When a Starbucks replaces the corner diner where your grandparents once took you, a little bit of your childhood disappears. When that diner was designed by renowned architects, is the subject of a seminal piece of modern art, and is listed on the official city register of historic places, part of your city’s identity disappears, too. It becomes news, and people are moved to fight, like they’re fighting for Norms coffee shop on La Cienega, which was purchased by a developer last year. While plans have not moved forward, it’s possible the landmark will be replaced with with generic storefronts.
Some of the most beloved historic and recognizable places in Los Angeles are right now being threatened with demolition or alterations that would make them unrecognizable. The googie style Covina Bowl was added to the National Register of Historic Places a few days ago. That listing, alongside icons like the Alamo and Gettysburg, doesn’t keep a building from being demolished, but it allows some additional time to fight. While Covina Bowl (and Angels Flight) now enjoy this prestigious listing, none of the other endangered spaces below do.
Eighty years ago, when King Kong stomped around the old studio lot, the globe at the corner of Melrose and Gower symbolized RKO Pictures. Paramount Pictures incorporated Stage 21 into its studio lot decades ago and now plans to demolish it for studio expansion. A plan has been floated to remove the stucco sphere from its 100-foot-high art deco perch and store it until a new home for the Earth can be found.
Googie fans went on high alert when the iconic restaurant was sold by the original owners last year. The La Cienega store was snapped up by Faring Capital, who announced plans to add a shopping center to the site. The city of Los Angeles listed Norms as a Historic Cultural Monument last May. For the moment the kitchen continues to turn out the same steaks and pancakes it has been serving up since 1957.
There was so much fanfare when Angels Flight was resurrected in 1996. The little wooden cars glided up and down Bunker Hill connecting the office towers to Grand Central Market and Broadway below until an accident five years later. A second incident three years ago closed the funicular with no reopening date in sight. Vandals have damaged the century-old cars, and nefarious deeds may be happening inside. The longer the trains sit idle, the more in danger they are of pulling into that big roundhouse in the sky.
The Los Angeles Police Department wanted the sleekest, most advanced headquarters in the country when it approached architect Welton Becket (known for the Cinerama Dome and Capitol Records) to design its new downtown high rise. If there were a Mount Rushmore of big-shot L.A. architects, Becket (and William Pereira) would be on it. Becket’s crisp modernist glass box on stilts was meant to signal the end of the police brutality of the 1930s and ’40s and welcome a new era in policing. Sixty years of deferred maintenance later the place is a little shabby. Plans ranging from complete demolition, to a temporary homeless shelter, to restoration for new city offices have all been floated. It is a building with a checkered history, but battlefields and cemeteries can tell you more about a community than mansions can.
The longtime West Hollywood nightclub, with a history that includes LGBT and early moviemaking stories, was rejected for listing on the National Register of Historic Places in August. Around the same time plans were announced to incorporate elements from the 1929 building into a new development. Faring Capital (remember it from Norms?) has proposed salvaging steel siding and historic windows from the structure and incorporating them into a hotel and retail center that would stretch from La Peer to Holloway along Santa Monica Boulevard.
This Route 66 landmark is even older than the famous roadway. Barney’s Beanery has been a funky roadhouse since 1920 serving bikers, beatniks, and movie stars. The company has expanded the concept to six locations, but there are plans to tear down the original and replace it with a five-story hotel with underground parking. When that’s all done, the restaurant would reopen on the ground floor in a reconstructed version of the old building that kind of looks the same. Not Barney’s Beanery, but an incredible simulation.
Metropolitan Water District
William Pereira was so skilled that he could bring his easy glamour to a workaday project like this water headquarters between Echo Park and Chinatown. Water has defined Los Angeles since the days of William Mulholland and our first drink from the Owens Valley. Water is power, and the bold enthusiasm Pereira used in this headquarters exudes corporate strength, like his Union Oil headquarters downtown, the filming location for Mad Men. Trust us, it says. The long-closed building was uglified by a church tenant, then abandoned for years, so it lacks a little curb appeal. The complex failed to become a city monument last month and an apartment developer plans to replace it soon.
The late W.W. “Tiny” Naylor and his son Biff (who today owns Du-Par’s) are L.A. restaurant royalty. Their 1961 Beverly Hills location was designed by the same architects as Norms and was a delicious all-night dining spot for generations. Transformations in the last decade have turned the sharpness down—way down. It’s, like, almost invisible. It’s also in the path of the Metro Purple Line. Metro plans to demolish the little diamond sometime soon.
Take a breath. The building is safe. Developers want to build a high-rise apartment tower in the parking lot, altering the landscape around the newly declared city monument. Some folks are fine with historic buildings being surrounded by new construction. I mean, we all like the Arclight, right? Others consider the delicate lines and forms ruined if they are obscured by out-of-scale construction. This one could go either way. Next door, the conversion of the CBS building into Neue House has received high praise.
Preservation groups including the Los Angeles Conservancy and Hollywood Heritage are fighting to keep these places around, but development pressures are high. You can join the effort to save these places by becoming a member of the preservation organizations – the Conservancy is the largest local preservation group in the country – or just drop in and patronize your favorite vintage business, and let them know how much you appreciate them.