Tue, May

Lucy Casado: The most powerful Latina in California?


LATINO PERSPECTIVE-When several dozen Tibetan monks wearing cardinal robes and gold undershirts traipsed across Melrose Avenue in Hollywood from the direction of Paramount Studios into Lucy’s El Adobe Cafe, a diner took notice but assumed what many others might have in Hollywood. 

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

But the real-life Tibetan monks were actual friends of Casado and her late husband Frank, who at that time had invited them to dinner to celebrate a new kinship that had developed over near tragedy and apparent fate. 

Only weeks earlier, Lucy Casado found herself frantically praying over the injured body of her oldest son, James, who had been badly hurt in a traffic accident — hurtled from a pickup coming over Laurel Canyon. 

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

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

James recovered to full health, and the vision stayed with Casado, who sought out and befriended the monks accompanying the Dalai Lama during a visit to Los Angeles. 

That began a relationship between Lucy Casado and the Buddhist monks (photo: monks with Lucy at her restaurant) that has lasted several decades, during which time the restaurateur has introduced them to numerous Hollywood and California political figures, among them Gov. Jerry Brown. 

Lucy Casado, no ordinary restaurateur-For Casado, 88, is no ordinary Hollywood restaurateur. She is known in California as Brown’s adoptive mother, not to mention perhaps the most powerful Latina in the Golden State. 

“Lucy is an original,” says Brown, who has known Casado since before he ever entered public life. 

She is Mrs. California.” 

Casado, who was a founder of the state’s oldest Hispanic organization – the Mexican American Political Association – is also a mystic, so her connection with the Buddhist monks and the Dalai Lama was perhaps destined.  

Through Casado, the monks whom she’s befriended have been the guests of the late director Gene Roddenberry at Paramount during the filming of his Star Trek films. 

Casado’s daughter Patricia also took them to visit her friend George Lucas at his Skywalker Ranch in Northern California where the director and the monks through interpreters discussed the making of Star Wars and the politics of Tibet, from which the Dalai Lama has been in exile since 1959. 

As for son James, Casado is convinced that his full recovery was in part the result of spiritual intervention — prayers from the monks. 

Today, James Casado runs his own construction business, but his personal devotion has been toward remodeling the family restaurant, which is celebrating its 51st anniversary this year. 

Lucy’s El Adobe enjoys near legendary status in Hollywood, not only because of the celebrities that often dine there but also because of its history and connection to the making of numerous stars. 

Musicians including Linda Ronstadt, Glenn Frey and Don Henley of The Eagles, Jimmy Webb, Jackson Browne and many others all have credited the Casados for feeding and keeping their hopes going when they were struggling, undiscovered artists. 

The restaurant also became a Hollywood destination for liberal Democratic politicians, while mining for political contributions in California — and it was known as the unofficial Southern California office of Jerry Brown, during his tenure tenure as governor from 1974 to 1982. 

It is a California political-cultural footnote that the Casados played matchmakers in the Jerry Brown-Linda Ronstadt romance — 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 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,” says Casado. “I don’t make it or control it. It just happens.” 

A wall in the restaurant is covered in photographs of some of the most prominent names in American politics and pop culture — from Hubert Humphrey to Ronald Reagan, from Dolly Parton to Drew Barrymore, from Cesar Chavez to Steven Spielberg. 

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 is something mystical about Lucy’s El Adobe, some nourishing nectar beyond the margaritas and arroz con pollo that has always brought success to most who make regular pilgrimages there. 

“Eating at Lucy’s and getting her blessing is almost a rite of passage in LA politics,” says  LA Times columnist Steve Lopez. 

Today, Lucy’s El Adobe is a far cry from the original, with James Casado having expanded the restaurant to three times its original size. 

The new El Adobe Cafe includes a piano room, with a baby grand whose keys have been played by the numerous artists Casado has befriended over the years, and 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 Jimmy Webb. 

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

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

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

“The mandala is beautiful,” says Casado, “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 is the author of the newly-released "The Prince of South Waco: American Dreams and Great Expectations," as well as of the critically-acclaimed “Chicano Power: The Emergence of Mexican America” and the best-selling “Mickey Mantle: America’s Prodigal Son." Castro writes for voxxi.com where this piece was first posted.)






Vol 13 Issue 32

Pub: Apr 17, 2015

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