Hidden Past of Closed Coffee Shop Revealed

Johnie's Coffee Shop is iconic location for film and architecture.

On the busy corner of Wilshire Boulevard and Fairfax Avenue, red neon lights and white flashing bulbs announce the presence of Johnie's Coffee Shop Restaurant.

Although the flashy blue and white, sloped roof may draw a curious sidelong glance from passersby, the diner only elicits a cursory look because Johnie's is no longer open to the public, sitting dark and empty.

Often, residents will wonder, "What is up with this building?"

Although Johnie's no longer experiences the noon rush from hungry customers, it is still open for business -- entertainment business. Johnie's is home to filming projects and has a rather long list of illustrious movies.

Notably, movies like "The Big Lebowski," "American History X" and "Reservoir Dogs" have shot scenes at Johnie's, as well as older movies including "Miracle Mile" and "Volcano."

"This place really rings true when it comes to authenticity," said Jeff Smith, a film location manager and a 30-year veteran of the entertainment industry.

"A set designer can come in here and say 'I don't have to do a thing to this place.' That makes it really desirable," he said.


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Other projects have also been filmed here, including music videos, photo shoots and TV episodes. Recently, R&B artist Sean Kingston shot the music video for his Billboard chart topper "Beautiful Girls."

"There are always people that are interested," said Eric Schiffer, president and CEO of the 99 Cent Only Stores, which owns Johnie's. "There are calls constantly."

Among the biggest draws to Johnie's is its unique architecture, known as Googie, and is reminiscent of the iconic '50s style and expression.

Googie architecture celebrated its birth in Southern California, and although no longer in vogue, can be spotted throughout LA. Pann's diner in South LA, Bob's Big Boy in Burbank and Mel's Diner off Sunset are prime examples.

"The Googie style is an expression of the enthusiasm of that whole era," said architect and author of Googie Redux, Alan Hess. "Space age, industry, nuclear energy, technology and progress were all brought into the design."

As a result, many of the buildings feature neon lighting, boomerang and triangular shapes, sloped roofs and other elements that were used in a host of buildings built to accommodate the needs of the post-WWII family.

"Coffee shops, bowling alleys, diners, gas stations, grocery stores, motels, this was architecture for the masses," Hess said.

Although Johnie's is no longer serving up steaming cups of coffee or burgers, it remains one of the most well-preserved Googie examples in LA, and Schiffer says it will remain that way. He says there are currently no plans to sell the building despite bids from several potential big-name buyers.

"I would love to see it open again," said Smith sighing wistfully. "But I guess we just aren't a coffee-shop generation anymore."

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