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As Clifton's cafeteria is set to reopen, readers share fond memories

As Clifton's cafeteria is set to reopen, readers share fond memories
Vilma Halet of El Monte took souvenir photographs at Clifton's forest-themed Brookdale cafeteria and at its island-themed Pacific Seas cafeteria, where she is shown in the 1950s. (Miriam Caldwell)

The revival of downtown Los Angeles landmark Clifton's cafeteria brought an outpouring of memories from Los Angeles Times readers who dined there in years past. Clifton's forest-themed restaurant on Broadway served as many as 15,000 meals a day in its heyday.

After a nearly four-year makeover by new owner Andrew Meieran, Clifton's is set to reopen Sept. 17. In addition to the comfort food such as sliced turkey, mashed potatoes and Jell-O that people remember, the expanded new version of Clifton' will include a separate sit-down restaurant and multiple bars.

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Among the people who shared their Clifton's stories on Facebook with the Times was Miriam Caldwell, whose mother, Vilma Halet, worked as a camera girl at Clifton's in the mid-1950s. Caldwell said her mother was a special hit with young servicemen and earned enough to move out of her parents' house in El Monte and buy a canary-yellow Ford Thunderbird convertible.

Halet kept a box of memorabilia from Clifton's and looked back on her days there fondly, her daughter said.

This is how Caldwell remembers her mother's time there:

"My mom, Vilma, was one of the Camera Girls there from 1954-1955, she worked at both Clifton’s Brookdale and Clifton’s Pacific Seas. She meandered around offering 'Souvenir Photos' of your visit at the famous Clifton’s with one of those big vintage cameras. Most folks were tourists and military men on leave who wanted a picture with a pretty girl to show off to their buddies when they returned to base. My mother kept a diary of her life during those years, I just started blogging her memoir at www.diaryofvilma.com. She was beautiful and there was never a shortage of fine men to go out on dates with! Even her boss praised her as one of the best Camera Girls at Clifton’s. Well, at least that’s what she wrote in her diary!"

Several other readers also shared their memories on the Times' Facebook page:

Bonnie Morrison-Snowhite: "Both my Mother and my Dad, worked at Clifton's cafeteria during World War II. This is where they met, my Mom was a waitress and Dad was a bus boy. They were hired by Mr. Clinton at the Broadway location and were put to work at the South Seas Clifton's. When I was a child in the 1950's, I loved to go there and pick a toy from the treasure chest! My Dad has passed on but Mom is so excited about the re-opening of Clifton's, and we are looking forward to bringing her there!"

Carolyn DeClerck: "I loved Clifton's. In the 50s we always had lunch there if we went downtown. I loved the rain forest and the waterfall and the fish in the wall when we went down the staircase. Very exciting for a 6 year old."

Lety Gomez Perez: "I grew up in L.A. and going to Clifton's on Broadway after hours of shopping at Bullock's across the street was an amazing treat. It was like Disneyland. It was my favorite restaurant as a kid and would order the same thing each time (baked chicken thigh with mashed potatoes and gravy, and either a slice of custard pie or the cubed jello for dessert and fruit punch) I so look forward to having my kids dine at Clifton's very soon!"

Carolyn Russell: "My husband got left behind by his family after they all ate at Clifton's. The staff sat him down, and he waited patiently for his family to realize he wasn't in the group, and to return for him. They were regulars at Clifton's."

Dawn Carreon: "My grandma lived at the Clark Hotel on 3rd and Hill St. Every Christmas I would stay with her for a week. Clifton's was what I looked forward to. I felt fancy. I would only order the fried chicken and mashed potatoes with gravy on everything....yummy goodness. But the best of the best is the chocolate cake with pieces of banana filling the middle layer. That was the only cake I would get for my birthday every year. I can't wait to go to the new Clifton's, and fingers crossed, the chocolate banana cake is still on the menu."

Barbara Bramson: "I have some memories of my mother taking me with my now 91-year-old Aunt. It was a time of celebration during WWII. The memories are faded but the name and emotional connection of a little girl food, fun and fantasy still put a smile of The Good Old Days upon my face. I plan on going with special people as a journey to times gone by and wonderful. It just is a wonderful California landmark. Great memories.... Thank you."

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Remember Clifton's?  We want to hear your tales and see your old photos – post them on Twitter with #CliftonsLA, on our Facebook page or in the comments and we'll round up our favorites on Monday.

By using #CliftonsLA you are giving the Los Angeles Times permission to use your photo on all L.A. Times platforms and you agree to abide by our terms of service.

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