La La Land to be demolished

Future unclear for Rehoboth landmark
The former LaLa Land is set to be demolished as soon as Monday, Oct. 21. The restaurant was an immediate hit upon its opening in 1988, but the building has sat mostly vacant for the past six years. BY RYAN MAVITY
September 27, 2013

La La Land in Rehoboth Beach was known for its star confetti and bubble machine, but the bubble is about to burst for the once-popular restaurant.

The building at 22 Wilmington Ave. is scheduled to be demolished as soon as Monday, Oct. 21.

Hugh and Tina McBride of Selbyville purchased the building in June. Hugh McBride said the building is now hazardous.

“You walk in, you’ll fall through the floors,” he said.

The building at 22 Wilmington Ave. gave birth to two notable Rehoboth restaurants, beginning with American Pie, founded by Sydney Arzt, a fixture of the Rehoboth restaurant scene.

Arzt said when she heard the building was going to be torn down, it brought back memories of setting up the kitchen. She said when she thinks of the building, she thinks of beginnings: both of her own restaurant and of La La Land.

She said she does not know the exact age of the building but noted it was originally a house before it was converted into a restaurant. Arzt would operate at the building until 1987, when she decided to move to Rehoboth Avenue.

The building remained empty for a year until Alison Blyth, a name familiar to Rehoboth restaurant lovers for her success with Go Fish, and three other partners started La La Land in 1988.

“La La Land was my baby. It was a huge part of me,” she said.

Blyth had been working at the Astral Plane on Rehoboth Avenue before it closed. In a game of restaurant musical chairs, Arzt decided move out of Side Street Cafe and into the Astral Plane’s old building. Blyth, who was a hairdresser in Washington, D.C., during the week, was encouraged to check out the old Side Street building. She said when she and her partners first were shown the building, she thought it was a bit rough around the edges, but she saw its potential immediately.

When she agreed to rent the building, Blyth says she went back to D.C. and had a panic attack, not only because she had agreed to run a restaurant for the first time, but because she only had a short amount of time to get it ready for summer.

A London native who first came to Rehoboth in 1984, Blyth had worked at the Shoreham Hotel in Washington, D.C., with chef Robert Carney, who became the first chef at LaLa Land. She said many of her memories of La La Land center around Carney and his successor, David Keener, who both recently passed away.

“Robert was a huge part of its success,” Blyth said. “His whole life was food.”

Carney left after two years, but before he did, he trained Keener, whose arrival coincided with La La Land expanding into the adjacent building, constructing the outside bar and building the walkway between the two buildings. Blyth said Keener was a creative chef who always surprised and never disappointed customers.

Carney passed away last year, Blyth said, while Keener died in 2010 at age 45 after a battle with pancreatic cancer.

“It’s really hard to go over there,” Blyth said. “It just makes me think of those two guys. They touched so many people.”

Blyth herself sold out in 1994, briefly staying as general manager for a year before leaving for good. In 2002, she bought the building at 24 Rehoboth Ave. and opened Go Fish, a successful English-themed eatery that has also spawned a sister restaurant, Go Brit.

La La Land has sat empty for the better part of six years. The most recent tenants were Mallory Square Fish House and Grill in 2011, which lasted for one summer. Building inspector Terri Sullivan said no plans for a new building have been submitted. McBride said plans for the site are still being worked out.

Arzt said she was sad to hear the building would be torn down. “It gave birth to two important contributors to the Rehoboth dining scene," she said.

On the other hand, Blyth was a bit more philosophical, “It’s sad, but I have been looking at that building for a few years now and there needs to be some new life now.”

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