Save Los Angeles’s Retrofuture Architecture by Eating Deli Food

Saving the Googies One Hamburger at a Time

Craig Hodgetts is the villain of this story, but sometimes villains are worth hearing out. A well-respected architect known for his aggressive, angular use of metal and glass, Hodgetts wants to tear down “Googie” historic sites to make space for new developments. “Googie” is a term of affection used to describe mid-century, SoCal futurist architecture by the sort of Angelenos who feel the need to talk about mid-century, SoCal futurist architecture. In particular, Hodgetts wants to destroy Norms La Cienaga, a deli built by Armet Davis Newlove Architects in the late forties.

Hodgetts won’t get his way because, thanks to the LA Conservancy, Norms is a freshly declared landmark. That’s a loss for Hodgetts, who wanted to build a “community of shops” where Norms will continue standing for the foreseeable future, but another example of what Hodgetts has diagnosed as LA’s futurism problem: The highbrow people who care about the cities mid-century architecture don’t patronized the lowbrow eateries, cafes, and motels the buildings they admire contain.

Craig Hodgett's WildBeast Pavilion

It obviously didn’t help that Ed Ruscha created a classic painting of the building’s destruction.

This is a sprawl city problem and Hodgetts, whose work also nods toward the techno-utopian, can pull a quote: “Some kind of a new elite are looking at Norms as an iconic reference without a hint of nostalgia. They’ve never been there but it’s cool on some aesthetic scale. Call it the Mad Men syndrome.”

LA is a driving city and drive-by appreciation is a tough thing. The Empire State Building is a place people go. Coit Tower is a place people go. The Gateway Arch is a thing people go stand under. The people who drive past Norms are invested enough to toss a vote at the problem - 500,000 of them did — but if they’re not gonna pull over, the question posed becomes very clear very quickly: Who’s it for?

The answer is twofold because the outside of Norms is for the aesthetes and the inside of Norms is for patrons.

Anyone who praises the outside without seeing the inside doesn’t care about architecture and should keep their Googie love to themselves. Anyone who eats inside and doesn’t care about the outside should take a look and, if they like what they see, tell their friends about it. The retrofuture doesn't just belong to the opiners and whiners, it’s a public good.

And if Norms does get boarded up, let's give the land to Hodgetts. He knows what he’s doing.

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