While enjoying your meal at The Oaks at Lakeside, look across the lake, with its ducks and geese, at the two main buildings; you are looking at history.
Today, the rancho includes the original nine-room de la Ossa Adobe, the two-story limestone Garnier building, a blacksmith shop, a natural spring, and a pond. In 1949, the 4.7-acre site was designated a California State Park.
Californio Vicente de la Ossa purchased Rancho del Encino in 1849. He built the nine-room adobe house that still stands; it is the oldest home in Encino.
In its March 19, 1859, issue, Los Angeles’ first newspaper, The Los Angeles Star, de la Ossa ran the following notice: "I have established at my Rancho known by the name of The Encino, situated…on the road to Santa Barbara, a place for the purpose of affording accommodation to the people traveling on this road. They will find, at all times, food for themselves and for the horses, beds at night, &c. I hope those wishing to call at our place will not forget to bring with them what is necessary to defray their expenses.” The adobe was the first, or one of the first, hotels in the San Fernando Valley.
Brothers Eugene and Phillipe Garnier built the existing two-story Garnier Building in the mid-1870s. It served as a bunkhouse and kitchen for their ranch staff; in the 1920s it was turned into a diner and roadhouse. The Oaks at Lakeside has also had a colorful past, too.
During the Korean War, Larry Cano was a combat fighter pilot in the 8th Army Air Force. Following his tour of duty, enrolled in USC Law School.
He found a position as a bartender at the Bali Hai Polynesian restaurant at the corner of Libbit Ave. and Ventura Blvd., run by a Chinese couple. When the man died, the widow offered to have Cano manage the place. “The owner saw how hard I was working, and when the lease was up, they offered to take my note,” he recalled. He converted it to a Mexican restaurant in 1953, named it El Torito, and moved it beside the lake, today’s home of The Oaks at Lakeside. By the time Cano retired in 1988, there were nearly 200 El Toritos.
“I liked being in the business,” Larry said. “It was something that I hadn’t intended to do, but I have met a lot of interesting people. In my first Encino restaurant, I had many well-known customers, including John Wayne, Bob Waterfield, Jayne Mansfield, and Jack Webb; all were good customers.”
Since then, the property has had many names and many owners. For a while, it was the Pearl Bar Lounge, The Atlantis Sports Bar, and most recently, the Lakeside Restaurant and Lounge, opened in 2013 by the McAbian and Sayadeh families. The most notorious, however, was the Mermaids Cabaret, which opened on March 5, 2010. To quote the Los Angeles Times, “Citing inappropriate activity, outraged neighbors want the business to shut its doors permanently.” It was denied a license to operate its bikini bar and joined the list of establishments built on Larry Cano’s Mexican restaurant.
Today, the Oaks at Lakeside enjoys its beautiful location, salutes its storied past, and carries on a tradition of more than 150 years of welcoming visitors.
-- By Martin M. Cooper
Author of "North of Mulholland" and "Read All About it: The Valley Times: 1946-1970"