The Long Beach Grand Prix was put together there on a napkin. A concert by Frank Sinatra to benefit the widows of slain Long Beach cops was planned there. Bob Hope raved about the food. Cal State Long Beach men's basketball legend Jerry Tarkanian took prize recruits there.
If a business deal was to take place in Long Beach, most likely it happened at Lombardo's. If you needed a mover and shaker, you could find him/her at Lombardo's.
And the man who presided over this favorite watering hole for Long Beach power brokers was the gregarious Leonard Lombardo, 86, who died peacefully Jan. 5 at his home in Laguna Nigel.
"Long Beach was a huge part of my father's life," said his son, Phil, an executive vice president with Cushman & Wakefield. "He loved his time in Long Beach, which was a unique city when he owned Lombardo's and it still is."
Chris Pook, creator of the Long Beach Grand Prix, knew Len Lombardo well.
"He was a moose of a man, 6-foot-4, 275 pounds, always impeccably dressed," Pook said. "When Leonard walked into a room, the whole room knew he was there. He had that sort of presence about him."
Lombardo built the restaurant in 1969 on the west side of Fidelity Federal Plaza on Linden Avenue between Ocean Boulevard and First Street. It closed on New Year's Eve 1980 and became the Carriage House and then 555 East, which it remains today.
Those were the days when there weren't many fine dining places in Long Beach. In fact, one publication called the city a "gastronomic wasteland" -- except for Lombardo's, which prided itself on its outstanding Italian cuisine.
"It also was the time of the three-martini lunch," said Phil Lombardo, who worked there as a bartender. "I couldn't believe how many drinks I would pour just for lunches. And everyone was smoking cigarettes or cigars. I saw a lot of stuff going on."
He said many business people would have their lunch in the main dining area and wind up in the kitchen going over details.
Pook, who ran a travel business nearby, said he sold business leaders on the idea of a Grand Prix race on the streets of Long Beach and then, in turn, persuaded then City Manager John Mansell and the City Council to approve it.
"We put the race plan together on a napkin at Lombardo's," Pook said.
Lombardo's also was a favorite of Whitey Littlefield, a longtime community leader and general manager of Somerset Distributors, the Budweiser agency owned by Frank Sinatra. Many of Littlefield's Budweiser deals were worked out in Lombardo's.
Through his connection with Sinatra, Littlefield was able to persuade the singer to do a benefit for widows of slain Long Beach police officers.
Politicians of all stripes, including City Council members and harbor commissioners, were regular guests at Lombardo's.
It also was a hangout for the local FBI office, which was housed right above Lombardo's. Rumor has it that some FBI agents spent too much time "interrogating" witnesses in the friendly confines at Lombardo's and were told to rein in their interviews there.
Bob Hope ate there for dinner and told Leonard Lombardo that his restaurant was as good as anything in Beverly Hills.
Lombardo designed a unique restaurant with a cocktail and lounge area accented by a massive, free-standing fireplace. Lombardo used thousands of bricks for brick archways leading into semi-secluded dining areas. Waiters all wore tuxedos with ruffled shirts and black butterfly bow ties.
Lombardo was born in Niagara Falls, N.Y., on Nov. 15, 1926, dropped out of high school and enlisted in the Navy when he was 17 to serve in World War II. In 1946 he got married and, at 28, he opened his first restaurant in Niagara Falls.
"My dad had a job offer in Las Vegas," his son, Phil said. "He drove to Vegas, took one look at it and said he didn't like what he saw and said, `I'm going to keep driving to Southern California."'
Leonard worked at the Peppermill in San Gabriel, managed the Embers restaurant in Arcadia and then opened Embers Shoreline on the first floor of Pacific Holiday Towers on Ocean Boulevard in Long Beach in 1965. He closed Embers and opened Lombardo's in 1969. For a short time, he also operated the Apple Valley Steakhouse on Broadway, which used to be a thriving restaurant but had fallen on hard times.
"After closing Lombardo's, he needed a break after so many years in the restaurant business," his son said. "He traveled around and finally wound up in New Orleans where he visited with relatives. He had so much energy he bought an ice cream parlor in the French Quarter and converted it into a fine dining restaurant, Pere Antoine's. He sold it in 1998 and then he really retired and moved to Laguna Nigel."
Lombardo's was definitely a big part of Long Beach history. When it closed and Leonard Lombardo moved away, it marked the end of an era long forgotten by many, but remembered with fondness by others who were making Long Beach their home then.
Lombardo is survived by Marilyn, 85, his wife of 66 years; daughters Gail, Maureen and Michele; son Phil; brother Marion; sister Nancy Aingsley; seven grandchildren and four great grandchildren. A Mass was held in Laguna Nigel Friday.