In 1904, Corona del Mar was christened “Crown of the Sea.” At that time, this small enclave was nearly a two-hour drive from Los Angeles and large stretches of Orange County were completely undeveloped. A major breakthrough in the village’s growth came with the opening of Coast Highway from Oxnard to San Juan Capistrano, with silent movie stars Mary Pickford and Douglas Fairbanks, Sr. officiating at the 1926 celebration of the highway’s opening. Now, Corona del Mar was at last accessible, albeit one lane, and Sunday drives down the coast became a favorite getaway for Los Angeles residents and from points even farther north.
Matilda (“Tillie” Lemon) MacCulloch purchased the land in the early 1930s, where Five Crowns now sits. She began building a replica of an inn she had fondly visited in England. She named her establishment The Hurley Bell. (This was in honor of the inspiration–an inn called Ye Olde Bell, dating back to 1135, and located at Hurley-on-Thames, just outside London.) MacCulloch was fascinated with replicating that English tavern. The construction was completed in 1936, and she and her daughter Marguerite lived in the house for four years. Later, it was converted to a restaurant, an inn, and in the 1940s, it became a popular hideaway for Hollywood celebrities. After Matilda’s passing in 1948, her daughter Marguerite ran the inn for years; however, it became burdensome, and in the early 1960s, she sold The Hurley Bell.
Meanwhile, in Los Angeles, on Restaurant Row, Lawrence L. Frank, an entrepreneur of the day, had transplanted from Milwaukee. A baker by trade, he and his brother-in-law, Walter Van de Kamp, began opening restaurants. There was the Tam O’Shanter Inn, and next came Lawry’s The Prime Rib (a derivation of Lawrence’s name). Lawry’s opened in 1938 and became an almost overnight hit. Richard N. Frank took over the leadership of the company in 1956. By 1963, they had four restaurants and Lawry’s was celebrating 25 years and Lawrence’s son Richard N. Frank was president of the family’s businesses. When the time came for the next restaurant, only a truly unique structure would do. With Richard’s love of English countryside, The Hurley Bell seemed the perfect match. Van de Kamp suggested the name Five Crowns because the new restaurant would be their fifth, and each was a jewel in their crown. Richard thought The Bell and Crown would have been a better name, but the Five Crowns name stuck, and the rest is history, as they say!
Five Crowns was one of the first truly “themed” restaurants, from the Tudor-style building, to uniforms and pewter plates and an olde English authentic menu…and on April 14, 1965, Five Crowns opened its doors.
Fast forward to today, and Five Crowns is still a legend. In the past few years, the restaurant has made some lovely additions, including improvements to the dining rooms, replacing the tavern concept with the hipper Sidedoor Gastropub–with low-hung wood beams and the perfect setting for sipping craft cocktails and enjoying tasty small plates–and many creative additions to the cuisine and menu offerings, with its classic entrees like prime rib and their famous Yorkshire pudding and creamed corn.
It is also a special place for celebrations. My mother used to love to dine here during the holidays. She would enjoy the carolers all dressed in period costumes, strolling through the dining room and singing her favorite holiday tunes. Over the years, we have enjoyed graduation parties, birthdays, and so many other wonderful celebrations here. It remains a place where family traditions and memories continue to be made. Five Crowns holds a special place in my heart and always will.
Deirdre Michalski is a travel and culinary writer. TastesAndTravel.com