Denny's / Van de Kamp's Bakery | Los Angeles Conservancy
Modern Committee volunteer at rally. Photo by L.A. Conservancy

Denny's / Van de Kamp's Bakery

When Denny’s planned a redesign in 1999 for their iconic location in Arcadia, formerly a Van De Kamp’s coffee shop, news that the soaring windmill would be removed sparked public outcry. 

The Conservancy and its Modern Committee organized a successful rally to protest the changes, with creative messaging focused on community character and local history. 

The advocacy effort paid off, with the restaurant corporation reversing their plans. The restaurant’s windmill and distinctive design remains intact, demonstrating the power of a rally as an advocacy tool.

Over 15 years after the Modern Committee saved the Van De Kamp's restaurant, on June 29, 2016, the windmill started operating again, for the first time since 1989. Denny's restored the blades and installed a new motor and LED lights for nighttime viewing.

Shortly after the restoration of the windmill, a blade detached while spinning and crashed into the restaurant. In 2018, Denny's, committed to the historic property, once again restored the windmill and it can once again be seen spinning along Huntington Drive.

The flashy Van De Kamp’s coffee shop in Arcadia had been an icon of Googie architecture since opening in 1968.  Following a change in ownership, the restaurant became a Denny’s. The distinctive eatery with its folded plate roof and soaring windmill became threatened by a corporate-sponsored makeover.  Denny’s had launched a nationwide rebranding effort in 1999 aimed at redesigning all of its locations in a retro style recalling 1950s diners. According to Denny’s’ new design scheme, the soaring windmill would have to go.

When news of the windmill’s proposed removal was made public, the Conservancy and its Modern Committee organized a rally to protest. More than two dozen people turned out to the rally to show their support for keeping the iconic windmill in place. The demonstrators used creative ways to demonstrate the building’s history to passersby, offering powdered donuts from the white-and-blue Van de Kamp’s boxes that still carried the brand’s trademark windmill logo. One rally participant donned a homemade hat crafted in the shape of the building’s zig-zag roofline and windmill (pictured) while holding a sign that proclaimed: “Where there’s a mill, there’s a way!”

The rally was a success and, through the course of one weekend, the company began to understand the importance of the windmill and the building’s original design to the local community. Denny’s reacted to the overwhelming public outcry and changed their plans in favor of retaining the windmill in place. The effort to keep Arcadia’s former Van De Kamp’s coffee shop intact demonstrates the power of a rally as an advocacy tool.