Urth Caffé Orange: Preserving 19th Century Landmark for the 21st Century

Imagine peeling an orange to reveal the sweet treasure inside.

Urth Caffé did just that - peeled back layers of history to reveal architectural treasures in an 1888 building – before it opened its café at 100 W. Chapman Ave., the west entrance to Old Towne Orange's central plaza in January 2019.

For that effort, the California Preservation Foundation awarded Urth Caffé the 2020 Preservation Design for Restoration. "The design is elegant, natural, authentic, and comfortable while restoring and preserving the history of the building consistent with the historic nature of the Plaza and District. This historic property built in 1888 and its unique architecture will be a strong element of making Urth Old Towne Orange a destination for all of Orange County and the pride of the community for generations to come."

"The design is elegant, natural, authentic, and comfortable while restoring and
preserving the history of the building consistent with the historic nature of the Plaza and District."
~ California Preservation Foundation, 2020 Preservation Design for Restoration, for Urth Caffé Orange

Urth Caffé Co-Founders 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," Shallom 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."

It was 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.

1888 building 1906 building 1908 building

The "Hemphill & Morse" real estate offices in Orange, left, 1888; center, 1906; right, 1908.

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 was 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 Shallom. He added she designed custom iron work with orange motifs to decorate interior stairwells.

Art Nouveau-design cast iron columns from 1888 were discovered at the entrance, and molds have been sculpted to duplicate missing column capitals.

closeup of iron column from 1888 building - rusty, with flower motif Molds were sculpted to duplicate missing column capitals, Entrance showing the restored columns and capitals

Art Nouveau-design cast iron columns from 1888 were discovered at the entrance, left; molds were sculpted to duplicate missing column capitals, center;
the entrance showing the restored columns and capitals, right.  

Urth Caffé teamed 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."
~ Marissa Moshier, Historic Preservation Planner for the City of Orange

Just as Urth Caffé handcrafts its menu, it takes the same painstaking care decorating each of its cafés, all designed by Jilla Berkman.

Construction worker uses hammer and chisel to peel layers of white plaster off brick wall Hemphill & Morse advertising mural is revealed on interior brick wall Cleaned up mural ad sign has become a major part of cafe design

White plaster had to be peeled away carefully from the building's original red brick walls outside and inside.
A mural sign for the Hemphill & Morse real estate offices was revealed inside and became an important design element for the new Urth Caffé.

Jilla Berkman was inspired by 1880s' Victorian Art Nouveau designs and colors for Urth Orange's tilework. The café has a fire pit, three fountains, three arches and stair risers with tile all created by California Pottery and Tile Works of Los Angeles. She brought design themes to CalPot owners Sean and Desmond McLean, who then went to their extensive design library to start drawing tile ideas. Photos of an era's jewelry, sculpture, architecture and other items inspire Jilla and the McLeans.

Jilla asked for a unique "white bisque" glaze painted onto each tile to replicate a Victorian feel to the tilework.

close up of blue and white floral tile Blue and white tile arch on a white wall

Left: Jilla Berkman asked California Pottery and Tile Works for a unique "white bisque" glaze painted onto each tile to replicate a Victorian feel to the tilework.
Right: One of three arches using those tiles.

Wooden framing for fountain at Urth Orange close up of floral pattern tile Finished fountain with its decorative green and gold tile designs

Construction of the indoor fountain located next to the stairway at Urth Caffé Orange that Jilla Berkman designed tile with California Pottery and Tile Works produced. 

An important part of each Urth Caffé's décor has been custom ironwork featured in staircases, chandeliers and more items created by Sam Demachkie and his crew at Ironwood Designs in Santa Barbara.

For one of two staircases created for Urth Orange, Demachkie and his staff made 200 "pickets" that anchor the handrail. Each is twisted and etched in a design created by Jilla – each picket is heated many times to achieve design elements taking approximately one hour to complete a picket.

Jilla paid tribute to the city's agricultural past by designing oranges cast in bronze that are placed between the pickets, bringing a contrast to the black wrought iron. Bronze also appears on each rail cap, providing a smooth spot when guests place their hands on the stairway railing.

Iron worker in helmet shown welding on Urth Caffe Orange stairway - sparks from weld area Worker positions golden apple on stairway Finished iron stairway showing detail of golden oranges hanging from handrail.

Jilla Berkman designed the ironwork for two stairways with Sam Demachkie, founder/owner of Ironwood Designs in Santa Barbara. Left: Ironworker welds golden oranges onto stairwell. Center: Worker positions golden orange on stairway. Right: Finished stairway.

Interior gas fire pit at the center of white marble table. Faded Urth Orange logo is on brick wall in the back. Interior view of large dining area with wood and glass wall partition Open iron stairs with decorative railing leading to upper floor

Restored outside entrance two story brick facade.Inside view of guests waiting in line and looking into pastry display cases.

Urth Caffé Orange
100 W. Chapman Ave.
Orange, CA 92866(949) 329-5755