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'Whimsical' tile scenes of an old Dutch chocolate shop uncovered in DTLA

By Hayley Fox
Published: Thursday, June 14, 2012, at 09:01AM
Linda Pollack

Mural from the old Dutch chocolate shop in DTLA.

Buried behind the walls of a 6th Street shop are nearly century-old tile murals, built in the early 1900s as part of a European-themed chain of chocolate shops that never panned out. Now, these one-of-a-kind Ernest Batchelder murals have been uncovered and will be open to the public Thursday night during Art Walk.

"Nothing really prepares you for the initial surprise of seeing this incredible space that every inch of it is decked out in Batchelder tiles," said Linda Pollack, a local artist who's been documenting the murals and helping to facilitate community discussions around the discovery.

The Downtown building was built in the late 1800s and opened years later as The Chocolate Shoppe -- a soda parlor and chocolate store inspired by the model of the Pig'n'Whistle in Hollywood, said Pollack. The space was designed to resemble a German beer hall; with no windows, arches, and every inch of wall covered in tile.

She said the developer had intended on creating a chain of chocolate stores, each one with a different theme, depicting various scenes from countries around the world. The first, and only shop was the Netherlands-themed location in DTLA.

Batchelder, an "extremely prolific tile maker" and a "true innovator" who often created tiles for people's homes and fireplaces, was commissioned to create tiles specifically for the space, Pollack said.

He methodically researched Dutch life, through the library and elsewhere, and created 21 different murals for the chocolate shop. The artworks depict "whimsical" scenes of fisherman, the sea, ships and daily life.

"It proved to be such an expensive endeavor that this was really the only one that was made," said Pollack. "No other venture -- German or Norwegian chocolate shop-- came to fruition."

She added that the chocolate shop only stayed in business for a few years before going through multiple transformations as another type of sweets store, a Braggs Liquid Aminos location, Finney's Cafeteria and eventually an arcade and flea market. But there are gaps in the timeline and multiple details about the original store that are missing.

"Its history has not been recorded as well as lets say Clifton's, which is right down the street on Broadway," said Pollack.

The chocolate shop's murals were covered up with plywood until new management came in, saw the artwork, and decided to bring the store back to its original function as a soda parlor and sweets store dubbed the Dutch Chocolate Shop. Right now the space is a temporary pop-up shop selling furniture, said Pollack, and tonight during Art Walk it will host community discussions with a resident tile expert beginning at 6 p.m.

The shop is located on 6th street between Spring and Broadway, an an unassuming plot behind a steel, rolling gate.

"It seems like such a Los Angeles story as well because it's such a treasure and its kind of hidden," Pollack said. "We are extremely fortunate to have this Downtown."

The chocolate shop is located at 217 West Sixth Street


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