Cooper Donuts was a family-owned donut shop chain in the heart of Los Angeles from the mid-1940s to the late 1990s. In 1959, it was also the site of the nation’s first LGBT riot. Here is how it all began…
Originally, Jack Evans grew up on a farm in Chicago, Illinois. In pursuit of the American Dream, he moved out to California during the Great Depression. Upon his arrival in the Golden State, he held a series of jobs as a chef until inspiration finally struck him to open his own restaurant, the Evans Cafeteria, in 1950 in the heart of Los Angeles.
After Jack and Marge got married in 1955, she went to school to learn cafeteria management and bookkeeping so that she could help run the donut shop. In fact, she was instrumental to the aesthetic of Cooper Donuts after its transition from Evans Cafeteria. Marge not only designed the Cooper Donuts logo but also the counters inside the stores were also all salmon because it was her favorite color.
Originally, Jack Evans bought the cafeteria from Lou Feuster, and named it Evans Cafeteria. He also went into business with Richard Cooper and sold Cooper Donuts among other goods. However, after seeing how successful the donuts were compared to the rest of the business, he decided to focus on just selling Cooper Donuts, at which time he bought out Cooper Donuts for a whopping $50,000!
The first location started at 215 S Main St in 1952. He started by selling only wholesale to independent drivers, then started adding small shops with 12-14 stools so patrons could grab a quick cup of joe and a donut at an affordable price. Soon, the Evans family had 26 stores in Southern California and 6 stores in Northern California for a grand total of 33 stores providing quick service and good merchandise to loyal customers across the Golden State.
Mrs. Jack C Evans, Secretary, Treasurer, having worked with her husband in the cafeteria. It is only natural that she be active in Cooper Donuts. While working days she went to night school to learn cafeteria management, office, and bookkeeping training. Mrs. Evans designed the forms used for Daily Recordkeeping. The sign used by Cooper Donuts Inc was her idea. The bite out of the doughnut represented the C for Cooper Donuts, Inc.
In 1956, Mr. Evans approached Standard Oil with a proposal for an experiment with these small shops that would involve both Standard Oil and Cooper Donuts. The venture was so successful, they launched 15 stores inside Standard Oil stations. The concept of selling donuts at gas stations was revolutionary at the time.
In December of 1957, Cooper Donuts moved its headquarters to 619 E 6th St. The company was incorporated in 1960.
Mr. Evans was well known for employing people who needed a second chance or found themselves on the streets. He would often take in people from all walks of life, including temporary labor, transients who were just passing through, World War II and Korean War veterans suffering from PTSD, and even people from wealthy families who had fallen on hard times. Anytime someone was down and out or needed work, police officers would always refer them to Cooper Donuts. At $5 a shift employees easily made enough to pay for a room, a warm meal, cigarettes, and even a little extra to save for a rainy day. It was good money for a good day’s work without any long-term obligations. And good workers were always welcomed back when they were in town.
Being homosexual in Los Angeles during the 1950s was difficult because homosexuality was considered a mental illness. Furthermore, people were arrested for simply dressing differently from their gendered identification. Any outward expression of homosexuality was correlated to pedophilia and considered to be sexual deviants.
Open 24 hours, Cooper Donuts was always a safe place for people from all walks of life since it first opened its doors. Regardless of sexual orientation, everyone was welcome at Cooper Donuts and could feel comfortable in the company of others. The owners of the establishment never passed judgment on their patrons and even employed all members of the LGBTQIA community equally. This inclusive atmosphere is what made Cooper Donuts a special place for so many people and helped establish its foothold in the community.
Althought the facts vary, and the mere existance of an uprising has come into question, the narrative of the Cooper Do-nuts Riot stands is as follows:
The Cooper Do-nuts Riot was a response to the routine harassment of LGBTQ people by the police in Los Angeles in the late 1950s. The uprising began when two police officers attempted to arrest two drag queens, two male sex workers, and a gay man. One of those arrested protested the lack of room in the police car and onlookers began throwing assorted coffee, donuts, cups, and trash at the police until they fled in their car without making the arrests. People then took to rioting in the streets and police backup arrived blocking off the street for the entire night and arresting several people. The Cooper Do-nuts uprising is often believed to be the first gay uprising in the United States. Although these events are little remembered today, they contextualize the fight for LGBTQ rights and remind us that this struggle was not limited to one city or even one event. The Cooper Do-nuts riot and many other events helped pave the way for Stonewall and for all of the victories since.
It stands to reason that each individual will have to determin for themselves, given the facts we have to date, whether or not the uprising itself even occured. And only time will tell what truly lands in the history books.
If anyone has any factual information or first hand account that may help tip the balance on either side of the debate, please leave a comment in our Share a Memory section.
A beloved regular of Cooper Donuts, Blanche was a deaf and mute transient. But that didn’t stop the Evans family from giving her small jobs whenever possible to help her out. In fact, she is the artist behind the “All this for a dime” cartoon that hung in the main headquarters for years.
We are by no means the authority on facts surrounding the possibile existance of the Cooper Do-nut Riots but here are some resources we found online that may help you make your own determination. Unfortunately, we cannot validate the authenticity of any of the information held within these resources.