“DINE IN A GARDEN IN FULL BLOOM”
Lehr’s Garden Restaurant opened at 740 Sutter St., San Francisco in November, 1972. Housing both a full florist shop and restaurant, the glass-enclosed “dining spa” was designed to look like and actually be a greenhouse.
By the time restaurant opened, the proprietor Murray Lehr had been a part of San Francisco for more than 25 years. Lehr, a hotelier by trade, had and currently owned and several hotels around the area.
The Olympic Hotel, at the corner of Eddy & Taylor Sts., was Lehr’s first major property. He sold that in the early 1950s.
In October, 1954, Lehr purchased the Hotel Claremont in Berkeley-Oakland from Claude Gillum for $2 million. Gillum had owned and operated the hotel since it opened right before the 1915 San Francisco Exposition.
Less than two months later, Lehr sold the property to Harold Schnitzer of Portland, Oregon who, in turn, leased the building right back to Lehr with an agreement that Lehr operate the hotel on a long-term lease basis.
Lehr began management of the Claremont on January 1, 1955. The hotel would become his pride and joy.
Known for its big name entertainment and beautiful atmosphere, the Claremont thrived through the remainder of the 1950s and throughout the 1960s.
In 1957, 88 year-old Frank Lloyd Wright unveiled plans to balance on stilts above the the Claremont a “wedding chapel in the sky.”
Lehr said the planned chapel would cost upwards of $50,00 and would be octagonally shaped glass and steel with a peaked roof. Wright described the planned chapel as “a gay little thing with a certain springly spirit.” Nothing ever came of the plans.
The hotel’s buffet; touted as the largest, longest and most bountiful buffet table in the West, was nothing short of extraordinary. The Garden Room, filled with flowers and plants, many grown in Lehr’s personal greenhouse, was THE place for lunch on Sutter. Lehr would also stage spectacular ice shows, open a Prime Rib Room and even hosted something called “Matcharama.”
The following blurb appeared in the The (San Mateo) Times on October 28, 1966:
TONIGHT IS THE BIG NIGHT at the Hotel Claremont, Berkeley. The world premiere of “Matcharama,” wherein men and women attend the dancing the Claremont’s Terrace Room will fill out a questionnaire, which will be transmitted by electronic remote control to Phoenix, Ariz., and in a few seconds back will come the answer mating compatible partners. Murray Lehr announced that the first couple who marry through meeting at “Matcharama” will be given the Claremont’s bridal suite and a wedding reception at the Claremont as his guest.
I don’t know if any couple ever married from “Matcharama.”
In late 1971, Lehr would leave the hotel to set out on his path. Being well versed in the large restaurant business and a lover of flowers, he wanted to combine both of his loves in one space. Using the formula of the popular Garden Room in the Hotel Claremont with the added element of his being a full floral shop.
Lehr opened The Greenhouse and Potting Shed (the official name) in the restaurant spaced attached to the Hotel Canterbury on Sutter Street.
The restaurant a success from the day it opened. Offering a garden atmosphere and good food, the Greenhouse would become a popular eating spot in San Francisco.
In 1977, Lehr’s purchased several statues from Italy and had them imported to the restaurant to add to the greenhouse feel of the place.
On December 31, 1979, a second Lehr’s location opened at 2828 Camino Del Rio South in San Diego, California. The location would be run by Murray Lehr’s son Dean.
Located beneath a freeway overpass, the Greenhouse, like it’s San Francisco predecessor, would contain a florist and would be famed for its food and Sunday brunches.
Lehr’s Greenhouse in San Diego, however, had a much younger vibe than the original location. Throughout the early-mid 1980s, the San Diego location was a party scene. Getting in early on the “Disco Sucks” movement of 1980, the restaurant would host dance parties, concerts and battle of the bands competition sponsored by local radio stations.
Murray Lehr died in 1987. Dean decided at that point that is was time to close the San Diego location and moved to San Francisco to tend to the original Lehr’s and his father’s hotels.
Lehr, who helped with the building of the San Diego location had originally secured a long-term lease for the property from the state of California. The Greenhouse building at the underpass went through numerous different restaurants and sit idle for years. In 2014, Lehr sold the building. The place had become such an eyesore by that point that the new owners were hit with a $1,000 graffiti fine due to the visibility of the property from the freeway.
The original location would struggle throughout the 1990s and limp into the new millennium. The original location finally closed on February 16, 2005. Years of declining quality and lack of patrons finally ended the 33 year-old restaurant’s run.
Lehr’s Greenhouse left an indelible impression on both San Francisco and San Diego as I have found numerous posts from patrons reminiscing about their experiences eating in the greenhouse restaurant.