You slave out there in the wilderness—replacing the original, firetrappy 1963 interior of the Enchanted Tiki Room at Disneyland with something more flame retardant (and beige)—but no one understands. The liberal media jumps all over you, as if something that new could possibly be historic, and the conservative outlets—well, they're The Orange County Register.Sad. Then you work with the city to renovate the Parasol Restaurant in Seal Beach—pull all the permits—and the hipster scofflaws rub your nose in a few modern touches like new light fixtures and fabrics. Well duh! You know how hard that old stuff is to find?
But finally, someone out there gets it. Someone's a genius, if we only knew who. Huzzah for whomever sicced a fleet of shiny bulldozers on Johnie's Broiler in Downey last Sunday. That's how we do it in Orange County: wait until Sunday afternoon to knock the place down (or 'round midnight, the way they did it at Newport Dunes), and be quick. Don't turn off the gas or water lines; don't reroute the electrical wires—just tear it up. Never mind that it's eligible for the state Register of Historic Places, and you could get up to six months in stir, plus a fine. Just get 'er down.
OC Weekly spoke last week with the man who has owned Johnie's for 40 years, Christos Smyrniotis. He tried unsuccesfully in October to convince the city to let him redevelop a portion of the property, but he says he had nothing to do with its recent demise. That's some nice work for somebody, Christos. Man, if we were you person or persons unknown, we'd be taking some credit for that shit. What a man does on his own land is his own business, and six months in stir is a cheap price to pay for that kinda freedom.
"My tenants, they didn't read their contract," Smyrniotis said as he helped block off the storm drains so the rain couldn't carry off what's left of his 1958 drive-in. He claims his renters, Car Outlet, Inc., knocked the place down when his back was turned—but now that it's in ruins, he says he'll listen to the city. "I am going to wait to hear what the city has to say and then I'm going to respond to the city." (Car Outlet, Inc., by the way, says it didn't kill Johnie's Broiler.) The City of Downey wants Smyrniotis to rebuild Johnie's Broiler the way it was—in 1958—and they're threatening him with fines and up to six months in jail. But come on! 1958? Do fries come with that polio? Not like it's the friggin' Parthenon.
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"People like to go to San Francisco, or Paris, or Rome, simply because they have buildings that are different than the brand new ones," says Irvine-based architectural historian Alan Hess—which begs the question: If they're going outside Orange County for historic architecture, then why do we need it here? Let's just make everything look like San Clemente! Here's a handful of other potentially historic midcentury buildings to keep the bulldozers busy:
• Carrows Family Restaurant, 8650 Beach Blvd., Buena Park. A former Bob's Big Boy location built circa 1955 (Hess doesn't have an exact year), this place has the classic rounded roof and extravagant Googie-style flourishes you'd expect from the man who designed the original 1952 Sands Hotel in Las Vegas. That's right: this Carrows—which is somewhat remodeled inside—sprang from the pens of famed architect Wayne McAllister's architecture firm and was one of the original prototype designs for the Bob's chain.
• Coco's, 12032 Harbor Blvd., Garden Grove. Another former Bob's Big Boy restaurant, this one is from 1958—same year as Johnie's Broiler. It, Hess says, was penned by the seminal midcentury modern design firm Arnett & Davis. The checkerboard cinderblock walls, the central pylon sign (like a toothpick through your club sandwich) the broad expanses of glass—the better from which to watch the world while you eat—are all still here.
• La Palma Chicken Pie Shop, 928 N. Euclid Ave., Anaheim. This 1956 restaurant—complete down to its weentsy original Formica tables and neon signage—is part of a small, crazy Googie-style shopping center. The roof's "held up" by slanted metal poles, and little palm trees in a stone planter poke through a skylight in the overhanging roof—all making an ironclad case against the three-martini lunch.
• Beach-lin Carwash, 126 N. Beach Blvd, Buena Park. Another relic from 1963, this carwash (at Beach Boulevard and Lincoln Avenue) features a bright red butterfly roof held up by blazing white boomerang pylons which poke through at regular intervals, making it look like some kind of modernist pincushion.
• Arena, Anaheim Convention Center, 800 W. Katella Ave., Anaheim. A gorgeous, rounded, slumpy piece of stucco from 1967. Roadsidepeek.com calls it "a cross between a Martian hat and a War of the Worlds imaginary visitor," both of which sound like the same thing. We call it old—and therefore useless, but the city may save us the effort. Is it endangered? It's in Anaheim.
• Orange County Courthouse, 700 Civic Center Drive West, Anaheim. The last major project from architect Richard Neutra, this mid-'60s offering has never been substantially remodeled beyond the obvious concession to vector control—letting its outdoor reflecting pool dry up, which has the added benefit of algae abatement. Goddamned algae. "I would say [it] is 97 percent there, inside and outside. I served on a jury recently and had the opportunity to spend the day there, and it's extraordinary," Hess says. He must mean extraordinar[il]y bad; no other way to explain it.
• Stater Brothers Market, 2180 Newport Blvd., Costa Mesa. A classic piece of 1950s suburbia, this narrow little market surely had those round, Formica carousel-ed checkout stands when it was new. They've since remodeled the inside, but the exterior is still original—all weird curves and pointy lines.
• Ultimate Engineering Group, 2436 Newport Blvd., Newport Beach. This is classic 1950s design—severely angled pylons holding up a cantilevered canopy to keep the rain out. It used to be a gas station, but now it's some sort of car repair shop—and, if history is any indication, will probably be obliterated some day in the not-too-distant future.
"Developers would prefer a blank lot to start over just because it's easier for them, because they don't have to think," says Hess, and we have to agree. Thinking is really hard. Why adapt an existing building when you can just tear it down and start over?
ALAN HESS WILL DISCUSS HISTORIC PRESERVATION AT THE DOWNEY SENIOR CENTER, 7810 QUILL DR., APOLLO PARK, DOWNEY, (562) 904-7223. THURS., JAN. 25, 7:30 P.M. FREE.
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