History of the Lighthouse Cafe

History of the Lighthouse Café


Jazz is generally not the first thing that enters my mind when I think of Hermosa Beach or the Pier.  When I think of “old” Hermosa, I think of bikers;  “new” Hermosa brings to mind 20-somethings lining up outside of Sharkeez on Saturday nights and capping off the evening with a slice at Paisano’s (yum!).  Yet, since the 1940’s, this amazing little beach town has been home to one of the most renowned jazz clubs in the West.  As a musician and jazz fan, I am heartened that The Lighthouse Café remains a presence on Hermosa Pier and still dares to offer some of the best jazz music in Southern California.

In 1934, a restaurant called Verpilate’s opened at 30 Pier Avenue and was converted into the Lighthouse, a bar, in 1940.  On May 29, 1949, bassist Howard Rumsey approached owner John Levine and convinced him to begin a recurring Sunday jam session on a trial basis. The experiment worked.  Rumsey became club manager soon after and assembled a now-legendary house band called the Lighthouse All-Stars, who recorded several albums based on the original music performed each week at The Lighthouse.

At that time in our nation’s history, racial segregation was just as much a policy in the South Bay as it was throughout most of the country.  Despite racial tensions, Howard Rumsey brought talented black musicians such as Charlie Parker, Miles Davis, and Buddy Guy to The Lighthouse, paving the way for Hermosa’s reputation as a slightly more progressive and diverse oasis in a mostly white beach cities community.

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Until the 1970’s, when John Levine passed away and Rumsey left the club, the Lighthouse became an important venue for several notable jazz recordings and a haven for prominent West Coast jazz musicians.  Under new ownership in the 80’s and early 90’s, the club was remodeled and the jazz music was unfortunately discontinued.

However, the jazz returned to Hermosa Pier on weekends in the mid-1990’s, thanks to current owner, local restauranteur Paul Hennessey (of Hennessey’s Tavern).  He acquired the Lighthouse in 1989 and has strived to sustain the historic, jazzy vibe of the early Lighthouse days while offering a menu, décor, and events calendar that feels fresh and relevant.

That commitment to preserving our town’s eclectic history is something that resonates with me as a resident, and I’m happy that the Lighthouse and its jazz are still there on the Pier, waiting to be enjoyed every weekend.