Norms La Cienega Coffee Shop | Los Angeles Conservancy
Photo by Hunter Kerhart

Norms La Cienega Coffee Shop

On Wednesday, May 20, 2015, the Los Angeles City Council voted unanimously to designate Norms La Cienega as an Historic-Cultural Monument (HCM). During the meeting, Councilmember Paul Koretz praised the Googie icon as "a home away from home for many people" and the kind of place that is "not just culturally significant, but culturally uniting."

The Conservancy thanks Councilmember Koretz for his leadership in this effort and his continued commitment to preserving this highly significant building, as well as everyone who wrote in support of the nomination.

I made [Mad Men] with one agenda early on: Stop tearing stuff down. You’re gonna miss it. -- Matthew Weiner, creator of Mad Men

In March 2015, Councilmember Koretz held an impromptu press conference at Norms La Cienega. He was joined by Linda Dishman, the Conservancy's executive director; Matthew Weiner and actor James Darren, longtime Norms customers; Mike Colonna, president of Norms Restaurants; and Norms staff and regulars. It was a great outpouring of support for this Googie icon and the authentic community it has fostered over nearly sixty years. See Matthew Weiner's full comments

The event celebrated the Los Angeles Cultural Heritage Commission's unanimous vote the previous week to recommend HCM designation for Norms La Cienega. Koretz and Colonna spoke in support of designation, and a representative of the property owner said the owner is not opposed to the designation. 

Because the building has been designated as an HCM, it will receive more robust protection from demolition and excessive alteration under the City's Cultural Heritage Ordinance.

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Designed by influential modern architects Louis Armet and Eldon Davis and completed in 1957, Norms La Cienega is an exuberant example of the California coffee shop type and an expressive Googie masterwork. 

For nearly sixty years, Norms La Cienega Coffee Shop has been the dynamic flagship location of the Norms restaurant chain and an icon of Mid-Century Modernism. Its car-friendly design and bold Googie architecture represent a period of growth and optimism in Los Angeles history.

The Norms restaurant chain dates back to 1949, when owner Norman Roybark opened the first location at Sunset and Vine. The business remained in the family for three generations and was sold in late 2014. The Roybark family sold the Norms chain to CEO Jim Balis and President Mike Colonna, hospitality veterans whose credits include Dunkin' Donuts, Chili's, and Boston Market. According to a statement from the family, "the new owners were carefully selected to protect the legacy of Norms."

In December 2014, the Conservancy and our Modern Committee nominated Norms La Cienega for designation as a local landmark (Historic-Cultural Monument, or HCM) for its association with the firm of Armet & Davis, its pioneering Googie design, and its enduring significance in Los Angeles' postwar landscape. Landmark designation gives the building strong protection from demolition and inappropriate alterations.

The nomination was prepared by architect and historian Alan Hess, whose books Googie and Googie Redux are considered the seminal guides on Googie and California coffee shop architecture. Hess also wrote the essay Everyday Modernism, featured on our Curating the City: Modern Architecture microsite, as well as the successful Historic-Cultural Monument nomination for Johnie's Coffee Shop. The Conservancy will honor Alan Hess with our President's Award at our 34th Annual Preservation Awards Luncheon on May 7.

On January 5, 2015, the new owner of the Norms property (not the restaurant chain) applied for and received a permit to demolish the building at 470-478 La Cienega Boulevard. A representative for the new owner told the Cultural Heritage Commission that the owner has no plans to demolish the building. 

On March 19, the CHC voted unanimously to recommend that the City Council designate Norms La Cienega Coffee Shop as a Historic-Cultural Monument (HCM). The Planning and Land Use Management Committee of the L.A. City Council voted to recommend designation on April 21, and the full City Council voted unanimously to designate the property on May 20. 

The owners of Norms Restaurant actively support designating the building as a Historic-Cultural Monument (see their statement from January 2015). 

The Conservancy believes that Norms La Cienega Coffee Shop played a significant role in the development of postwar Los Angeles and is eligible for designation as an Historic-Cultural Monument because:

It expresses the cultural, economic, and social history of Los Angeles and the nation when suburbanization and the automobile reshaped the nature of American city planning and architecture in the post-World War II decades;

It is an excellent example of the California coffee shop architectural type, and of the Googie architectural style, expressing Southern California modern design; 

It is the oldest remaining example of the Norm's design, as well as Armet & Davis' first application of the concept of establishing branding through architecture, which became a standard of the restaurant industry; and 

It is a major example of the work of master architects Armet & Davis, who helped to define and promulgate this important Southern California architectural type throughout the nation.