Johnie's Coffee Shop's Future: Bulb Bright

The diner at Wilshire and Fairfax is the newest historic-cultural monument.

By Alysia Gray Painter
|  Sunday, Dec 1, 2013  |  Updated 9:09 AM PDT
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Johnie's Coffee Shop's Future: Bulb Bright

Erin Richards

The Los Angeles City Council designated Johnie's Coffee Shop a Historic-Cultural Monument on Wednesday, Nov. 27.

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Monuments elsewhere? Magnificent statues and great columned buildings and opulent fountains spring to mind.

But Los Angeles is a different bird -- and good on that, too -- which means that much of our local culture springs from a bevy of offbeat, modern-era, road-close sources.

Which leads us to ask this: Can an old-school diner, full of Formica-type counters and spinning stools, be a monument? It can and, in fact, is: Johnie's Coffee Shop, on the northwest corner of Wilshire Boulevard and Fairfax Avenue, was made a Historic-Cultural Monument by the Los Angeles City Council on Wednesday, Nov. 27.

Armet & Davis designed and built the colorful, Googie-style diner, and it remains, some 57 years later, one of the best examples of the style that reigned five decades back around Southern California.

Did you eat pancakes here with your parents, before heading to the La Brea Tar Pits, way back? Chances are good.

So if you heard a sigh of relief around town on Thanksgiving Eve, it was hundreds of mid-century activists and enthusiasts exhaling in relief. The coffee shop, which has been seen in films like "The Big Lebowski," shuttered in 2000, and has sat empty, window-smudged, and papered with various flyers, for well over a decade, except when movie crews and the occasional tour comes around.

But historian Alan Hess, LA Conservancy, and other history-minded groups have had an eye on monumenting the coffee shop for years. We do love when people are keeping an eye on the stuff we pass each day, not really noticing, until that place is gone, and then we're sad.

So what's next? Well, Metro Purple Line is set to arrive at the corner several years down the road. Meaning that what's next for Johnie's -- will it be a restaurant again, or a subway entrance, or something else? -- will be told by tomorrow.

The Academy Museum, which is set to be "the world's leading movie museum," will be its new neighbor, in the May Company Building, starting in 2017. Yeah. That's a big plus, all righty.

Superheroes are often portrayed as protecting cities via brawn and might, but very often superheroes save our cities through paperwork, time, and showing up at council meetings, again and again. 

No capes required.

Which leads to this: If you've ever waited at the light at Wilshire and Fairfax and thought "I used to eat pancakes there with my parents, they should really do something with that place?" The preservationist fairy godmothers and godfathers clearly heard you.

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