Historical Building:

The Aquarium Cafe

By Christine Lampert, Architect, AIA, NCARB

Photo by Jackie Brown


any of us remember it as Ichibiri Japanese Restaurant, but the historic San Clemente building located at 1814 North El Camino Real in North Beach started out in 1930 as the Aquarium Cafe. The building, which was restored a few years ago, is a beautiful example of Spanish Colonial Revival style architecture.

Today, the building is occupied by Landers restaurant, which offers has a dog-friendly outdoor patio with an ocean view. Landers has a great wine and beer selection, as well as good food.

The original building is a large octagonal shape that features an octagonal turret and windows. It was designed by a noted Los Angeles 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.

Sadly, the building’s original owner took his own life inside the building shortly before completion of the project. The reason remains a mystery especially since the project appeared to be successful. His wife, Emma, continued with the opening of the Aquarium Cafe.

The restaurant had a dance floor in the center of the octagon with dining tables around the dance floor. There was a large aquarium on the sides filled with sea life. Saltwater was pumped into the aquarium by a long pipe that went under the railway tracks to the ocean.

The Aquarium Cafe did not have a bar because of Prohibition. However, it is rumored that the owner, Emma would mix you a drink if you asked her. She had an apartment in the back of building where she would go to make the drink.

Since the closing of the Aquarium Cafe, there have been five other restaurants in the building: The Anchor Inn, Margarita’s Village, Itchibiri Japanese Restaurant, OC Fresca and now Landers.

The builder of the original structure, the Strang Brother’s Construction Company, was probably the most prolific builder in San Clemente at the time. They even wrote a book called Spanish Bungalows, which featured floor plans and sketches of Spanish- style bungalows that they could build for their clients. Leroy Strang sat on San Clemente’s first city council, and he was the first commissioner of fire and police for San Clemente.

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. Until then, everyone driving south into San Clemente would pass the Aquarium Cafe as they entered town.

Today, this area is called North Beach, and is now a designated Historic District with historic landmark buildings built in the 1920s and 1930s, including The Casino San Clemente, the Miramar Theater, the building that formerly housed a bowling alley, and the Ole Hanson Beach Club and community pool. There are also many historic homes in the neighborhood.


Christine Lampert of Lampert Dias Architects is a member of the American Institute of Architects and is certified with the National Council of Architectural Registration Boards. She has lived in San Clemente for more than 45 years, and also resides part time in Hong Kong

Christine Lampert, Architect, AIA, NCARB

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