SAD NEWS: DEMOLITION PERMIT ISSUED – FEBRUARY 3, 2022. We have been checking daily to see if the December 2020 demolition permit for the Chili Bowl has been approved and confirming it has not. But after community members told us that work was happening around the property, on 1/27/2022 we checked the city website and discovered the property owner tricked everyone by filing a brand new demo permit on 9/8/2021! This new permit moved quickly through the city approval process, and as of 2/3/2022 was active. As of 2/21/22, the Chili Bowl had no roof and was bring scooped out like a giant Jack O’Lantern (see drone video). As of 2/22/22, it was being cut into sections, stacked and numbered—but is is for demolition, or salvage? And if salvage, what is the plan?
The Chili Bowl has never been in more danger than it is right now! But it’s still not too late. While Councilmember Mike Bonin opposed making it a landmark, he and his staff have been open to working with the property owner to move the Chili Bowl from Pico to somewhere where it will be safe until a new use can be found for it, until they stopped communicating in early 2022. We all need to ask that they come back to the table and Save The Chili Bowl!
Please call Mike Bonin’s office at 310-575-8461 and/or email him at Councilmember.Bonin@lacity.org with the simple, updated message: I care about the Chili Bowl at 12244 West Pico Boulevard, which has now been cut into pieces by a demolition crew. I am asking the Councilmember to resume discussions with Friends of the Chili Bowl and the Los Angeles Conservancy, and to work with the property owner and find the funds needed to move the remaining segments of this historic Los Angeles treasure somewhere safe, and not to let it be destroyed. Thank you.”
HOW DID WE GET HERE? On June 15, 2021, Senior Planning Deputy Jason Patrick Douglas from Los Angeles City Councilman Mike Bonin’s office appeared before the PLUM Committee to state Bonin’s objection to the landmarking of the Chili Bowl at 12244-12248 West Pico Boulevard, the last surviving example of the 1930s programmatic architecture restaurant chain in the city.
The reason given is clearly unsupported by the visual evidence of a then and now photo (below), and by the Cultural Heritage Commission’s informed decision. Douglas said: “We find that the evidence in the record shows that due to extensive alterations to the structure, the property does not possess sufficient architectural quality or integrity to meet the criteria set forth to designate the structure as a Historic-Cultural Monument. This is further supported by documentation that was submitted to the record by the owner.”
Because PLUM always defers to the local councilmember, they immediately moved to unanimously reject the Los Angeles Conservancy’s landmark nomination, thus dooming the Chili Bowl to almost certain demolition.
As Friends of the Chili Bowl, we say no! This cultural landmark is simply too cool to die. Instead, it must be picked up and moved somewhere new, just like it was in 1939, and restored and reactivated for future generations of Angelenos and tourists to enjoy. We are petitioning Mike Bonin to halt the application for a demolition permit and to work with us to protect and move the Chili Bowl to an appropriate site to be determined within the City of Los Angeles.
Mike Bonin: we are counting on you to listen to the voices of the local Neighborhood Council and the thousands of citizens who love the Chili Bowl, do the right thing, and save this weird, cool, only-in-Los Angeles building and honor the memory of the visionary restaurateur Art Whizin!
If you love the Chili Bowl and want to add your voice, click here to sign the petition, and we’ll keep you informed about this campaign.
Want to know more? Here is a link to the PLUM agenda, the Council File with many public comments including a Community Impact Statement in support of landmarking from the West Los Angeles Sawtelle Neighborhood Council (PDF link), to a PDF link of the Los Angeles Conservancy’s landmark nomination, and to our Richard Schave’s public comment to PLUM. And for the wild story of Programmatic Architecture in Los Angeles, there’s an Esotouric webinar all about the style, with a section on Art Whizin’s Chili Bowl chain.
Dishonest “advocacy” activity: When the Chili Bowl was up for landmarking, the pro-development YIMBY lobby group Abundant Housing organized an email campaign urging City Council to reject the designation, claiming the easily moved Chili Bowl building was somehow standing in the way of a 24-unit TOC housing development. But as Cranky Preservationist Nathan Marsak explains in his short video, this housing project doesn’t actually exist—all the more reason for the Chili Bowl to be moved to safety and not demolished. You can watch the video on Facebook, YouTube or in the Esotouric newsletter.
This is the Chili Bowl at 12244 West Pico Boulevard with a demolition permit request on file. We are petitioning councilmember Mike Bonin to pause demolition, and help move the building to a safe location in the city of Los Angeles.
This is the Chili Bowl at 6529 San Fernando Road, Glendale, CA 91201, near the Burbank border. Most recently used as the office for a used car dealer, it has been vacant for several years and is deteriorating condition. Most of the roof is missing, windows are broken, stucco has fallen from the roof overhang and there is graffiti inside and outside the structure.
There are two other surviving Chili Bowl restaurants in Los Angeles County. The former Guadalajara Nightclub at 2230 East Florence Avenue, Huntington Park, CA 90255 has been vacant and locked up for years. The longtime tenant at the Alhambra Chili Bowl, Kim Chuy Restaurant, was recently replaced by Ho Kee BBQ & Noodle. It is the only historic Chili Bowl restaurant currently open for business, and we urge you to swing by 501 West Valley Boulevard, Alhambra, CA 91803 and enjoy some good food in cool surroundings.
Chili Bowl Timeline:
1935 – Chili Bowl built at 2453 Fletcher Drive in Silver Lake by restaurant chain owner Art Whizin.
1939 – Chili Bowl moved to Pico Boulevard and South Wellesley Avenue in the Sawtelle district, where it serves a 24 hour customer base of WW2 era aircraft factory workers.
1946 – Operating as one of a small chain of White Bowl restaurants, the contents are auctioned off in November.
1950 – Operating as Toy Village For Good Little Boys and Girls, with live performances and visits from Santa Claus.
1955 – Operating as Westcrest Realty.
1958 – Operating as the Roundhouse bar, by 1968 staffed by barmaids in bikinis.
1980s – Operating as Pancho’s Family Café.
2001-11 – Operating as Mr. Cecil’s California Ribs.
2012 – Operating as Shunji Japanese Cuisine, received Michelin star in 2019.
November 4, 2019 – Property owner* files a demolition permit for the L.A. Classics auto restoration shop at the back of the Chili Bowl lot. As of June 15, 2021, it is not approved.
December 5, 2019 – The Cultural Heritage Commission reviews the Los Angeles Conservancy’s nomination, and votes to consider the Chili Bowl as a landmark.
February 6, 2020 – The Cultural Heritage Commission votes 3-1 to declare the Chili Bowl a protected Historic-Cultural Monument. The property owner opposes designation, and threatens to move the building to Palm Springs.
February 26, 2020 – West Los Angeles Sawtelle Neighborhood Council issues a Community Impact Statement, unanimously supporting the landmarking and preservation of the Chili Bowl.
March 21, 2020 – All City Council deadlines are tolled by order of Mayor Eric Garcetti due to the COVID-19 emergency. Normal deadlines prescribed in the Municipal Code for considering landmark nominations do not apply.
December 2, 2020 – Chili Bowl property owner files a demolition permit for the Chili Bowl and the L.A. Classics auto restoration shop. As of June 15, 2021, it is not approved.
December 7, 2020 – Property owner seeks to demolish the Chili Bowl, claiming the Mayor’s tolling of all municipal actions due to the COVID emergency renders the Cultural Heritage Commission recommendation invalid, sues the city city in Los Angeles Superior Court (12244 Pico LLC v City of Los Angles, Case No. 20STCP03940 – PDF link)
December 8, 2020 – In a PLUM hearing that is illegally inaccessible to the public, the Chili Bowl decision is delayed.
December 9, 2020 – Michelin-starred Chili Bowl tenant Shunji Sushi departs L.A. for Santa Monica, taking prestige and tax revenue with it.
April 20, 2021 – PLUM delays ruling on Chili landmarking until May, then delays it again.
June 15, 2021 – On the first date when City Hall is reopened for public meetings, the Chili Bowl finally comes up for PLUM consideration. Councilman Mike Bonin’s office asks PLUM to reject landmarking based on the false claims of the property owner that the building is not worthy of landmarking, which they do. A petition launched demanding that Bonin halt demolition of the Chili Bowl until a preservation solution can be found to move it elsewhere in the City of Los Angeles. For more info, or to sign, click here.
August 19, 2021 – The Los Angeles Conservancy files a Writ of Mandate in Los Angeles Superior Court seeking a judge to force Los Angeles City Council to reverse several recent landmarking votes where the Brown Act was violated and the public excluded, among them the Chili Bowl.
November 7, 2021 – Los Angeles City Attorney Mike Feuer refers the Los Angeles Conservancy’s Writ of Mandate over the improper votes on the Chili Bowl landmarking to the same PLUM Committee that rejected it. PLUM has different members since that vote, following Mark Ridley-Thomas’ indictment on public corruption charges.
December 7, 2021 (rescheduled from November 30) – PLUM will vote again on the improperly rejected Chili Bowl landmark nomination. The public is encouraged to send written public comment in support, and/or call in by phone. Instructions are posted as a Chili Bowl petition update. (Hearing result: despite community and City Planning support from the Neighborhood Council, Cultural Heritage Commission, Friends of the Chili Bowl and Los Angeles Conservancy, deferring to the continued opposition from Councilman Mike Bonin, PLUM rejected landmarking, and on December 8, full City Council finalized their rejection. But it’s still not too late to Save the Chili Bowl!)
September 8, 2021 -The property owner applies for a second demolition permit, thus making it hard for community members to track the status of pending demolition permit that triggered the Friends of the Chili Bowl campaign to move the building.
February 3, 2022 – The new demolition permit is approved, but the required notification signs are not posted to the property.
February 12, 2022 – The Chili Bowl is completely surrounded with wooden fencing and scaffolding. There are still no demolition notices posted, but there are posters advertising Tiffany & Co.
February 15, 2022 – Morning: LADBS inspector Jeff Bytheway informs us that demolition of the Chili Bowl will begin on 2/16/22, after the City Planning department acted to remove the building from some unspecified historic list; it is however still listed on the city’s Survey LA historic resources database (archive link in case it is later removed), and on the city’s Zimas land use database it is still described as “historic monument under consideration.”
February 15, 2022 – Evening: West Los Angeles Sawtelle Neighborhood Council Moves to Request that owner not demolish the Chili Bowl building (demolition permit was issued on Feb. 4), and ask owner to collaborate with CD11 to find a new site to preserve the building. Watch the “Mike Bonin’s Hot Mess” video from the meeting, including comments from our Richard Schave here.
February 16, 2022 – As the possible demolition day dawns for the Pico Chili Bowl, community news source L.A. Taco features the crisis at the top of its daily headlines. 11am: L.A. Conservancy films demolition crews ripping up the roof and in the afternoon Damian Sullivan captures removal of the priceless original sign.
February 21, 2022 – An anonymous fan captured drone flyover footage of the roofless Chili Bowl with a demolition crew working inside.
February 22, 2022 – An anonymous fan documented the building being cut into sections, stacked and numbered—but is is for demolition, or salvage? And if salvage, what is the plan?
March 29, 2022 – In this petition update, we share potential good news for the derelict Glendale Chili Bowl, and some shocking legal wrangling from the Pico Chili Bowl’s nemesis.
June 2, 2022 – In this petition update, we share video of a May visit to the demolition site and warn Los Angeles voters about who Abundant Housing, the real estate lobby group that spread false claims that the Chili Bowl stood in the way of new housing, have endorsed for Mayor.
September 1, 2022 – We’re pleased to see Huntington Park’s giant Chili Bowl called out with a photo as an instance of a notable architectural style in L.A. County’s draft Florence-Firestone Historic Context Statement & Survey Report (on page 173, PDF link here), and hope this recognition can help ensure this significant, long vacant cafe-turned-nightclub will be preserved and reopened.
* Who owns the Chili Bowl property? The owners listed on the CHC nomination are David Manzano Et al. and Katherine M. Manzano / 12244 PICO, LLC but a web search reveals LLC members named as Usha Jain and Rohit Jain. A city mailing document suggests the Jains actually own the liquor store at 12300 Pico. The owners of the Chili Bowl property are represented in their communications with the city by Benjamin M. Reznik and Daniel Freedman of Jeffer Mangels Butler & Mitchell LLP.