First Wienerschnitzel, symbol of L.A. car culture, now a landmark

First Wienerschnitzel, symbol of L.A. car culture, now a landmark
Der Wienerschnitzel in 1961, the year it opened on Pacific Coast Highway in Wilmington. (Galardi Group)

Over the decades, the city of Los Angeles has named more than 1,000 noteworthy spots as architectural and historic landmarks: the Egyptian Theater in Hollywood, the Theme Building at LAX, the entry gates of Chinatown.

And now it has Der Wienerschnitzel.


On Tuesday, the City Council added the nondescript, flat-roofed drive-through, the first of the more than 350 opened by the Wienerschnitzel chain, to its registry of historic-cultural monuments.

Less than 600 square feet in size, the Wienerschnitzel outlet in Wilmington isn't much to look at. It's emblazoned in the colors of ketchup and mustard. Tiny racing pennants, strung from the roof, flap in the breeze.

"While this is a modest structure, this was the first location of what has become a significant national chain," said Ken Bernstein, who runs the city's Office of Historic Resources. "The building also is a very intact example of an early drive-through and walk-up food stand associated with Los Angeles car culture."

The council's decision makes the Wienerschnitzel drive-through, built in Wilmington in 1961, only the second roadside food stand to receive such an honor from City Hall, Bernstein said.

The first was the Munch Box in the west San Fernando Valley, which became a landmark in 2003 after then-Councilman Hal Bernson took up the cause.

Roadside architecture, disposable in so many ways, has been getting some glory in recent years. Councilman Paul Koretz, backed by the Los Angeles Conservancy, made the Googie-style Johnie’s Coffee Shop on Wilshire Boulevard a city monument just last week.

But there have been setbacks, too.

Activists in the San Fernando Valley tried without success to make Henry's Tacos, a food stand in Studio City, a historic monument last year. The Cultural Heritage Commission supported the idea but the council never held a floor vote. Henry's relocated in January amid a dispute with the landlord.

In Wilmington, the monument designation has been embraced enthusiastically by its owners.

"It's sentimental to all of us," said Tom Amberger, vice president of marketing for Irvine-based Galardi Group, Wienerschnitzel's parent company.

Businessman John Galardi opened Der Wienerschnitzel in 1961, not long after working at Taco Tia -- a restaurant owned by Glen Bell Jr., creator of the Taco Bell restaurant chain. Galardi, who died this year, said Bell's wife suggested at a dinner party that he pick the name Wienerschnitzel, which is the German name not for a hot dog but rather a breaded Viennese veal dish.

The company expanded dramatically, opening outlets as far away as Guam's international airport in Tamuning. Monica Pinto, working behind the window of the Wilmington Wienerschnitzel on Tuesday, found some inspiration in that success.

"He started with something small -- a little hot dog stand," said the 21-year-old, after handing over a chili cheese dog. "He started his own business and look how many there are now."