The “mysterious” Singing Kettle

singingkettlepcA veil of ominous mystery has spread over the remains of a California roadside tea room once known by the homey name Singing Kettle.

It was located near the summit of Turnbull Canyon, high above the San Gabriel Valley, on a winding road running through the Puente Hills in North Whittier. The road was completed in 1915, opening up a route filled with what many regarded as the most impressive views on the entire Pacific Coast.


Today young people drive into the “haunted” canyon at night determined to be frightened to death. Gazing out car windows they eagerly tell each other tales they’ve heard of satanic rituals, murders, and human sacrifice, hoping that behind that fence are unspeakable horrors they might be lucky enough to witness. Even the Singing Kettle tea room, perhaps because remnants of its entrance are visible from the road, has become enmeshed in dark fantasies.

Why am I laughing?

Because it strikes me as funny that a tea room from the 1920s and 1930s could be associated with horror and paranormal events. Or even that people would find its existence mysterious, wondering why it was ever there or what it really was.

I suppose that given enough time and imagination mysterious auras can envelop any mundane place, even a deserted mall or a parking garage. But still, finding a tea room scary is like being frightened by a club sandwich.

I have experienced a somewhat similar attitude before. I gave a talk on tea rooms of New York City when my book Tea at the Blue Lantern Inn came out in 2002. Afterwards a man in the audience came up and asked me why I didn’t mention the darker aspects of tea rooms. He was fixated on the idea that a lot of them had been speakeasies and houses of prostitution.

Really? If that had indeed been the case, why would I not have mentioned it? It would be a good story. I’ve found little evidence of prostitution in tea rooms. It’s true that some, a minority, of tea room proprietors were found selling liquor during Prohibition. A few places in Greenwich Village were raided in the early 1920s, and here and there the mob would open a joint and call it a tea room, though that was purely a ruse. They were totally fake. I feel certain it was impossible to order a diet plate or a Waldorf salad in a mob tea room.


The dining area of the Singing Kettle tea room was up the hill from the pergola entrance shown on the black and white postcard above. As can be seen from a bird’s-eye view of the property, terraced stairs with fountains and shrubbery led up to the main tea room which today appears to be a residence. The view while dining would have been spectacular.

The tea room was frequented by students and staff from Whittier College, the Whittier Chamber of Commerce, and women’s clubs. It was a popular place for business meetings, card parties, wedding receptions, and bridal showers. Weddings were held in the inner courtyard of its entrance pergola.

singingkettlehartwhittierheights1927I have not been able to discover exactly who ran the Singing Kettle. It was said to be owned and operated by a major Southern California agricultural land developer, Edwin G. Hart, but I can’t establish if he was headquartered on the property or was directly involved in the business. He did promote the tea room in a 1927 advertisement for his new residential development, Whittier Heights.

The Singing Kettle was in business from 1926 until at least 1939, but probably not much longer. It surely would not have survived gasoline rationing during WWII.

© Jan Whitaker, 2016

With many thanks to the reader who told me about the Singing Kettle.


Filed under atmosphere, odd buildings, Offbeat places, roadside restaurants, tea shops

17 responses to “The “mysterious” Singing Kettle

  1. Anonymous

    It’s naive to think the Singing Kettle would hold its own on Tea….

    Prohibition/gambling made the money. After sunset.

    I hope you get the opportunity to see Mr. Ohanessian’s documentary on Turnbull Canyon.

    • During its 13 years of operation the Singing Kettle attracted wedding parties, women’s groups, the Whittier Chamber of Commerce, and families for Thanksgiving dinners. So I declare it a genuine tea room, not a mere front! Perhaps someone associated with it hosted late night gambling and drinking, but it’s hard to imagine that it would have kept its good reputation all those years if this had gone on for long.
      If you’re looking for scandal associated with tea rooms, see my 2017 post on tea rooms that served alcohol during Prohibition and engaged in other illegal trade.

  2. James

    I grew up a half mile down the road and a neighbor had been there for many decades prior. He said that Turnbull Canyon was a valuable resource to connect the San Gabriel Valley to the coastal routes. The road was used by horse and carriage. When vehicles arrived the tea house was welcomed by the drivers as the tea house would add water to the cars that were overheating and the travelers could enjoy the views with teas and sandwich.
    If you look through the rod iron gate you can still see the original mosaic tile name.
    As far as ghost stories an Satan worshippers, there are tons of stories going back 70 years to my knowledge.
    Murdered people were also left up there and I found one at 9 years old. A gas station attendant who met his demise at work and was dumped in the canyon.

  3. ParRod

    What a great story. Never knew this existed in my home town. Thank you for this.

  4. This was amusing. However, i could see a ghost here of there sticking around because it was a place of solace during earthly life. so I’ll give a nod to haunted. Not so sure about the other horrors mentioned.

    This was a fun read. Thank you for being so diligent in your posts.

  5. Bunny Watson

    PS: just stumbled across your site today. GREAT stuff. I can tell I’ll be spending some time here – and I think you should put out a book!

  6. Bunny Watson

    It could also have to do with confusion over “tea dances” which is a name for (mostly gay) dances in the afternoon – teatime. I’ve read that this custom began on Fire Island because there wouldn’t be enough light after sunset!

  7. Haunted tea rooms – getaway! former speakeasies and houses of prostitution? really? I mean really?…that is hilarious. If you found the ruins of the mysterious Singing Kettle and were there after midnight, might you be attacked by spectral scones and jam, or a cheese toastie with evil intentions?…woo I’m scared…
    This is a fabulously funny post – thank you so much it has made my day.

  8. dianacarol2015

    Always enjoy your writing, but today you caused me to fully laugh out loud with this one: “finding a tea room scary is like being frightened by a club sandwich.”

  9. Who knew tea rooms were so exciting?

  10. Maybe it’s haunted by Richard Nixon.

  11. I wonder if your “tea house” questioner was conflating the US tea houses you study with the Japanese early modern tea houses, which had strong ties to prostitution and entertainment. That would at least make the question rational…

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