Its current name is Vintage Hollywood. But long before it was a nightclub showcase, it was a coffee shop which served the community. This sweet little building was recently nominated as a Historic Cultural Monument. The application was taken under consideration by the Cultural Heritage Commission who will make a final decision on Thursday, October 4th.
The coffee shop was built in 1964, the same time as the rest of the Washington Square shopping center. Originally called Stan’s Kite Restaurant, it continued to serve the community under a variety of names: Safari, EAT, a comedy club called Mixed Nuts, and finally, Vintage Hollywood. The restaurant is an excellent example of the “Googie” type of architecture which was pioneered here in Southern California and became an important architectural reference. It is a rare example in this community and represents the relationship between the style and the neighborhoods in the same way that neighborhood movie theaters were important expressions of theater design, different from the larger, more “showy” first-run theaters. Both play an important role in fleshing out the story of architectural, social, and economic development.
Both the shopping center and the coffee shop were designed by the noted architectural firm of Stiles and Robert Clements. The name Stiles O. Clements is well known through the important Art Deco buildings he designed, such landmarks as the Wiltern and Mayan Theaters, Samson-Uniroyal Tire Factory, and many others. His son Robert also became an architect, graduating from USC in 1941, serving in the Marine Corps during World War II, and finally returning to Los Angeles where, in 1945, he became first a partner with his famous father and then the firm’s primary designer as his father aged, retired, and then passed away in January 1966.
Robert O. Clements took the firm in a new direction, utilizing modern materials and forms that reflected a mid-century sensibility and this city’s reinvention of itself. This was the only coffee shop design by that firm, making it a unique representation of their architectural oeuvre.
The building has all the hallmarks of the classic Googie style: a distinct angular roof line detailed with lines of neon, plate glass windows, and signage which makes it visually identifiable to motorists. Decorative ceramic tile inside and out is an unusual component, not typically seen on buildings of this style. The interior was expanded many years ago to incorporate a small retail space, formerly the office of boxing champ Sugar Ray Robinson.
The aftermath of the Watt’s Riots in 1965, left an atmosphere of fear and mistrust with regard to the area, leading to abandonment of wide swaths of communities. Many types of businesses were unable to obtain insurance due to “redlining” schemes. Others were unable to obtain small business loans or other standard types of financial assistance. It was in this unfortunate climate that Washington Square Shopping Center opened, and was thus unable to establish itself as a premier shopping destination for the neighborhood, which was clearly the original intention. Among the original tenants were the Salon de Beauté, Sears Shoe Repair, National Dollar Store, Suzy Laundromat and Suzy White Clean Town, His Shop—Men’s Clothing, and Thrifty Drug Store. The anchor tenant was the Food Giant market, which later became a Ralph’s Market, and eventually the Ranch Market.
NOTE: After listening to the impassioned testimony from local residents regarding not only the architectural value but the social heritage of the Kite Coffee shop, the Cultural Heritage Commission voted on October 4 to designate the building as an Historic Cultural Monument. Thank you Mitzi and residents for helping to keep some of our local treasures safe from future developers.