Top's Nightclub and Fat City Steakhouse
One of San Diego's most recognized and beloved landmarks since the early 1940's, visitors from all over the world have caught a glimpse of its bright neon while flying into Lindbergh Field and few San Diegans don't have a personal story to tell about it. Top's Nightclub and Fat City Steakhouse is an example of Streamline Moderne architecture, which was a later stage of Art Deco. It reflects the goals and aspirations of its day by emphasizing pure aerodynamic lines evoking the motion and speed of airplanes, ships and locomotives.
This landmark, a clear example of Streamline Art Deco architecture is the last of its kind along Pacific Highway in downtown. At one time Streamline buildings were prominent along this main drag that was old U.S. 101. While San Diego is not at first thought of for its Art Deco architecture, it did in fact have a significant inventory with literally dozens of great Deco buildings having been lost to the dozers over the years.
The Top's/Fat City building, aside from its terrific architecture, also embodies this history of two dynamic and important business and civic leaders, Yale Kahn and Tom Fat. Yale Kahn was the proprietor and in his day he was the fulcrum around which all dinner-club entertainment existed. Top's Nightclub hosted renowned artists such as Nat King Cole, Shelly Winters, Nelson Eddy, and many, many more. After Kahn sold Top's, it sat vacant and boarded up for a number of years until Tom Fat came along to its rescue and invested a significant amount of money to rehabilitate the venue. His intention was to bring back the building's Art Deco grandeur, and even though in 1977 professional restoration standards in San Diego were not the same as today his efforts were recognized with one of San Diego's highest architectural awards, an Orchid Award.
Photo by Dan Soderberg
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