More than a dozen employees of the Proud Bird restaurant and their supporters urged the Los Angeles airport commission on Thursday to spare the eatery and its aviation displays from closure next week.
"I've only been there a year, but I landed a job at one of L.A.'s historic landmarks if not in place, then in people's hearts," Joanna Garcia, a catering manager, told commissioners. "Please save our jobs."
John Tallichet, the current owner and son of the late Proud Bird founder, said the 50-year-old restaurant on LAX property -- with its aircraft displays and historic aviation photos -- will close Nov. 21 if Los Angeles World Airports cannot find a way to save it.
Airport officials have said they cannot help the popular gathering place for the aerospace and aviation community because federal law, which controls some aspects of LAX operations, requires that rents be charged at current market value.
Tallichet said he had hoped to negotiate a new 20-year lease with the city's airport department based on the old rent of about $200,000 a year.
But after a two-year effort, the discussions fell apart. Airport officials said they would have to set the rent at about $500,000 annually, which backers say would be an unaffordable amount for the business.
"We don't want to leave," Tallichet told the commission. "Can you take another look?"
Restaurant employees said they were dismayed by the pending closure, saying it would mean the loss of not only their jobs, but also an important piece of Los Angeles history.
They said that the restaurant was like home to them and that they strived to offer great service and the same service to everyone. The Proud Bird employs 105 full- and part-time workers.
Clint Simmons, a longtime patron of the Proud Bird and a member of the Black Pilots Assn., said that the restaurant always welcomed him and that it bears a tribute to the Tuskegee Airmen, the famous group of African American fighter and bomber pilots who served during World War II.
"I am proud to go there today," said Simmons, who urged commissioners to work with L.A. Mayor Eric Garcetti and his staff to keep the Proud Bird open.
Commissioners said it was good to hear from the employees, but they took no action.
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