La Golondrina Café has been a mainstay on Olvera Street since the 1930s, but its current owners are being asked to pay more than $242,000 in back rent or face eviction.
The Mexican restaurant closed in March 2020 due to the COVID pandemic and owner Vivien Bonzo eventually sought to sell the business, which had been in her family for three generations. The building where the restaurant is located dates back to the mid-19th century.
David and Bertha Gomez, who worked in one of the colorful candy stands along Olvera Street, offered to take over the restaurant. The couple began the process of transferring ownership of the business in September 2021, which is when the Board of Commissioners of El Pueblo de Los Angeles Historical Monument approved the agreement.
But the Gomezes claim they were not informed of the commission’s approval until February 2022, according to a lawsuit they filed against the city earlier this year.
A spokesperson for the commission could not be immediately reached for comment.
In their lawsuit, the Gomezes argue that the city and a local labor union stalled the process for transfer of ownership of the restaurant. The Gomezes also claim that a major plumbing issue in the historic building, which the city argues is their responsibility, has prevented them from opening the business.
The city of Los Angeles said the Gomezes were required to start paying rent in March 2022.
The business has never reopened, according to a three-page report from the El Pueblo de Los Angeles Historical Monument Authority, the city department that oversees maintenance and operations and approves concession agreements for new businesses to be established.
The commission was set to meet on Wednesday to discuss La Golondrina’s possible eviction, but the hearing was tabled for a later date.
The department says the Gomezes face eviction if they cannot pay $242,306 in back rent and approximately $46,000 for a common-area maintenance fee, which does not include interest charges, according to court documents.
The legal dispute was first reported in the Esotouric Secret Los Angeles newsletter.
The Gomezes claim that a plumber found serious problems in the building and that the city was responsible for the repairs. They provided a $90,000 estimate to the city, according to court documents.
La Golondrina is located in one of the oldest brick buildings in the city. According to L.A. Taco, the restaurant sits on the ground floor of the two-story Pelanconi House, which was built in 1850, the same year that California became a state. The plumbing in the building has not been replaced in several decades, the Gomezes allege in court documents.
But the city says that under its concession agreement with the restaurant, the Gomezes are responsible for repairs, according to the city’s report signed by General Manager Arturo Chavez of the El Pueblo Historic Monument. Any plumbing issues would not excuse the restaurant’s owner from paying rent, Chavez added.
The Gomezes said in their lawsuit they cannot operate the business without repairs to the pipes and have lost out on at least 10 months of profits.