Chicken: It's What's for Dinner – Carlsbad History
Chicken: It’s What’s for Dinner – Carlsbad History
By Wendy Hinman| Photos courtesy of Ed “Bup” Kentner Jr.
A History of the Twin Inns
Carlsbad History: At the corner of Elm and old 101—or Carlsbad Boulevard and Carlsbad Village Drive, if you like—stands the anchor of all Carlsbad landmarks. ‘s are . For decades it was the hub of the Village and now stands watch over the city Carlsbad has become.
The Twin Inns was built in 1887 as the home of land speculator Gerhard Schutte, who was the president of the Carlsbad Land and Mineral Water Co. The German immigrant and Civil War vet (on the Union side) was not looking to be a city’s founding father, but rather saw an investment opportunity. Land and water were prosperous ingredients in Western expansion and Carlsbad had both—and not only water, but artesian spring water similar to the world-famous Well No. 9 in Karlsbad, Bohemia (now Karlovy Vary, Czech Republic). Karlsbad becomes Carlsbad which is a great part of Carlsbad History.
It was also as west as you could get; it was the “Last West.” D.D. Wadsworth, a partner in the company, built his house as the mirror image to Schutte’s; they were beachfront homes at the time. (The Wadsworth house was torn down in 1950.) But the newly dubbed “Carlsbad” was not immune to the economic and meteorological cycles that are so much a part of California & Carlsbad history. The 1890s saw droughts and recession. Many of the Carlsbad Land and Mineral Water Co. principals moved south to San Diego.
Schutte hung on until 1906, but finally moved to National City. He did leave behind some of his children, who had married into Carlsbad families. Bill Stromberg Sr., Schutte’s great-grandson, says Hattie Reece Schutte “was the first teacher in the old Pine Street School.” And up until her death in 2007, his mother, Delene Schutte Stromberg, was Carlsbad’s longest resident.
The house went through a few owners until Eddie Kentner Sr. purchased the two homes on three acres in 1919. He and his wife, Neva, took over the matching houses—the so-called Twin Inns. Carlsbad History also includes the era of prohibition.
This was the same year the 18th Amendment was enacted, but prohibition wasn’t all bad for entertainment industries. It was a boon for moonshiners and rum-runners, and it kept a steady flow of traffic streaming through Carlsbad. When alcohol was banned, many of Hollywood’s elite would come down to Agua Caliente to keep the ’20s roaring. Roughly halfway between L.A. and Tijuana was the Kentners’ Twin Inns, with its famous chicken dinners. Ed “Bup” Kentner Jr. says, “There was a call button on the back of the house for the bootleggers to use when they delivered. It’s probably still there.
Eddie Kentner learned the culinary trade as a specialty chef on the New York-to-Chicago 20th Century Limited; later, he worked as a chef for Baron Long, owner and developer of the Biltmore Hotel in Los Angeles and one of the main investors in Agua Caliente. The Twin Inns dinner featured skinless chicken. Daughter Jacquelin “Jackie” Kentner Miller says, “That was unusual then.” Bup add, “Dad didn’t like the skin and it was easier than pulling the feathers off.” It came with hash brown potatoes, country gravy, fresh peas, biscuits and corn fritters, cream of tomato soup, heart of lettuce salad with Thousand Island dressing, coffee and ice cream. Chicken was a sign of wealth in those days, “like filet mignon is now,” Bup says. Jackie says the Twin Inns had a standing crop of about 10,000 chickens, and about 1,000 were butchered each week. Chicken dinners are a part of Carlsbad History,
“We did a lot of peas, until Birds Eye came along,” Bup adds. His father had an inventive mind. He created a pea-shelling machine that used a conveyor belt and a couple of washing machine rollers. Tellicherry pepper was bought in 200-pound kegs from a spice dealer in San Francisco and ground just before use. The coffee was also ground fresh and it all was served on Blue Willow dishes the Twin Inns became known for.
Eddie also developed a freezing system. “I think he was 50 years ah,eel projection movies for the bar patrons to watch. When the war started and the Marines arrived in droves, he put in slot and pinball machines. Daughter Lorna “Bee” Kentner would play the organ to provide music for dancing. And of course, he brought the famous chickens. Many remember only the four plaster chickens on the corner of Elm and 101, but there were others; they lined one side of the parking lot. One chicken was stolen by the Marines during the war and briefly stood on the lawn of the Officer’s Club at Camp Pendleton. It was returned with compensation and Jackie remembers filing the receipt and thinking, “That’s a lot of money for a chicken.” There was a rooster on top of the tower that would crow whenever the front door opened. Bup says, “There was a contest to see who could crow for the recording.” The winner was Tony Peshki, who served as the chauffeur for the Cohn family, whose historic residence is now home to Norte Restaurant. More of Carlsbad History
Around 1920-21, Eddie began building the large octagonal dining room. He had artist J. Morton Patterson paint 6-by-24-foot murals for each of the eight bays. The one mural that has recently resurfaced actually never hung in the dining room; apparently, it was an extra. The dining room became the town banquet hall. Weddings, anniversaries, the Marine Corps Ball (one of the murals was accidentally speared by a Marine Color Guard), the Firemen’s Ball, high school proms—many Carlsbadians marked the passing years by events celebrated in that octagon.
There are rooms underneath the dining room that hosted town meetings. The Oilers Hot Rod Club met there, it was a polling place and Max Polkwoski, Carlsbad’s first police chief, had his first office there. Under Bup’s management there were also weddings in the garden. He built the gazebo that is now in Rotary Park, though “all the ornamentation has been torn off. Sometimes there was a wedding a week.”
The Kentner family was closely knitted into the warp and woof of the early Carlsbad community, which was one reason the Twin Inns was so successful. Those days are often described as “when everybody knew everybody.” And everybody knew the Kentners. When Jackie’s pony would get out it would almost always go to the post office and stick his head in the general delivery window. A postman would tie the pony to the water faucet with packing string, knowing a Kentner would be by soon enough to fetch him.
Everyone in the family worked in the business, even the in-laws. There were five Kentner children: Dorothy (“D.D.”), Katherine (“Toots”) and Lorna (“Bee”), as well as Bup and Jackie. But as Jackie says, “We had lots of other children over the years.” The Morgan children, Eddie and Art, were “taken in” by Eddie and Neva during the Depression years.
And there were the many employees who seemed like family. Nick Balino came in 1929 and cooked for many years. Jackie describes him as “God of the Kitchen”; even with the Kentner kids, “if he said jump, you asked how high.” Charlie “Bomber” Smith, Ole Hanson and Art Stutz were longtime Twin Inns employees who “were truly like family.”
Art Morgan married D.D. and they operated the restaurant from 1961, when Eddie and Neva retired, to 1969, when Art died. The business was then passed to Bup and Bonnie Kentner, who managed the Twin Inns until its sale in 1984 to Bob Burke. The mansion housed Neimans restaurant for many years and is now Ocean House.
Ocean House has a “Twin Inns” special on Mondays. You get a half-chicken with corn fritters, mashed potatoes, and a choice of slaw or veggies for $9.95. But for the real thing, find out when Jackie is coming into town from Hawaii to visit Bup. “We always have chicken,” she says. •
There have always been rumors that the Twin Inns was a haunted mansion with its trap-door tower and secret room.
“It’s an old house; when the wind blows it creaks,” Bup says. Jackie adds, “Lots of things happen that you can’t explain. Whatever ghosts there are, they are all friendly.”
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“In the ’50s Carlsbad was just a spot on the road and people used to ask ‘where do you live?’ and you’d say, Carlsbad, where the chickens are,” said Carlsbad resident Jerry Rambotis, 58.
“Everyone driving in from L.A. used to stop and take their pictures next to the chickens. They are items of folklore; all sorts of stories are told about the chickens,” Rambotis said. “I’ve even seen one of our prominent citizens who had a few too many cocktails sitting on top of one at 2 a.m.”