Fearing demolition, fans push to make Norms a cultural monument

Fans of modern architecture want to make Norms on La Cienega Boulevard a historic and cultural monument

Fans of modern architecture, worried that another beloved 1950s building could be lost, are pushing to have the retro, angular structure that has long housed Norms restaurant on La Cienega Boulevard declared a historic and cultural monument.

They won an initial victory Thursday when a Los Angeles city commission unanimously voted to begin the process of considering the Googie-style restaurant as a monument -- a step that gives it temporary protection from the teardown that historians and architects had feared.

The zigzagging lines of the 24-hour restaurant are a familiar sight on La Cienega south of Melrose, where it has remained open for more than half a century.

Less than two weeks ago, a new owner obtained a permit to demolish the building, setting off alarms among local preservationists. The Los Angeles Conservancy petitioned to make it a monument, pointing to “its pioneering Googie design” by modern architects Louis Armet and Eldon Davis.

It extolled the building as one of “the most exuberant and exaggerated Googie designs in the nation” -- a Southern California postwar style of outlandish shapes meant to grab attention from the road. Architect Alan Hess warned that at least two-thirds of the Googie buildings he listed in a 1985 book he wrote about Googie design have been destroyed.

The new owner of the Norms buliding tried to quell fears about its plans. At a Thursday hearing, an attorney representing the owner tried to reassure an anxious crowd of Googie fans that, despite the demolition permit, there were no current plans to tear down the restaurant.

Attorney DJ Moore said that the new owner, Norman Cienega Property Group, had just purchased the property in December and gotten a demolition permit “as a matter of course, because there was a thought that there would be redevelopment there at some point.”

The owner is "currently considering a variety of options for the property and has always recognized the importance of the architectural components of the building,” Moore said.

City staffers recommended that the Cultural Heritage Commission give the building a chance at being dubbed a monument, noting its custom neon signage and terrazzo floor. The commission voted unanimously Thursday to begin the process of considering it.

That step temporarily prevents the owner from carrying out the demolition permit, said Ken Bernstein, manager of the city’s historic resources office. If the city ultimately decides to make it a monument, the building would get some protection against alteration and demolition.

Times staff writer Matt Hamilton contributed to this report.

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