During the 1930s and '40s, Jack Benny, Lucille Ball and Rita Hayworth were just a few of the major Hollywood celebrities who stopped in for meals at Daniger's Tea Room, located on the second floor of the historic Santora Building in downtown Santa Ana.
But in recent years, the run-down building at the corner of Broadway and 2nd Street has little resembled the structure during its heyday, when the tearoom was one of Orange County's most popular restaurants and the Santora Building one of its most beautiful landmarks.
The building eventually was boarded up in 1983 and sat empty for the remainder of the decade. But it was not forgotten.
Last year, the Orange County Conservancy, a sub-group of the Orange County Historical Society, got together with the city of Santa Ana and a group of investors called the Santora Group and embarked on a $3.5-million restoration of the 50,000-square-foot building.
Today the three groups will hold a grand opening to celebrate the building which quietly reopened earlier this year and is being rented out to specialty, retail and professional businesses.
"It's a beautiful building and it deserved to be restored," said Diann Marsh, chairwoman of the conservancy. "This party will show people that Santa Ana has done a lot toward restoration of historic buildings, an effort which has really gone unnoticed."
One of the most striking features of the Spanish-style structure is its second-story decoration, called Churrigueresque, made of elaborate ornamental cast concrete. The decoration also is accented by gargoyles on the top edge of the building.
Created by architect Frank Lansdowne in 1929, the Santora cost $150,000 to build and originally was owned by the Santora Land Co. The building, which is listed with the National Register of Historic Places, was named Santora as a contraction of the cities "Santa Ana" and "Orange."
The Santora Building was just what David Baxter and Jill Stone were looking for when they decided to open their own advertising firm earlier this year. They moved into a second-floor office in June and are hoping for a long and happy stay.
"We were attracted to the character of the building," Baxter said. "We were really hoping to find something like this so when we saw this place, we knew it was what we were looking for."
Susie Ponce, owner of Susie's Fashions, moved into the ground level four months ago. She said she is eager to see all of the office spaces rented out so her business will increase.
"I like this building so much but I will like it more when I have more business," Ponce said.
The Santora Building once served as Santa Ana City Hall when City Hall was damaged in a 1933 earthquake. The city staff moved into the building until a new City Hall could be built two years later.
But its main claim to fame was Daniger's Tea Room. The restaurant was run by Irene Daniger from 1934 to 1944 and was known not only for its delicious tea, cakes and pie, but also for having the best home-cooked meals in town.
In addition to Benny, Ball and Hayworth, other Hollywood celebrities who stopped in for meals included George Burns, Gracie Allen, Rosalind Russell, Barbara Stanwyck and William Holden. As they shopped in nearby stores, local stargazers were known to keep a close eye on the tearoom's front door to catch glimpses of the celebrities.
Although the second-floor tearoom was not reincarnated in the 1990 version of the Santora Building, the grand opening celebration, open to the public, has been designed to reflect that era and will take place in the lobby area where the tearoom once stood.
Refreshments will be served in the atmosphere of a re-created tearoom. Classic cars from the 1940s and '50s will be on display, and music ranging from 1880s salon music to 1940s swing music will be performed.
Maps of the building will be available for self-guided tours and buses will provide tours of historic downtown Santa Ana. Festivities will take place from 4 to 7 p.m. at the Santora Building.