Our Beloved Whittier Boulevard Tamale in Peril (*Updated)

The Tamale (LAPL collection)

The Tamale, 6421 Whittier Boulevard, circa 1920s (photo: LAPL Collection)

Once upon a time, Southern California was dotted with the daffiest buildings ever slapped up in a frantic, entrepreneurial weekend: shaped like dirigibles and oranges, ice cream tubs and puppies, flower pots and hot dogs, tipis, old shoes, oil cans, owls, chili bowls, coffee pots, bowler hats, whales and donuts, they beckoned to passing motorists with a powerful whimsy.

Most of L.A.’s great programmatic architectural landmarks are long gone, and those that remain exist in various states of decay, alteration and uncertainty. Like the Tail O’ the Pup, which tucked its meat between its buns and wandered off one day, or the unfortunate Wilshire Boulevard Brown Derby, now nothing but a weird swoop on a mini-mall roof.

Tamale-shaped building in East Los Angeles. Love!

The Tamale, 6421 Whittier Boulevard, today (photo: Kim Cooper)
And then there’s the Tamale. The last of what was once a mini Oddball Row of programmatic structures along Whittier Boulevard between Montebello and East Los Angeles (an oil can-shaped diner and crashed airplane called The Dugout vanished decades ago), the Tamale’s twisted ends twitch tight against the newer buildings on either side, and instead of tamales, today it serves up perms and trims.
Although it’s among the last of an indigenous California architectural form, unfortunately there is no structure in place for protecting or preserving the Tamale. Located in unincorporated Los Angeles County, it is not subject to the city’s historic preservation guidelines. State and National monument status is dependent on the whim of the property owner. And so she sits, caked in plaster, under the blazing east side sun, waiting for something to happen.
Yesterday, something happened: the lot on which the Tamale sits, comprised of this small storefront and a tiny two-bedroom, one-bath house behind, was placed on the market with an asking price of $459,000. The rental income is $2,060 a month. And that’s what you call a teardown, folks.
So what can be done to protect the Tamale–assuming the property is sold and the new owners want to make more efficient use of the small lot? Although there are no binding historic preservation options available, there is still some hope.
Inspired by her commitment to protecting the murals on the facade of the First Street Store, we’re reaching out to Supervisor Gloria Molina and asking for her support in ensuring that the Tamale is preserved, even if that requires moving the structure from its current location. If you agree that the Tamale is an important L.A. landmark worth preserving, you can share your thoughts with Sup. Molina’s office via email HERE.


UPDATE – May 1, 2013

Encouraging news just received via email from Supervisor Gloria Molina:

“Thank you for sharing your views regarding the “tamal” building located at 6421 Whittier Boulevard. I, too, fondly remember it and other iconic structures that lined Whittier Boulevard, and I agree that the structure is worthy of historic designation.

I am pleased to share with you that in the near future, I intend to establish a Los Angeles County ordinance to provide certain benefits for buildings designated as historic; please know that the property owner’s consent will be required. My staff is engaging the building’s owner to determine if there is interest, and if needed we will work with future property owners. If enacted, this ordinance will preserve this noteworthy edifice for future generations to enjoy, and the property owner will receive tax credits to be utilized for the structure’s maintenance. For further information about the proposed ordinance, please contact Phillip Estes with the County Department of Regional Planning at (213) 974-6425. I also encourage you to share your thoughts with the building’s owners, Sky Realty Investments, which is located at 5191 Fox Hills Avenue, Buena Park, 90621.

Thank you again for taking the time to contact me about this essential issue.”

Sincerely, GLORIA MOLINA, Supervisor, First District


UPDATE – May 28, 2013

The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors is expected to pass Mills Act tax breaks today. This is a voluntary program for property owners who want to preserve landmarks in their care. A full Historic Preservation Ordinance, which could protect unique, endangered structures like the Tamale on Whittier Boulevard, is still in the works. Today’s agenda is here.


UPDATE – September 18, 2013

On May 30, 2013, two days after the Board of Supervisors passed Mills Act tax breaks, the asking price of the Tamale was lowered to $435,000. On August 13, 2013, the price was further lowered to $399,900. On August 28, 2013, the property was removed from the market.


UPDATE – April 29, 2014 We created this video about The Tamale for the One Day in L.A. project. http://vimeo.com/moogaloop.swf?clip_id=93272767&force_embed=1&server=vimeo.com&show_title=1&show_byline=1&show_portrait=1&color=00adef&fullscreen=1&autoplay=0&loop=0

Esotouric Visits The Tamale from Kim Cooper on Vimeo.


Press clips

Tamale on Whittier Boulevard put up for sale (L.A. Observed, 4/24/13)

East Los Angeles’s Tamale-Shaped Building is Up For Sale (Curbed, 4/24/13)

Redevelopment might eat East LA’s giant tamale building (KPCC Off-Ramp, 4/25/13)

LA giant tamale building’s future uncertain (ABC-7 News, 4/25/13)

Supervisor Gloria Molina promises to help save East LA’s giant tamale building (KPCC Off-Ramp, 5/1/2013)

County Preservation Effort Could Save East LA Tamale Building (Curbed, 5/1/13)

Peel Away the Layers to Find East L.A.’s Giant Tamale (EGPNews, 5/2/2013)

Famoso tamal en peligro de extinción (Telemundo, 7/3/2013)

Society for Commercial Architecture: Falling By the Wayside list for 2013 (September 2013)

Tamale-shaped building at center of preservation dispute (Los Angeles Times, 5/23/2015)

Is East LA’s Giant Tamale Building Worth Saving? (Eater L.A., 5/26/15)

Historic tamale building in East L.A. wrapped in preservation dispute (Fox News Latino, 8/5/15)