Couple Brings a Taste of the 1950s Back to Life in Their Dana Point Diner

In the 1950s, “There were no problems with drugs, no free sex and not much problem with drunk driving. And television hadn’t replaced the family unit,” said Walter Bratten, 45.

So when he and his wife, Anne, 43, bought the Beach Street Diner in Dana Point, they turned it into an authentic ‘50s eatery.

“Looking back on the ‘50s, you could have fun without worrying and you weren’t concerned with the pressure of inflation or getting stressed out,” Bratten said.

And to make the diner look authentic, the Brattens had the booths upholstered in automobile seat patterns used in typical ’55 Chevy, ’56 Mercury and ’57 Chrysler cars.


Music of that era is played on records in a jukebox that stands on a floor colored in yellow and gray. And one of the better meals served by waiters and waitresses dressed in ‘50s styles is “real meatloaf and mashed potatoes.”

A television crew from West Germany scoured the United States for a representative ‘50s restaurant and settled on the Beach Street Diner and photographed it for showing in Europe. “The ‘50s is very big in Europe, especially the Scandinavian countries,” Bratten said.

And while the Brattens have a fondness for the “good old days,” the diner they bought three years ago is just one of a long list of successes in their business and personal life.

For instance, the Capistrano Beach couple has operated a string of successful coffee shops. And in 1976, Anne Bratten started an exercise class in a church, and in three months had 1,500 women working out.


“My wife is very good at spotting trends,” he said. Anne, a former model, opened a bed-and-breakfast business 10 years ago in the couple’s former Napa Valley home. “It was pictured on the cover of Sunset Magazine and her first guest was Lt. Gov. Mike Curb,” said Walter.

In 1984, she was a finalist for Mrs. California. In in 1988 she and her daughter, Kelley, 17, won the California Mother-Daughter USA contest.

“Anne has had umpteen businesses,” Walter said, “but when it becomes successful it starts eating her alive so she sells it. When we sold the last one, we swore never to go back to the restaurant business. When we bought this one it was because of temporary insanity.”

But that is not to say they aren’t having fun. He is a former owner of a Ferrari dealership and at one time raced sports cars at Riverside, Daytona and other tracks around the country.


When he’s not managing the diner, Bratten rents 24 cars of ‘50s vintage to television and film studios. “I used to own twice that many but it got too cumbersome,” he said. His reduced stock is stored in an Irvine warehouse.

He said two of his cars are in the current movie “Great Balls of Fire.”

And as a hobby, he collects soft drink bottle caps from the ‘30s, ‘40s and ‘50s.

A couple of years ago, Dan Franks and his wife, Charlene, both 42, took a hot-air balloon ride, after which he asked if she had enjoyed it.


“I said yes and he said, ‘Good, because I bought it for your birthday,’ ” she recalled. The balloon is named “Blue Bird.”

They became so engrossed in ballooning that on Saturday they will embark on an adventurous flight over Lithuania with four other hot-air balloon teams.

“The Soviet Union has approved the flight over Lithuania,” said Charlene, who is patient-care quality assurance supervisor at Capistrano by the Sea Hospital in Dana Point. She will act as a crew member while her husband, a construction company owner, pilots a $25,000 balloon named the “Blue Rose.”

Two other American balloons and two Japanese balloons will take part in the two-week, good-will flight that will start near Vilnius, the capital of Lithuania.


“The trip is going to be interesting when we share our experiences with the people there,” she said. “I know it’s going to be a lot of fun taking them on a ride and sharing the good times that we have had in our own hot-air balloon.”

From there, the couple will take a commercial flight to France where, during the first week in August, they will pilot their own “Blue Bird” balloon--already shipped to Paris--in Fraternite 89, regarded as the largest hot-air balloon gathering in the world.