Council votes brings historic status to Johnie’s Coffee Shop

| December 2, 2013 | 0 Comments
Stephen Russo.

HISTORIC site on Wilshire.  Photo by Stephen Russo.

It’s official. One of the finest examples of Googie architectural style is in our own backyard: Johnie’s Coffee Shop, at Wilshire Blvd. and Fairfax Ave.

The L.A. Conservancy nominated the 50’s diner for a Los Angeles Historic-Cultural Monument and the City Council approved the honor last month for the bright red-and-blue building.

The historic designation  protects the coffee shop from demolition and alterations in the future, according to the L.A. Conservancy.

Meanwhile, the Metropolitan Transit Authority plans to build a temporary construction easement on the site—up to 10 years—for a new subway station at the corner.

Space age and car culture dominates its upbeat style

 Johnie’s Coffee Shop opened in 1956 with a space-age and car culture-inspired look by architects Louis Armet and Eldon Davis.
BACK TO THE 50s at Johnie’s on an L.A. Conservancy tour in 2005. Photo by Larry Underhill

BACK TO THE 50s at Johnie’s on an L.A. Conservancy tour in 2005. Photo by Larry Underhill

A sloping roof evokes a spaceship ready for take off, and bright neon lights signal the optimism of the times.

Armet and Davis designed hundreds of buildings in Southern California but are best known for their Googie coffee shop designs.

Besides space-age style elements, they feature geometric shapes, dramatic rooflines, glass and steel walls and large  signage to attract passing motorists.

Among their surviving iconic Googie designs in Los Angeles are Norm’s on La Cienega Blvd., several Bob’s Big Boys, and the corporate prototype for Denny’s buildings. Many were destroyed as the postwar style fell out of popularity, according to the L.A. Conservancy website.

Designer Helen Liu Fong, a member of the Armet and Davis firm, created interiors for Johnie’s, the first Norms Restaurant, and the Holiday Bowl on Crenshaw Blvd.

Originally called Romeo’s Times Square, it was later known as Ram’s; it would became Johnie’s in 1966. The business served burgers and shakes until 2000, when it transformed into a popular filming site.

The restaurant was purchased in 1994 by the Gold family, founders of the 99 Cents Only Stores; the family leases the Johnie’s parking lot to the adjacent Wilshire Boulevard 99 Cents Only.

The word Googie is after a now-closed West Hollywood coffee shop.

Photographer Julius Shulman and magazine editor Douglas Haskell spotted the restaurant when driving on Sunset Blvd. and Crescent Heights. Afterwards Haskell coined the term Googie architecture in an article in “House and Home”  in 1952.


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Category: Real Estate

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