Silver Dollar Café | Los Angeles Conservancy
Photo by M. Rosalind Sagara/L.A. Conservancy

Silver Dollar Café

The Silver Dollar Café is remembered most significantly for its role in the Chicano Moratorium, a protest against the Vietnam War that occurred on August 29, 1970.

Nearly 30,000 people participated in the peaceful march through East Los Angeles, which passed by the café and culminated in a rally at nearby Laguna Park (later renamed Ruben Salazar Park). An unrelated incident adjacent to the park purportedly led to a violent clash between law enforcement and the protestors. 

Ruben Salazar, a writer for the Los Angeles Times and News Director of KMEX, was fatally wounded inside the Silver Dollar when a Los Angeles County sheriff's deputy fired a Flite-Rite tear gas missile into the café. His death, along with the deaths of two protestors that day, marked a turning point in the Chicano Civil Rights Movement. 

The circumstances surrounding Ruben Salazar's death, including the proceedings in the wake of the incident, remain highly controversial today. 

Feeling that they were being followed, Salazar and his cameraman, Guillermo “William” Restrepo, had stopped by the Silver Dollar for a quick break in their reporting of the Chicano Moratorium before heading back to the studio.  

Sheriff's deputies had arrived on-scene due to reports of potential gunmen inside the bar. Witnesses reported that no warning was given before multiple tear gas missiles were fired. 

A lack of transparency within the Sheriff's Department, coupled with reports that Salazar suspected he was being monitored by LAPD, led to the widespread belief was that he was assassinated. 

Following decades of requests by Chicanx activists that the files on Salazar's death be released, the Sheriff's Department made the information public in 2011. Upon review of the materials, Hector Tobar of the Los Angeles Times called the incident "a stupid and entirely preventable accident." Although the files did not include any evidence that the Department had targeted Salazar, many within the community continue to question the official account of his death. 

The Silver Dollar Bar and Café is no longer in business, but the site later reopened as the Silver Dollar Theatre, which hosted an annual play in tribute to the Chicano Moratorium, including the death of Ruben Salazar. 

The building did not remain a theater for long and is currently in use as a church. The only on-site clue to the events of the Chicano Moratorium is a plaque that reads "Ruben Salazar March 3, 1928 - August 29, 1970."

Photo courtesy Gensler-Ryan Gobuty

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