Tucked away at the end of a long drive behind some rather unassuming fencing just steps from a bevy of busy freeway interchanges sits one of the City of Angels’ most bucolic spots. Known as Los Angeles River Center & Gardens, the site is so clandestine, most Angelinos don’t even realize it’s there. As such, it is often referred to as a “hidden gem” by those fortunate enough to discover it. Comprised of five acres of serene beauty at 570 W. Ave. 26 in Cypress Park, the stunning property had some rather inauspicious beginnings, ironically starting life as a spice plant for Lawry’s Food Inc.
Founded by brothers-in-law Walter Van de Kamp and Lawrence L. Frank, the Lawry’s name has long been synonymous with the L.A. restaurant scene thanks to the company’s famed eponymous Beverly Hills eatery, Lawry’s The Prime Rib, which the duo established in 1938 and is, amazingly, still going strong today! At the time of its inception, the revolutionary steakhouse offered only one main menu item – prime rib served with all the standard fixings, prepared and carved tableside in a spectacle that servers have since dubbed “The Show.”
In conjunction with the eatery’s opening, Lawrence created a unique savory spice blend to bring out the flavor of the prime rib, a recipe he spent three months perfecting in his home kitchen during off-hours. The tasty mixture was a hit with Lawry’s patrons. As explained in a 1986 San Bernardino County Sun article, “The seasoned salt of 17 herbs and spices became the third shaker on each of the restaurant’s tables, but for some reason, it kept disappearing. It seems customers liked his creation so much, they took it home with them. And so Lawry’s Seasoned Salt was born.”
The flavoring proved so popular, plants were soon established to manufacture and distribute it nationwide. Eventually, the company added more items to its portfolio, becoming something of a non-perishable food empire along the way. According to the Sun, by the 1980s, Lawry’s Food Inc. was selling “more than 100 blended seasonings and other related food products, including its seasoned salt and pepper, dry gravy mixes, taco seasoning mix, taco shells and soup and salad dressing mixes.”