By Christine Lampert
Some of us remember it as Ichibiri Japanese Restaurant, but this historic San Clemente building started out in 1931 as the Aquarium Café. It is a beautiful example of Spanish Colonial Revival architecture and was just recently restored and is now Landers Liquor Bar.
The original 1931 building is a large octagonal shape and features an octagonal turret and windows. It was designed by a noted LA architect of that time, L.C. Smith, and was built by the Strang Brothers Construction Company, which was the builder of most of the noteworthy San Clemente structures in the 1920s and 1930s.
The mystery remains today as to why the owner of the new building killed himself inside the building just days before completion of the project in 1931. He was found in the kitchen with a bag over his head.
It has been said that he used the gas ovens in the kitchen. It’s a mystery as to why he committed suicide as the building was being completed. The building was paid for, and he appeared to be successful.
His partners continued with the opening of the Aquarium Café. Today, if you ask the employees about a ghost, some of them will tell you that they have heard strange things.
The restaurant had a dance floor in the center of the octagon, with dining tables around the dance floor. There were large aquariums on the sides that were filled with fish and sea life. Saltwater was pumped into the aquariums by a long pipe that went under the railway tracks to the ocean.
The Aquarium Café did not have a bar, because Prohibition lasted from 1920 to 1933. However, it is rumored that the owner, Emma, would mix you a drink if you asked her.
Since the Aquarium Café closed, it’s become other restaurants such as The Anchor Inn, Margarita’s Village, Ichibiri Japanese Restaurant, OC Fresca, and now Landers.
The builder of the building, the Strang Brothers Construction Company, was probably the most prolific builder in San Clemente at the time. It even wrote a book called Spanish Bungalows, which featured floor plans and sketches of Spanish-style bungalows that it could build for clients. Additionally, Leroy Strang was on the first City Council and was the first commissioner of San Clemente’s fire and police departments.
For years, the only way into San Clemente was down Pacific Coast Highway past the Aquarium Café. The freeway was not built until the early 1960s.
Today, the North Beach neighborhood is a designated Historic District, featuring landmark buildings including Casino San Clemente, the Miramar Theatre, the community pool, and the former bowling alley that’s being restructured into a food hall.
The latest restaurant, Landers, features liquor and also amazing food, including a hummus appetizer, plus breakfast items that can be ordered in the afternoon when they are open, including Shakshouka. The service is great, and the ocean view patio allows dogs.
Christine Lampert is a member of the San Clemente Historical Society, as well as the American Institute of Architects (AIA,) and has designed many projects in San Clemente and in California. She has been a professor of architecture at USC, OCC and SCAD Hong Kong. She and her family have lived in San Clemente for more than 46 years.