Adios, Lucy Casado: The End of an Era in L.A.

Lucy Casado, right, with Renee LaSalle, former New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson and Tony Castro at a presidential campaign fund-raising event at Lucy's El Adobe in Hollywood. Photo by Ryan LaSalle-Castro

Los Angeles restaurateur Lucy Casado, right, at a presidential campaign fund-raising event at her El Adobe Cafe in Hollywood with friend Renee LaSalle, former New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson and author Tony Castro  (Photo by Ryan LaSalle-Castro)

ON A PICTURE POSTCARD California evening, a group of Tibetan monks in cardinal robes and gold undershirts traipsed across Melrose Avenue in Hollywood from the direction of Paramount Studios and then walked into Lucy’s El Adobe Cafe. A diner in the famous Tex-Mex restaurant took notice but assumed what many others might have in Hollywood.

“Hey, Lucy,” the diner said to restaurateur Lucy Casado, who was nearby. “It looks like you’ve got some more extras from Paramount.”

Lucy rushed over and embraced each monk as if they had just won an Oscar. They were that convincing, possibly because they were real-life Tibetan monks — and friends of Casado and her  husband Frank, who had invited them to dinner to celebrate a new kinship that had developed over near tragedy and apparent fate.

Only weeks earlier, Lucy Casado had found herself frantically praying over the injured body of her oldest son, James, who had been badly hurt in a traffic accident — hurtled from his pickup near the top of Laurel Canyon as he drove home from the San Fernando Valley.

As she meditated before a makeshift altar covered with candles and religious icons in one of the bedrooms of her home, Casado had had a vision.

“I saw monks praying and chanting for my son,” she later recalled.

James recovered to full health, and the vision stayed with Casado, who soon sought out and befriended a group of monks who came to Los Angeles accompanying the Dalai Lama later that year.

That began a relationship between Casado and the Buddhist monks that spanned decades and  became a symbol of the role she came to play in the pop culture and political salon that often played out nightly for almost half a century at Lucy’s El Adobe.

Sadly, that era has ended. Lucy Casado, the Doña of Los Angeles, died Tuesday at Good Samaritan Hospital where she had been battling cancer. She was 91.

Jerry Brown during his first term as governor with restaurateur Lucy Casado, his beloved friend who died Tuesday.

Jerry Brown during his first term as governor with restaurateur Lucy Casado, his beloved friend who died Tuesday.

Born in El Paso, Tex., Casado and her husband opened their restaurant in the 1960s and in 1968 played host to Senator Robert F. Kennedy during the California Primary of his presidential campaign, just 24 hours before he was assassinated. She would go on develop a close friendship with future governor Jerry Brown in the 1970s when he was on the Los Angeles Community College District board of trustees and then California Secretary of State.

During his first two terms as governor, Brown could often be found at Lucy’s El Adobe. It became a California political-cultural footnote that the Casados played matchmakers in the famous Jerry Brown-Linda Ronstadt romance of the late 1970s — a much-ballyhooed relationship in the news media which some political experts at the time blamed in part for derailing Brown’s 1980 presidential campaign.

Brown regularly used the restaurant’s west room for his virtual Los Angeles office as well as his rendezvous with Ronstadt, who once cruised in on roller skates to give Brown a loving kiss while he met with two suits who looked on enviously.

“Magic happens at El Adobe,” Casado would say of her restaurant. “I don’t make it or control it. It just happens.”

“Lucy is an original,” Brown said in one interview. “She is Mrs. California.”

Now governor for a second time, Brown told reporters this week that he is “deeply saddened by the passing of Lucy Casado.”

Lucy Casado surrounded by Mayor Eric Garrett, actor Robert Patrick, former City Councilman Tom LaBonge and a few Buddhist monks at the dedication of Lucy El Adobe Plaza on Melrose Avenue in Hollywood.

Lucy Casado surrounded by Mayor Eric Garrett, actor Robert Patrick, former City Councilman Tom LaBonge and a few Buddhist monks at the dedication of Lucy El Adobe Plaza on Melrose Avenue in Hollywood.

“She was friends to the famous and to those who lived nearby and to politicians of both parties,” he said. “I spent many wonderful and memorable evenings at Lucy’s El Adobe.”

The restaurant also became a Hollywood destination for liberal Democratic politicians, while mining for political contributions in California. A wall in the restaurant is covered in photographs of some of the most prominent names in American politics and pop culture — from the late Hubert Humphrey to Ronald Reagan, from Dolly Parton to Drew Barrymore, from Cesar Chavez to Steven Spielberg.

“Eating at Lucy’s and getting her blessing,” wrote Los Angeles Times columnist Steve Lopez.” is almost a rite of passage in L.A. politics.”

Over the years, Casado and her restaurant have also been credited for their role in nurturing and feeding promising young musicians, including Ronstadt, Glenn Frey and Don Henley of The Eagles, Jimmy Webb and Jackson Browne.

One of the musicians on Lucy’s Wall of Fame is jazz saxophonist Mindy Abair who hit No. 1 on the jazz charts with a track titled “Lucy’s.” The night the song topped the charts, Lucy was dining with her friend Tom Selleck, who, upon hearing the news walked over and surprised Abair with his personal congratulations.

Abair, like many others in the music and entertainment industry, suggests that there was something mystical about Lucy’s El Adobe, some nourishing nectar beyond the margaritas and arroz con pollo that always brought success to most who make regular pilgrimages there.

In remembering Casado, Eagles founding member Don Henley recalled her as a fellow Texan and a source of inspiration.

Lucy Casado with songwriter and longtime friend Jimmy Webb at the restaurant. (From Philip Bailey's Facebook page)

Lucy Casado with songwriter and longtime friend Jimmy Webb at the restaurant. (From Philip Bailey’s Facebook page)

“Lucy Casado was a mother figure to much of the L.A. singer-songwriter community,” he said in a statement. “Beginning in the late 1960s and early 1970s, she and her husband, Frank, along with their children, welcomed our rag-tag band of troubadours into their little restaurant on Melrose Avenue.

“It was a cozy, candlelit watering hole, where politics, food and music were often the topics of discussion, over a savory plate of mole poblano, washed down with the best margaritas in town. Lucy was as passionate as she was compassionate — a tough-but-tender little ball of fire from El Paso, Texas, who, like so many of us, made the pilgrimage to the City of Angels.

“She encouraged us in our struggling days and she delighted in our successes. We were all her children and we will miss her.”

Lucy was preceded in death by her Frank Casado, whom Republican political strategist Stuart Spencer called “a Mexican Toots Shor.” Frank Casado, who along with Lucy helped found the Mexican American Political Association, died in 1990. Lucy is survived by her daughter Patricia Casado and two sons, James and Darryl.

A memorial mass for Casado will be celebrated at Saint Victor Catholic Church in West Hollywood May 20.

Meanwhile, her tributes have only begun. Undoubtedly, some will be given at the El Adobe Cafe which now includes a piano room, with a baby grand whose keys have been played by the numerous artists Casado has befriended over the years. There is also a room adorned by statues of St. Francis of Assisi and St. Anthony as well as likenesses of the Virgen de Guadalupe and the Dalai Lama.

The piano was a gift from songwriter Jimmy Webb.

“He needed a piano when he’s in town, so be bought one to go here,” Lucy loved to tell visitors. “Every time he’s in town, he comes and plays and eats too, of course.”

Webb even immortalized the restaurant in music, including in the song, “Adios,” recorded by Ronstadt with Brian Wilson, and featuring the line, “Drinking margaritas all night in the old cantina.”

Lucy Casado watches Buddhist monks creating a sand mandala at her restaurant.

Lucy Casado watches Buddhist monks creating a sand mandala at her restaurant.

It is in this old cantina that Casado set aside two weeks each fall for the monks and their making of a colorful sand mandala, which always attracted a steady trek of visitors, much like any other Hollywood roadside attraction.

“The mandala is beautiful,” Casado said in talking about the ritual, “but the tradition is that sand will be returned to sand — to symbolize the impermanence of life.

“Life is like that. We can celebrate it, and we can be celebrated, but we all have a time that is measured, so we should treasure those each grain of sand we have given to us.”

 

Tony Castro books include the 2016 releases DiMag & Mick: Sibling Rivals, Yankee Blood Brothers (Lyons Press) and Looking for Hemingway: Spain, The Bullfights and a Final Rite of Passage (Lyons Press).

Subscribe to Our Newsletter

My publisher asked me to start a newsletter where I can communicate with readers more intimately than on social media… and that will allow us to offer special deals and giveaways that sometimes get lost in online insanity And my promise: your email address will never be sold. Your call!

Support Our Journalism

Ensure that mission-driven reporting and investigative journalism that exposes abuses, rights wrongs, and holds the powerful accountable will continue to survive at a time when we need it most. Thank you for your support of the Tony Castro’s America blog!

Donate