A retro restaurant on the Westside beloved for its outlandish, exaggerated architectural style could soon become a historic monument in Los Angeles.
Architecture buffs rallied to save the Norms restaurant on La Cienega Boulevard this year after learning that a new owner had obtained a permit to demolish the '50s building.
Preservationists praised its zigzagging lines as a prime example of Googie -- an exuberant, postwar Southern California style of sharp angles and sweeping curves meant to grab the attention of passing drivers. Many such buildings have already been destroyed.
"It's very much part of the road culture in Los Angeles.... It's a shiny beacon of food," said Linda Dishman, executive director of the Los Angeles Conservancy, a historic preservation group.
She added that the building south of Melrose Avenue was also "very much intact" compared with other Googie buildings that had been altered over time.
"A lot of them don’t have that same sense of time and place that you do when you walk into Norms," Dishman said.
A city commission is slated to vote Thursday on whether to recommend making the building a monument. City officials who oversee historic buildings have argued in favor of doing so, saying the structure is a notable work by modern architects Louis Armet and Eldon Davis.
If the commission decides to vote in favor of making the building a monument, the decision would still need approval from city lawmakers. But it would mark an important step toward giving the structure added protection from alteration and demolition.
Earlier this year, an attorney representing the new property owner sought to reassure preservationists, saying that there were no plans to tear down the building and that the owner had simply gotten the demolition permit “as a matter of course.”
Architect Craig Hodgetts, who is working with the project manager, called the Norms building "iconic" and said he envisions surrounding the retro building with shops that encourage pedestrian activity.
"It's like mounting a diamond in a ring," Hodgetts said. "Norms would be the diamond and the setting would be the surrounding buildings."
Hodgetts said he couldn't comment on whether the Norms restaurant would continue to operate in that building. The restaurant company, which leases the La Cienega space from the property owner, says it wants to work with the new owner to stay there.
"Our position from day 1 has always been that we are interested and have a desire to operate a Norms restaurant at that location," Norms President Michael Colonna said.
Councilman Paul Koretz, who represents the area where Norms La Cienega is located, said he hoped that not just the building but the restaurant it has long housed could be saved.
“If it winds up being a T-shirt store I think we’ll be pretty depressed,” Koretz said. “It’s one of those great, campy businesses. It’s the same as it was when I went there as a kid -- good inexpensive food, open 24 hours, interesting things always happen there.”
Koretz pointed to another nearby Googie landmark -- Johnie’s Coffee Shop -- which was deemed a city monument but no longer operates as a restaurant.
“I feel bad when I look at a place like Johnie’s. We saved the building, but we’ve lost a lot of the community feel that was once there,” he said.
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