Special Café from Michael Jackson’s “Beat It” VideoAug 22nd, 2013 | By Lindsay | Category: Michael Jackson Locations
Since we’re on the subject of Michael Jackson . . . in May of this past year, a fellow stalker/MJ aficionado named Justin published a comment on my post about the Monte Carlo café, which I had blogged about back in March 2010 as being the possible café that appeared in the King of Pop’s “Beat It” video. (You can read my second post on that same location here. I suggest reading both of my Monte Carlo write-ups, as well as all of the comments posted therein, as it will make this post easier to understand.) I was never entirely convinced about the location (even though it bears a remarkable resemblance to the diner in the video) due to many elements not matching what appeared onscreen, and opened it up to my readers to share their opinions. While Justin originally commented that he thought the Monte Carlo was the right spot, a full two years later he was able to figure out where filming actually had taken place – the Special Café located at 416 East 5th Street in downtown Los Angeles – which I was OVER THE MOON about! Thank you, Justin! Sadly, as he mentioned in his comment, the locale had been demolished shortly after “Beat It” was shot and remained a parking lot for almost three decades. (Today, a building is being constructed on the site, as you can see above.) I still ran right out to stalk it, though, just a few weeks later.
One of the main doubts I had as to the Monte Carlo being the “Beat It” café was the fact that in the video an address number of 416 was visible, which did not mesh with the Monte Carlo’s 109 address number.
Further leading to doubt was the fact that the words “Special Café” were visible in the diner’s window (denoted with pink arrows below) in a behind-the-scenes photograph that was included in Todd Gray’s book Michael Jackson: Before He Was King, which fellow stalker David in Spain had taken a picture of and posted in the comments section of my first post on the Monte Carlo. (Please disregard the markings on the picture, which were in reference to a since-solved mystery that my fellow stalkers were discussing at the time.)
The issue that raised the most doubt, though, was the fact that the buildings visible across the street from the “Beat It” diner did not match the buildings located across the street from the Monte Carlo.
Because the interior of the “Beat It” diner so closely resembled that of the Monte Carlo, though, I was completely flummoxed.
Then, while searching for images of “East Fifth Street” (countless news articles stated that the café where filming took place was located on Fifth Street in L.A.’s Skid Row area), Justin happened to dig up the 1955 Los Angeles Examiner photograph below, in which a restaurant with the words “Special Café” written in the window was visible. Judging by the 414 address number posted on the storefront next door, the café most likely had an address of 416, which matched the address that was visible in “Beat It.”
A few weeks after Justin posted his comment, fellow stalker John, of the Silent Locations blog, taught me how to search through archived digital phone records of the Los Angeles area. I, of course, immediately did a search for “Special Café”, and, sure enough, in the 1973 listing, found it. (Only certain years of the phone directory are available digitally and, unfortunately, there is no directory for 1983, the year that “Beat It” was filmed.) The next directory that was available online was for the year 1987, by which time the Special Café had been demolished and its phone listing, therefore, removed.
Oddly enough, I also found a listing for the Monte Carlo Café in the 1973 phone book, which means that there were two almost identical diners located on the same street only four blocks apart from each other at that time! How incredibly weird is that?
As Justin pointed out in his comment on my original “Beat It” diner post, the buildings located across the street from the Special Café site are an exact match to the buildings that were visible in the background of the video, further proving that he had found the right spot.
Why the across-the-street image was different when Michael walked through the café doors remains a mystery. All I can figure is that some sort of screen – or maybe even a bus or large vehicle – was put up to block the view of the set from the many fans who were on location trying to get a peek at their hero. Who knows, though.
Unfortunately, while I thought that Justin’s find solved the mystery of the “Beat It” diner, it only appears to have deepened it. While researching the Special Café, I looked up its former address on the Historic Aerials website and, oddly enough, there is NO building located in that spot in the years 1972 and 1980 (pictured below, respectively). As you can see below, the site is a parking lot in both images. Since we know that the eatery was around from at least 1955 (the year that the photograph that Justin found was taken) to 1983 (the year that “Beat It” was filmed), the building’s absence on Historic Aerials is absolutely mind-boggling!
Further confusing things is the fact that a building is visible in that spot in the 1952 aerial view.
And what’s odder still is that the building next door, the Southern Hotel, which was originally built in 1912 and is currently registered as being historically significant (meaning that it most likely has not been altered very much from its original state), looks COMPLETELY different today than it did in 1980, as you can see below. Like I said – the mystery deepens. Feel free to let me know your thoughts on this conundrum, my fellow stalkers.
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Big THANK YOU to fellow stalker Justin for finding this location!
Until next time, Happy Stalking!
Stalk It: Special Café, from Michael Jackson’s “Beat It” video, was located at 416 East Fifth Street in downtown Los Angeles. An apartment building now stands at that site. This location is smack dab in the middle of Skid Row, so please exercise caution.