Formosa Café | Los Angeles Conservancy

Formosa Café

In 2016, The Formosa Cafe, one of Los Angeles's oldest and most notable legacy businesses closed its doors with an uncertain future. Shortly after closing, the Conservancy engaged in a search for a preservation-minded owner. In June 2017, 1933 Group took over the operation, with plans to rehabilitate the legacy business and reopen in the summer of 2019.

Opened in the 1920s as the Red Post Cafe, the Formosa Cafe rebranded in the 1940s. During this time, new ownership expanded off the original 1904 800-series trolley car. A little known fact is that this is the oldest surviving Red Car in existence and the last remaining 800-series car. With its close proximity to studio lots during the golden age of Hollywood, the formosa quickly became a place to be seen among celebrities, businessmen, and gangsters.

In 2015, the Formosa's iconic black-and-red lacquered interior and gallery of celebrity headshots were stripped off in favor of a “modern” gray design. A public outcry erupted over the loss of the Formosa’s character, prompting a second makeover to undo the first. By the end of 2016, the Formosa had closed.

Knowing the Formosa's importance in L.A. history, the Conservancy sprung to action looking for a buyer. In 2017, 1933 Group, known for the Idle Hour, Highland Park Bowl, and the Thirsty Crow among others, purchased the historic eatery.

After a two-year rehabilitation project that cost upwards of $2 million by the 1933 Group, the Formosa Café successfully reopened in June 2019.

In 2020, the Formosa Cafe earned an L.A. Conservancy Preservation Award.

When 1933 Group took over the Formosa, many interior spaces had been altered over the years and showed signs of heavy wear. The new owners sought to bring the historic restaurant and bar back to its former glory, but this was no easy task.

Among the interior design restorations, is the full reveal of the iconic and original red trolley car, dating back to 1904 and is confirmed to be the oldest surviving red train car in existence. Boxes of autographed celebrity photos and storage units of original memorabilia have made their way back into the Cafe. 

The Conservancy worked with 1933 Group to secure a $150,000 grant from the American Express Partners in Preservation program, a partnership of the National Trust for Historic Preservation and the American Express Foundation. The funding would be used to meticulously restore the restaurant’s vintage Pacific Electric trolley car.

From its wood paneling and terrazzo floors to its “Pacific Electric” and “913” gold lettering, the trolley was brought back to its original splendor. The project team sourced original parts and fabricated period-correct parts for those they could not attain. They removed the drywall covering the trolley’s exterior, revealing the stunning car inside the restaurant.

The team paid homage to the Formosa’s Chinese and Hollywood roots with Hollywood Chinese at the Formosa, a long-term exhibit curated by Arthur Dong, award-winning author, and Oscar-nominated filmmaker. The display includes photos, lobby cards, and headshots showcasing the contributions of Chinese Americans from Hollywood’s Golden Era. An ornate historic back bar from Chinatown’s now closed Yee Mee Loo bar was installed to help tell this important story.

The extensive rehabilitation also involved installing new systems, re-roofing, new electrical and plumbing, a full kitchen renovation, and new climate controls and HVAC ducting.

In 2019, the Formosa Café officially reopened for business. That same year, the City of West Hollywood designated the Formosa as a local cultural resource/landmark. The rehabilitation project earned a Conservancy Preservation Award in 2020.