We knew that things might change when the Norms restaurant chain sold last month. When word got out yesterday that the city had issued a demolition permit for the flagship store on La Cienega, fans of the all night coffee shop camped out in the booths, hoping it wouldn’t disappear before a pending landmark nomination could be heard by the Cultural Heritage Commission today. The vote was unanimous to take the building under consideration as a Historic Cultural Monument and city staff moved to immediately notify all departments that the building had interim protections.
The five-member panel heard testimony from more than a dozen people while facing a wall of TV cameras that showed up to film the proceedings. The Los Angeles Conservancy, who submitted the nomination, the office of councilman Paul Koretz supported the nomination, calling the building a “flagship of midcentury modernism,” and Alan Hess, who literally wrote the book on the googie style, testified that unlike the fabulous modern homes hidden in the hills, Norms has always been a rare example of L.A. modernism that the average person could enjoy.
The last person to speak was an attorney from Latham & Watkins representing the new owners, who paid $10.7 million for the property in December. He said, “There are no plans to demolish the building” and that Norms “has an active lease.” While the business was sold last month, the land beneath the building was sold to a different company, Norman Cienega Property Group, who took out the permit while “considering a variety of options for the property.” The attorney also said “We want to assure the community there are no immediate plans to demolish this property” and promised to “engage in ongoing dialogue as plans develop.”
The commission’s actions today prevent demolition for 75 days, and after the vote commissioner Richard Barron stated, “The googie coffee shop is the iconic image of the period of time that Los Angeles came to national prominence.” He asked city staff if they could “vacate the demolition permit.”
Los Angeles Times architecture critic Christopher Hawthorne was in the audience live-Tweeting the proceedings, echoing Hess’s remarks about the extraordinary level of preservation for a building that has been in use 24 hours a day for 59 years. Former New York Times critic Paul Goldberger joined in on Twitter with “We can now truly say the movement to protect Norms is national.” He added “I hope Pann’s not in danger too.”