Famous in its day: Pig’n Whistle

One of the strange appropriations of the early 20th-century involved using old tavern signs and names for distinctly non-alcoholic eateries, often tea rooms or confectionery restaurants appealing primarily to middle-class women. One of these was the Pig’n Whistle chain which began in California in 1908.

The name originated with ancient British taverns. Many believe that “whistle” was a corruption of wassail, an alcoholic concoction drunk from a small bowl or cup called a “pig.” But an early advertisement for Pig’n Whistle (shown below) gives no suggestion that patrons could get anything stronger than a cup of tea.

Although there is some disagreement about whether Pig’n Whistle started in San Francisco or Los Angeles, it seems likely that the first one was opened in San Francisco by Frank L. Callebotta, in 1908, perhaps growing out of a candy store he established earlier. In 1912 there was one unit in downtown San Francisco and another in the H. C. Capwell department store in Oakland.

By December of 1908 there was a store in Los Angeles, the city that was destined to become the chain’s headquarters. In 1914 the third LA Pig’n Whistle opened on South Broadway with an ivory baked enamel front displaying the trademark fife-playing pig which also decorated interior walls. In 1916 Pig’n Whistle was known for hanging original artworks on the walls, a custom it would continue into the 1930s. Patrons liked the idea so much they asked to be seated in booths where their favorite paintings appeared.

In 1926 the chain made a public stock offering and began an expansion drive. It absorbed Melody Lane restaurants in Los Angeles and Ennor’s in Berkeley. By 1929 it had opened its 20th store and had restaurants in Seattle, San Francisco, Oakland, Pasadena, Hollywood, and Los Angeles, including one planned for Grauman’s Egyptian Theater. It acquired the Mary Louise Tea Rooms as part of its Elite Catering subsidiary. Operating three factories, it made its own baked goods, candy, and ice cream. In 1931 passengers traveling on Transcontinental-Western Air, Inc. out of LA and San Francisco had lunches furnished by Pig’n Whistle.

pigNwhistleInterior577

Pig’n Whistles made a specialty of appealing to children and created menus and booklets for them. Although the restaurants were casual, they were also considered refined and somewhat elegant. Menus were elaborate even though prices were moderate. In 1934 it was possible to order a “De Luxe” six-course dinner for $1.00 that included dishes such as “Braised Saddle of Rabbit, Chasseur” and “Grilled Boned Loin of Spring Lamb” with fresh mushrooms and mint jelly. The dinner came with additional courses and accompaniments such as seafood cocktail, soup, spaghetti, avocado salad, and asparagus Hollandaise. To finish, there were 23 desserts to select from.

Profits declined in the 1950s and the chain shrunk. In 1952 it was reduced to five locations in LA and Hollywood, and one each in Beverly Hills, Pasadena, Long Beach, and San Diego. When an Illinois corporation, King Kastle, bought the company in 1968 there were only three units remaining, all in Los Angeles. King Kastle planned renovations and expansion but I don’t think they materialized.

Coming full circle, the name Pig’n Whistle can now be found on several drinking places around the country, as well as one of the original units at 6714 Hollywood Blvd. (interior pictured above) which has been restored and is operated as a restaurant.

© Jan Whitaker, 2011

13 Comments

Filed under food, history, restaurants

13 responses to “Famous in its day: Pig’n Whistle

  1. I walked off Hollywood blvd. into pig n whistle asking for a job. I was 15 yrs. old in 1943 and I was given a apron at 50 cents an hour. Plus my meals. It was the best food ever. I wish I could turn back time. I worked there till I was 17 just for the food and the exciting people that worked and the customers.

  2. Margaret

    When I was growing up, my family and I lived in Altadena from 1944-46, and sometimes ate Sunday dinner at the Pign’n Whistle in Pasadena. We also sometimes ate at a cafeteria on Colorado Blvd., whose name I can’t remember.

  3. Brian

    I have a near mint menu from the Pig’n Whistle restaurant from 33 Powell Street. San Francisco. Dated Saturday September 30, 1939.

  4. john normanly

    I grew up in Los Angeles in the 40s and 50s. There was a great drive in at Western & Wilshire, across from the Wiltern theatre, Pig n Whistle and Melody Lane. It was a special occasion when my folks took us kids to the drive in and got sundaes. It was always crowded, and the sundaes were spectacular. In the late 60s a big high-rise was constructed on the site. So many memories.

  5. If we went to a movie in downtown Los Angeles, my mom always took me to the “Pig” as it was called sometimes. They gave the kids little pig all day suckers. Most of my friends who grew up in Hollywood during the 30′s and 40′s have fond memories of the Pig N Whistle.

  6. Pingback: stripeycity

  7. Michael DeArmey

    There was a Pig N Whistle in Memphis, TN up until the 1970s. It had terrific BBQ and the world’s best French Fries. Waiters in white coats, black bow ties, and black trousers would come to your car in the parking lot and take your order. The interior and exterior of the building looked like an old English tavern. High school kids in fraternities and sororities like to go there, especially from Central High School. If anyone knows their recipe for BBQ saudce, I would love to have it. Send it to me on Facebook. Thanks, Michael DeArmey.

    • katherine

      i remember the chicken pot pie the best. it was my mom’s favorite. we had it at the restaurant near union square in san francisco…WWII era.

  8. katherine hawes

    As I recall from a LONG time ago, my mother and I ate chicken pot pie in an upstairs part of the restaurant…if I’m remembering correctly. We always took
    a table by the windows overlooking a north-south running in the hub of downtown.
    bk

  9. The name originated with ancient British taverns. Many believe that “whistle” was a corruption of wassail, an alcoholic concoction drunk from a small bowl or cup called a “pig.”
    I can really see the connection with this. The bowls or cups could have been made from Pygg – Pygg was a type of earthenware clay used in England around the 15th century. So Pygg and wassail=pig and whistle.

  10. Marcos Lederer

    I can’t thank you enough for your blog! You focus on some intriguing niches that are too often overlooked by social historians, and you do excellent research, to boot. I teach history to adolescents; your material has enlivened many lessons and increased my students’ sense of connection to the past. Keep up the great work!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s