Chili Bowl (West Los Angeles) | Los Angeles Conservancy
Photo by Marcello Vavala/L.A. Conservancy

Chili Bowl (West Los Angeles)

Despite the Conservancy’s and many others’ best efforts to intervene and find a way to save and preserve L.A.’s last Chili Bowl, on-site or through relocation, the property owner began dismantling the Chili Bowl on February 16, 2022. Councilmember Mike Bonin’s office says the building will be stored, yet there are no details provided on how this is being done, what is being kept, where it will be stored, and for how long.  

On December 7, 2021, by a 3/1 vote, the City Council's Planning and Land Use Management Committee voted to recommend denial of the Conservancy's Historic-Cultural Monument (HCM) application for the Chili Bowl. This action was prompted by Councilmember Mike Bonin's refusal to change his position in opposition to the Chili Bowl's preservation. Previous to this vote, PLUM rescinded its previous recommendation and vote made on June 15, 2021, in violation of the California Brown Act. 

Below is testimony provided at the PLUM hearing by the Conservancy:

Thank you for the opportunity to speak today regarding the 1935 Chili Bowl Historic-Cultural Monument application. The reason we are here today and why we filed the legal petition against the city for a Brown Act violation was to ensure our voice and our nearly 5,000 members, and those of the many supporters of this historic place and others can be heard, understood, and considered before voting to either support or reject this and other HCM nominations.

The stakes are high, as the Chili Bowl will most likely be lost if not afforded HCM protection and a design review process to incorporate this historic place with new housing development, or potential relocation to a safe, new receiving site. However, this type of thoughtful consideration and problem solving simply will not happen without the benefit of HCM status.

The Conservancy greatly thanks you for dialing back your previous actions, rescinding your prior vote, and approaching this with fresh new eyes and consideration.

What is before you today is the merit of whether or not the 1935 Chili Bowl is afforded historic protection through HCM status, nothing more or less. The City’s Cultural Heritage Commission and its SurveyLA program has already settled this as indeed being historic and significant as a rare, surviving example of programmatic architecture. The hard truth is there aren’t many places like the Chili Bowl left standing today in LA and elsewhere. As a thoroughly LA invention, it was designed in the 1930s as a hybrid form of business advertising and bold architecture, to attract attention from passing motorists and to put a smile on your face. It still does this today.

Only 6.2% of all of L.A. has been identified as historic, leaving nearly 94% available for new development. Because historic places here are a finite and limited resource – including the Chili Bowl -- it is the reason why the Conservancy presses so hard for protections and potential ‘win-win’ outcomes when readily viable and achievable. We don’t go to bat for every old building. And we do this not to stand in the way of development or much-needed housing. Both new housing development and preservation are possible here, but only if we provide a path forward, a design review process afforded through HCM designation to compel this owner to do something other than the status quo.

We ask, isn’t LA deserving of this?

It is always going to be easier to clear a site and demolish, but that does not make it right or better for LA, our environment, and our quality of living in LA if we routinely throw away what makes us special. We think LA is most deserving of doing something better here, of giving back and celebrating our unique story, while literally adding to it, in this case with new housing and reusing a very small historic building. The Chili Bowl is unique, special and important to the story of Los Angeles, not as a grand icon, but as an everyday person’s historic place, accessible and available for a meal and a unique experience. Small in stature but with a mighty and whimsical architectural punch, the Chili Bowl can be easily incorporated as part of any new housing on this site. It requires the will, the way is already evident.

Your action today, and of Councilmember Bonin’s, will ultimately determine whether or not the Chili Bowl survives. You hold the power to decide if we go with the status quo and destroy another part of what makes LA, well LA…OR…we choose to do something special, for future residents of this site and all of Angelinos. Thank you, as we greatly appreciate the work that you do and your consideration of our request.


Previously, on June 15, PLUM voted to recommend against the Chili Bowl following Councilmember Bonin’s office speaking out against this nomination. The problem is the public was blocked from speaking at this meeting, including the Conservancy as the applicant.

The rehearing of this HCM nomination is a direct result of the Conservancy filing in August a Petition for Writ of Mandate with the Los Angeles County Superior Court against the City of Los Angeles. We challenged the City for violating the California Brown Act in failing to allow us and other members of the public the opportunity to address the City Council.

The Conservancy reached out to the City multiple times following the initial PLUM meeting, requesting it address and remedy the Brown Act violation. The West Los Angeles Sawtelle Neighborhood Council also passed a motion requesting the City Council to reopen this matter. However, on June 29, the full City Council took up the pending matter and, with PLUM’s June 15 recommendation, voted to deny the Conservancy’s nomination for the Chili Bowl. Once again, the public and the Conservancy were not allowed to speak before the final vote as the item was placed on the consent agenda.

This issue is not an isolated incident involving a pending HCM and PLUM not following Brown Act protocols. Based on our action and the City agreeing to rehear the Chili Bowl nomination, we are hopeful the City does better in providing an adequate opportunity for applicants and the public to participate in the process.

We need your help NOW!

On December 7, at 2:00 p.m., we need preservationists to turn up and speak out in support of the Chili Bowl HCM. Now is the time to reach out to Councilmember Mike Bonin and press him to reconsider his position regarding the Chili Bowl. Without HCM designation, the Chili Bowl will most likely be demolished.

Despite assertions made by the owner’s representatives previously about relocating the Chili Bowl, there are no plans in place to move it to another site where it can be rehabilitated and reused. The Chili Bowl can be preserved in place with new housing built around, yet the owner is not receptive to this approach.


On August 19, 2021, the Los Angeles Conservancy filed a Petition for Writ of Mandate with the Los Angeles County Superior Court against the City of Los Angeles, challenging the City’s violations of the Brown Act in failing to allow the Conservancy, as the applicant, and other members of the public the opportunity to address the City Council regarding the Historic-Cultural Monument (HCM) nomination for West L.A.’s Chili Bowl building.

This is in follow-up to a June 15 City Council Planning and Land Use Management (PLUM) Committee meeting where the public was blocked from speaking, including the Conservancy as the applicant. Despite repeated requests to be heard by the PLUM Committee, the Conservancy was not called upon nor were any members of the public. The City flagrantly violated the Brown Act law that requires public participation.

The Conservancy reached out to the City multiple times following the initial PLUM meeting, requesting it address and remedy the Brown Act violation. The West Los Angeles Sawtelle Neighborhood Council also passed a motion requesting the City Council to reopen this matter. However, on June 29, the full City Council took up the pending matter and, with PLUM’s June 15 recommendation, voted to deny the Conservancy’s nomination for the Chili Bowl. Once again, the public and the Conservancy as the applicant were not allowed to speak before the final vote as the item was placed on the consent agenda.

Given this is not an isolated incident involving a pending HCM and the PLUM Committee, the Conservancy is extremely concerned. The City needs to provide an adequate opportunity for applicants and the public to participate in the process. Through our legal action, the Conservancy is seeking to rescind and set aside the denial of the Chili Bowl HCM nomination and require the PLUM Committee and City Council to hold public hearings regarding the Chili Bowl HCM nomination, at which the public shall have the right to speak. Until this happens, we are pressing that any application to demolish or alter the Chili Bowl shall be prohibited.

The Conservancy is keeping a close eye on the Chili Bowl as a plan has emerged to relocate the building. We both want to ensure the historic building is properly preserved as well as the public process afforded through HCM designation. A preliminary proposal to relocate the Chili Bowl building has also now surfaced. The Conservancy will be evaluating all of our options and this further as we strive for a "win-win" outcome. 


On June 29, 2021 the City Council voted to deny the Chili Bowl Historic-Cultural Monument (HCM) nomination at its regular meeting (item #8). The item was placed on the consent agenda so no public comments were taken. 

Statement by the Los Angeles Conservancy (June 29, 2021):

Today, the City Council voted to deny the Conservancy’s nomination of West L.A.’s Chili Bowl as a Historic-Cultural Monument (HCM), leaving this rare example of programmatic architecture threatened by proposed new development. 

This action follows a troubling June 15 City Council Planning and Land Use Management (PLUM) Committee meeting where the public was blocked from speaking, including the Conservancy as the applicant. The City flagrantly violated the Brown Act law that requires public participation and is now ignoring broad community concerns. 

At the direction of Councilmember Bonin, no public comments were allowed before today’s vote as the Chili Bowl HCM was placed on the consent agenda. The last time the public has been allowed to speak regarding the Chili Bowl HCM was the December 5, 2019, Cultural Heritage Commission meeting. 

Given this is not an isolated incident, the Conservancy is extremely concerned by today’s action and currently exploring potential next steps. This includes reviewing a proposal that has recently surfaced to move the Chili Bowl to a new, undetermined location. 

THANK YOU to the many community advocates that wrote letters, emails and called the City Council hoping to speak in support of the Chili Bowl HCM. The Conservancy hears and thanks you! 

Because the City violated the Brown Act at its June 15, 2021, City Council Planning and Land Use Management (PLUM) Committee meeting, the Conservancy requested the City first rescind its previous PLUM recommendation and hold a new hearing for the Chili Bowl that would allow the applicant (Los Angeles Conservancy) and other members from the public an opportunity to speak.  


 

The Chili Bowl at 12244 West Pico Boulevard is one of five remaining former Chili Bowl structures from entrepreneur Arthur Whizin’s Chili Bowl restaurant chain, which numbered eighteen locations throughout Los Angeles County at its height in 1941 and 1942. Of the surviving Chili Bowls, the West Los Angeles location is the most intact and has operated nearly continuously as an eatery. The current tenant, Shunji Japanese restaurant, has operated out of the former Chili Bowl since 2012.

Constructed in 1935 as the seventh Chili Bowl restaurant chain location. Arthur Whizin, the owner of the Chili Bowl chain, relocated the building from its original location on Fletcher Drive in Silver Lake to its present site in 1939/40. Designed in the shape of a giant chili bowl, the structure is an excellent example of programmatic architecture. Buildings in this style mimic either the products sold within or the businesses' identity.

SurveyLA identified the Chili Bowl as eligible for landmark designation at the national, state, and local levels in Los Angeles’s citywide survey, SurveyLA. The Chili Bowl in West Los Angeles is one of the oldest surviving examples of Programmatic architecture in L.A. Because so few examples remain today, Programmatic buildings are considered a rare resource type. 


Chronology:

1) On October 18, 2019, the Conservancy submitted an application to the City of Los Angeles to nominate the Chili Bowl as a Historic-Cultural Monument (HCM).

2) On December 5, the Cultural Heritage Commission (CHC) tool the property under consideration.

3) On February 6, 2020, the CHC determined the property conforms with the definition of an HCM and voted to recommend approval.

4) On March 2, 2021, the City Council's Planning and Land Use Management (PLUM) committee voted to extend the designation process for the Chili Bowl as a Los Angeles Historic-Cultural Monument (HCM). 

5) On April 29, 2020, the City Council voted to extend the designation process for the Chili Bowl as a Los Angeles Historic-Cultural Monument.   

6) On June 15, 2021, the City Council Planning and Land Use Management (PLUM) committee heard the pending Historic-Cultural Monument (HCM) nomination for the Chili Bowl, whereby it was voted down -- without taking any input from the public. This is in follow-up to the December 5, 2019 action by the Cultural Heritage Commission which recommended approval of this historic resource for HCM designation. 

Councilmember Mike Bonin's office stated it's lack of support for the Chili Bowl HCM on the grounds that the building was not historic per information submitted by the owner of the Chili Bowl, the same entity who intends to redevelop the existing site and demolish the building. Based on the council office's recommendation, PLUM members proceeded to a unanimous vote to reject this HCM nomination. 

At PLUM, neither the Conservancy, as the applicant for the Chili Bowl HCM nomination, nor the public were called upon and allowed to speak on this agenda item before or after PLUM voted. Despite usual PLUM meeting protocols and the Ralph M. Brown Act (Gov.§§ 54950-54963, referred to as the “Brown Act”), the City of Los Angeles violated this law by failing to allow the Conservancy and other members of the public the opportunity to address the PLUM Committee regarding the HCM nomination for the Chili Bowl. This is not an isolated incident involving pending HCM nominations at PLUM.

On June 23, 2021 the West Los Angeles Sawtelle Neighborhood Council heard this matter and concurred, and passed a motion requesting the City Council and its PLUM Committee to reopen this matter.

7) On June 18, 2021, the Conservancy submitted a cure and correct letter to the City of Los Angeles, to address the violation of the Brown Act. 

8) On June 28, 2021, Petitioner submitted a letter to the City Council notifying it of the PLUM Committee’s Brown Act violation at the June 15, 2021 meeting and that it must cure and correct the violation by rescinding the previous recommendation denying the Chili Bowl HCM nomination and hold a new hearing at which Petitioner, as the applicant, and other members of the public are provided the opportunity to address the pending nomination.

9) On June 29, 2021, the City Council considered the Chili Bowl HCM nomination based on the recommended denial from the PLUM Committee. The City Council included this matter on its consent calendar and continued to refuse to hear public testimony regarding this nomination. 

10) On July 7, 2021, the Conservancy sent a follow-up notice to the City Council, providing that a Brown Act action may be commenced to have the denial of the Chili Bowl HCM deemed null and void if the City did not cure and correct its Brown Act violation within 30 days. The City did not provide a response to the July 7, 2021 notice, and failed to cure and correct its violation within 30 days of that notice.

11) On August 19, 2021, the Los Angeles Conservancy filed a Petition for Writ of Mandate with the Los Angeles County Superior Court against the City of Los Angeles, challenging the City’s violations of the Brown Act in failing to allow the Conservancy, as the applicant, and other members of the public the opportunity to address the City Council regarding the Historic-Cultural Monument (HCM) nomination for West L.A.’s Chili Bowl building.

12) On December 7, 2021, the City Council's Planning and Land Use Management (PLUM) Committee will rehear this matter, as it was in error in its previous deliberations by not allowing for public comments and violated the Brown Act. 

The Chili Bowl is one of the last and most intact examples of the Chili Bowl franchise. It should be protected and retained, and sensitively incorporated as part of any new proposed development. 

It is one of the oldest and most intact examples of programmatic architecture in the city. The Chili Bowl at 12244 West Pico Boulevard is one of five remaining former Chili Bowl structures which numbered eighteen locations throughout Los Angeles County at the chain's height. SurveyLA identified this location as eligible for designation in the National Register, California Register, and as a Los Angeles Historic-Cultural Monument.

In 2022, the Chili Bowl was dismantled and placed in storage. However, without the council district's continued support for relocation, the Chili Bowl will most likely be lost. He had the ability to press upon the owner and developer to do better and build housing around the small Chili Bowl structure. That won't happen though since it was not designated as a Historic-Cultural Monument (HCM), providing a design review process. 

Here's what you can do now:

Reach out to Councilmember Mike Bonin and share how disappointed you are in his position and actions to prevent the preservation of the Chili Bowl. He could have helped the community find a win-win by where preservation and new development can come together. Call (213) 444-3508 and email Councilmember Bonin (Councilmember.Bonin@lacity.org) and his staff, Jason Douglas (jason.p.douglas@lacity.org) and Len Nguyen (len.nguyen@lacity.org).