Urth Caffé Peels Back Layers of History to Restore Old Towne Orange Landmark for New Café
Imagine peeling an orange to reveal the sweet treasure inside.
Since 2015, Urth Caffé has been peeling back layers of history to reveal architectural treasures as it restores an 1888 building to become its flagship café in Old Towne Orange.
Urth Orange opens Monday, January 7 at 100 W. Chapman Ave., Old Towne Orange.
It is Urth Caffé’s second restoration in Orange County. The first was The Cottage in Laguna Beach, built in 1917. Originally home to pioneer real estate developer Joe Skidmore, it became Urth Caffé at the Cottage in 2015 after restoration preserved its original Craftsman architecture.
Urth’s Old Towne Orange location started as a real estate office, too, a fact revealed as workers removed stucco covering a huge sign painted on the exterior wall of the oldest part of the building. The large sign advertised “Hemphill & Morse,” real estate agents promoting the Orange as a great place to live in 1888.
Urth Caffé co-owners Shallom and Jilla Berkman are longtime Old Towne Orange fans. “We’d come and stroll around, enjoy the restaurants, cafes and, of course, I think the best antique stores in the county,” he said.
They loved the historic district so much they wanted to open an Urth Caffé there, “but it’s not easy to find great historic buildings. People stay a long time with so much pride in their historic buildings,” Berkman continued.
“This building came up for sale right on the historic Plaza. We couldn’t believe it – a dream come true. We’re so proud Urth Caffé is going to unveil a lot of history that has been covered up for generations.”
The original 1888 building expanded in 1907 when a west wing extension was built (and that real estate sign was covered in plaster, hiding it for the next 110 years). A second floor was added at the same time.
Jilla Berkman is lead designer on the project, just as she has been for all Urth Caffés, many of which in historic buildings. “Jilla is a brilliant designer, and just loves history and beautiful architecture. She fell in love with Orange and this property,” said her husband.
Jilla designed custom iron work with orange motifs to decorate interior stairwells being produced by Ironwood Designs of Santa Barbara. She also designed all the custom tile work and pottery being produced by California Pottery and Tile Works of Los Angeles.
Art Nouveau-design cast iron columns from 1888 were discovered at the entrance as workers reclaimed the exterior. Using historic photos, molds have been sculpted to duplicate missing column capitals.
Urth Caffé teamed up with the City of Orange and the Old Towne Preservation Association from the outset to restore the historic building.
“It’s tough to come into this town and change anything. He (Berkman) didn’t want to change anything,” said Sandy Quinn, Association President. “The Urth Caffe presentation to the City’s Design Review Committee was one of the best and most detailed the Old Towne Preservation Association has seen.”
“We didn’t have to say, ‘Well you’re doing this wrong, and you’re doing that wrong.’ They already anticipated everything they needed to do to keep it historic.”
“Historic preservation is really an important value in our community here in Orange,” said Marissa Moshier, Historic Preservation Planner for the City. “So, we were so pleased when the Urth Caffé team came to us with a proposal for restoration of this great landmark in our Plaza.
“This building is a really prominent one within the Plaza Historic District. It’s on a major corner fronting our Plaza Park, so we were pleased the historic storefronts, the historic brick and so many of the original features are being restored to this building.
“It’s been a pleasure working with Urth Caffé team because they really take restoration and preservation to heart with this project and we thank them for their commitment to our community,” Moshier said.
An exterior mural inspired by orange grate label art recalls the city’s agricultural origins, and a “history wall” inside will tell the building’s story through photographs.
Though Urth Orange is housed in an 1888 building, it will have many 21st century offerings. Urth Caffé’s signature heirloom-grown organic coffees and teas, and a fully organic menu with gluten-free and vegan choices will be served. Guests will also enjoy Urth’s famous pastries, as well as squeezed-to-order juice from oranges delivered daily from the organic Polito Farms in Temecula. The new café will also have Wi-Fi and an interior fire pit located below a skylight for customers to enjoy.