Johnie’s Coffee Shop named an L.A. landmark by City Council

A skateboarder passes Johnie's Coffee Shop and the former May Co. department store on Wilshire Boulevard.
A skateboarder passes Johnie’s Coffee Shop and the former May Co. department store on Wilshire Boulevard.
(Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times)

The Los Angeles City Council voted Wednesday to make a closed coffee shop used in the movie “The Big Lebowski” a historic-cultural landmark.

Councilman Paul Koretz said Johnie’s, at Wilshire Boulevard and Fairfax Avenue, is one of the most notable examples of work by the firm Armet & Davis, the architectural firm that designed Norms, Pann’s and other diners across Southern California.

Koretz, who represents the area, said he hopes the property’s owners can be talked into reopening the building as a coffee shop. The structure, built in 1956, is on a corner where Metro is planning a subway stop.


“I know the owners want to develop the entire site, but I believe they can do it without harming this location,” Koretz said.

The owners are identified in city documents as Au Zone Investments No. 2. No one spoke against the landmark designation during Wednesday’s council meeting and a representative did not respond to a request for comment.

Preservationists describe Johnie’s as one of the best remaining examples of Googie, an architectural style popularized in Southern California coffee shops and diners from the 1940s through early 1960s. Googie structures were designed to draw in motorists, featuring upswept roofs, geometric shapes and the use of steel, glass and neon.

Johnie’s has an angled butterfly-wing roof, cantilevered eaves and a red neon sign spelling out the diner’s name. The building came on the radar of the Los Angeles Conservancy, a historic preservation organization, when the county’s Metropolitan Transportation Authority identified the property as a potential site for construction staging of the Metro Purple Line to the Westside.

The restaurant closed in 2000 and has had different names over the years. It has been used for movie shoots, including the film “Reservoir Dogs.”

Koretz said the opening of the subway extension, which is still several years away, would breathe new life into the coffee shop building. With several museums nearby, a reopened Johnie’s near a transit stop would be “the most successful coffee shop in the history of Los Angeles,” he said.

“We’ve seen what happened with Langer’s [Delicatessen], which was languishing” before the opening of the Metro Red Line, Koretz said. “The subway probably saved that business.”


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