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L.A. Saves Southern California's Best-Preserved Googie Diner

Illustration for article titled L.A. Saves Southern Californias Best-Preserved Googie Diner

The Los Angeles City Council ruled last week to give landmark status to Johnie's Coffee Shop, a blue-and-white striped diner in the city's Miracle Mile district. Opened in 1956, the building's dramatic angles and flashy neon made it a darling of L.A.'s newly car-centered culture.

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Illustration for article titled L.A. Saves Southern Californias Best-Preserved Googie Diner

Romeo's Times Square by Armet & Davis, 1955. Pencil on paper. Collection of Armet Davis Newlove Architects from the Getty's Pacific Standard Time Presents exhibition

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Architects Armet & Davis designed plenty of other Googie-style diners in the area, including Pann's, Ship's, and several locations of Big Boy. But Johnie's—originally opened as Romeo's Times Square—is special, in that it has largely retained its integrity, making it one of the best-preserved Googie-style structures in Southern California. According to the Los Angeles Conservancy, which nominated the building with a statement written by Googie expert Alan Hess earlier this year, it offers exemplary features for the time period, including a "knuckle" roof and an "egg crate" metal texture on the exterior.

But there's another reason this decision is a big deal, Los Angeles Magazine editor Chris Nichols tells Gizmodo: "There are more than 1000 landmarks in the city of L.A. and this is the first time a Googie building has been included on the list," he says. "The style was born here, and the optimistic futurism of Googie, with its jazzy rooflines and flashy neon signs, came to define midcentury L.A., alongside the LAX Theme Building, Capitol Records, and the Cinerama Dome."

Illustration for article titled L.A. Saves Southern Californias Best-Preserved Googie Diner
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Orange and green is always a winning diner combination, photo by Ryan Vaarsi

Its bright colors and period-perfect interiors made it a cinematic darling, and, over the years, Johnie's has played a role in plenty of movies including Reservoir Dogs and The Big Lebowski.

But what's kind of amazing is that Johnie's sat vacant—besides the occasional film shoot, of course—on one of the city's busiest streets, Wilshire Boulevard, for over a decade. It's across the intersection from two major museums and it's surrounded by tall office towers, all of which are filled with workers who would certainly swarm a new lunchtime destination.

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The scene is made even more surreal by a giant 99 Cents Only store (which used to own the property) that wraps protectively around it, slyly incorporating some of Johnie's Googie elements into its own design. The 99 Cents' owners also used to turn on the lights at night, revealing a dazzling Vegas-quality spectacle of thousands of incandescent bulbs (even if a few were burnt out).

Illustration for article titled L.A. Saves Southern Californias Best-Preserved Googie Diner
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Johnie's as it looks today, photo by On Location in Los Angeles

As a subway extension is making its way to this intersection, some of the nearby businesses are being uprooted as their buildings are knocked down to build a station. Although it looks like the station will probably be located across the street, how cool would it be to shuffle passengers through a renovated Johnie's? It would provide a convenient place for commuters to grab coffee and donuts on their journeys, and it would offer the perfect commentary on L.A.'s changing ways: a flashy auto-focused relic, repurposed for a public transit-riding future. [Los Angeles Times]

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Top image, Johnie's in 2000, the year it closed, by Trader Chris.

Gizmodo's Landmark Status examines the strange and surprising structures that our cities have chosen to protect. Discover something interesting that's been landmarked near you? Drop us a tip in the comments.

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Reader's guide for young people: Googie architecture was a mid-century style featuring futuristic elements in everyday structures. It's named for Googie's coffee shop built in 1949 on Sunset in Hollywood (now long gone), the first example of this style by architect John Lautner. If it looks familiar it's because the style shows up in movies all the time, and the Jetsons lived in a Googie house.