make financial sense to remain open after 2pm -- their now long-standing closing time. But for those who love breakfast food for dinner, it seems a cruel twist that one of the best restaurants in town isn’t open at night.

On May 25, 1963, a major fire broke out in the kitchen, heavily damaging most of the first floor interior. Everyone escaped unharmed, but portions of the building had to be reconstructed. While they were at it, a large new addition to the front of the building was added, including the current entry room and waiting area, restrooms, front dining area, and a large A-frame façade that makes the building easily identifiable from the street.
Detail from elevation for 1963 redesign of the building. (Click to enlarge)
When the Birklands finally retired in 1986, they continued to own the property and to live upstairs. But Ron and Nancy S. Voll took over the business. Ray Birkland continued to help out and acted as unofficial greeter. Meanwhile, Voll expanded the business and added another location in Yorba Linda.

Around 2000, the Birklands moved back to Portland, and in 2002 Ray Birkland died, leaving the property to Anita. She sold the property to the Volls two years later. The Volls retired in 2006 and transferred ownership to their sons, Adam and Gary. "I'm going to miss a lot of it," Ron Voll told the Orange County Register. "I've made an awful lot of friends.”

Anita Birkland passed away in Portland in 2013. As of 2018, the owner of the Original Pancake House property in Anaheim was Apache Productions Inc., of San Juan Capistrano.
Original Pancake House, Anaheim, 2014 (Photo courtesy ARG)

Around 2014, a report on the Original Pancake House’s historical status was compiled by Architectural Resources Group for the City of Anaheim. The report noted that although the 1963 addition may prevent the old house underneath from being considered a “Historically Significant Structure,” the fact that the addition itself is more than 50 years old may qualify the whole shootin’ match as a “Citywide Historically Significant Structure.” The report also indicated that the circa 1958 pole sign out front may, on its own merits, qualify as a Historically Significant Structure “due to its representation as a significant style of signage and its being a significant visual feature of the City.”
Panoramic view from the waiting area, OPH, Anaheim (Photo by author)
[Thanks to Jane Newell of the Anaheim Heritage Center, Christine Nguyen of the Anaheim City Planning Dept., Anaheim City Councilman Steve Faessel, the Orange County Archives, and historian Cynthia Ward for their help with this article.]

Monday, May 14, 2018

Neon History (Event!)

La Palma Chicken Pie Shop sign enters Museum of Neon Art. (Photo by Adriene Biondo)
The art and history of neon on our local roadsides will be the topic of author J. Eric Lynxwiler’s eye-popping program at the Orange County Historical Society’s Annual Dinner, June 14 at the Phoenix Club, Anaheim.  He’ll also highlight the work of the Museum of Neon Art, which saves favorite signs like La Palma Chicken Pie Shop’s giant chicken. Enjoy good food, fun, a silent auction, and an amazing speaker. Members and non-members welcome. Register by May 31. To register or for more information, visit
Linbrook Bowl, Anaheim. (Photo by Chris Jepsen)
 I'm really looking forward to this! Hope you can be there!
Restored sign at Fun Zone, Balboa, Newport Beach.