The oldest continuously running café in Los Angeles County was honored in a plaque dedication ceremony from a rather mysterious group, the Ancient and Honorable Organization of E Clampus Vitus.
The ceremony was attended by about 100 members of the organization (also known as “Clampers”), Mayor Laurene Weste, and the owner of Saugus Cafe – Alfredo Mercado.
Mercado was mostly speechless following the plaque’s dedication. However, he did go into a little detail about what it was like to persevere through the pandemic.
“I don’t know what to say. I’m just happy, just shocked right now,” said Mercado. “In the beginning [of the pandemic], it was very hard. You know, like everybody else you got to keep going and going. There was nothing else you could do except try.”
His daughter, Yecenia, said it was the community that was able to keep the café afloat when the going got tough.
“They all came out and they supported it. They all got together… I think this all started as a Facebook post and they all just united and they all told each other, ‘We’re gonna support the cafe’ and they all did they all came and supported it. They would sit in the sun outside just to eat and it meant a lot to us,” said Yecenia.
Weste said the café is not just a landmark and historical location in the city, but also a place that holds immense sentimental value for many in the valley.
“The Saugus Cafe is the oldest operating café in all of L.A. County, we’re the third largest city and we managed to save it time and time again and managed to get it through COVID.. I had an almost knock-down brawl over that during COVID, but managed to do it,” said Weste. “It’s part of our ingrained history. I mean, after proms, even after cityhood, we all piled in over here, in the middle of the night… So this place is home away from home.”
The Saugus Cafe opened its doors in 1898, just across the street from its present location, and has served a wide variety of dignitaries, celebrities and characters such as Teddy Roosevelt, William Mulholland, Charlie Chaplin, John Ford, and of course William S. Hart.
Denny Thompson, former Clampers “Humbug” (which is a chapter leader), told an interesting story about his father’s experience while eating lunch at the café.
“My father, who worked at the old Newhall Refinery here years ago, recalls the day when he came in here for lunch, met some of his buddies who worked at Thatcher Glass just right down the street… he noticed there was a couple of gentlemen sitting in the booth at the far end, just by themselves and very quietly discussing some issues. And those two gentlemen ended up being Robert Kennedy and Cesar Chavez.”
As far as the Clampers themselves, their history and origins are not entirely known – citing several and conflicting origin stories.
“Clampers are jolly fellows,” said Patrick Turner, current Humbug of the Platrix Chapter as he explained some of the Clampers history. “Our fraternity is not sure if it is a historical drinking society or a drinking historical society… The organization’s name is Dog Latin, and I do not know what it means. Our motto is credo quia absurdum, which is generally understood to mean ‘I believe because it is absurd.’ This motto can be traced back to the early Christian apologist [sic] who in 200 AD, rejected rationalism and accepted the gospel, which addressed itself to the non-rational levels of perception. The history of E Clampus Vitus can be traced from West Virginia to the southern states and onto the West Coast in the 1840s. Although there is no certainty where ECV originally came from, some believe it was Chinese in origin.”
The only seemingly serious piece of history given was that the Clampers were formed, at some time, as a satirical answer to exclusive societies such as the Elks, Masons and Oddfellows.