H.S. Sternberger and his twin sons, Van...
H.S. Sternberger and his twin sons, Van and Lionel, came to Pasadena from San Diego in 1916 and chose the southwest corner of Colorado Boulevard and Ave. 64 to open a fruit stand. The site was atop the half-mile long slope that Colorado climbs from its intersection with Figueroa St.
Drivers of that era often had to stop their cars after climbing a steep grade to allow the radiator to cool down. Sternberger’s location was perfect for selling fruit and cold drinks. That may be how he came up with the name “The Rite Spot.”
That parcel of land at 1500 W. Colorado Blvd. on fabled Route 66, where Colorado Blvd. crossed from Los Angeles into Pasadena, is a vivid example of the changes the past century has brought to Southern California.
Photographs from as early as 1880 show a dirt track roughly following the path of modern Colorado Boulevard from Glendale to Pasadena. Until about 1900 the area was sparsely settled with scattered farms and houses.
By the 1920s the road was paved and subdivision and home construction in the Annandale district was beginning. Over the decades the street grew to four traffic lanes through Eagle Rock to the Pasadena boundary. And in the mid-1970s, the eight lane Ventura Freeway (134) was opened, running parallel to Colorado.
In the early 1920s Sternberger’s fruit stand had grown into an early form of fast-food restaurant. “The Rite Spot” served an array of hot and cold sandwiches along with citrus juices, cider and a now extinct soft-drink, “Arrowhead Ginger Ale.” A chocolate malted cost 10 cents.
After the elder Sternberger’s death in 1923, his wife sold the property, but his son Lionel soon bought it again. Sometime during Lionel’s tenure as owner, a customer whose name is lost to history asked for a slice of cheese on his burger. Sternberger liked the concept and believed he may have been first in America to list the cheeseburger on a menu.
Lionel eventually sold “The Rite Spot” and opened “Sternberger’s” at 6138 N. Figueroa St. in partnership with his brother Van.
The next eatery to achieve notable success at 1500 W. Colorado was a “Henry’s” drive-in francise. A photo from the 1950s shows one sign reading “Henry’s” perched above free-standing 3-foot-high letters on the edge of the roof proclaiming “Famous Rite Spot.”
Another sign on a tall white pole near the curb said “Chicken in the Rough.” (Some confused customers called the restaurant by that name.) The chicken dinner so named featured fried chicken nestled atop a tangle of french fried potatoes. Those seated in the front dining room could look out across the Annandale golf course, which may have prompted the menu’s reference to “the rough.”
The drive-in parking area at the rear was a favorite rendezvous for teenagers fortunate enough to have “wheels.” They called it “Henry’s on-the-hill” to distinquish it from other drive-ins on the flatlands. Here countless chocolate shakes and mountains of onion rings (with ketchup) were consumed.
“Henry’s” sold out in 1969 and a more upscale restaurant, “The Nightwatch,” opened after some remodeling. “The Nightwatch” tried various innovations such as featuring guitarists, singers or small jazz combos in a lounge at one end of the building. It closed in 1987, the land was designated for another use and the building was razed.
The current building on the site, dedicated earlier this year, houses the offices of the Los Angeles Fireman’s Credit Union. What was once the drive-in’s parking area is now a long, narrow garden along the back wall of the complex. There are benches, a fountain and English ivy, hibiscus, statice and young pine trees.
But the name “Rite Spot” lives on at a 1990 vintage restaurant located about two miles to the east at the corner of Colorado and Fair Oaks in Pasadena’s Old Town area.