The legendary sign on the side of the building that was once Zucky’s Delicatessen on Wilshire Boulevard at Fifth Street moved closer to salvation, Monday, when the Santa Monica Landmarks Commission nominated it, but not the building, for designation as a landmark.
Plans for the conversion of the building to a retail outlet were approved last week by the Architectural Review Board.
The building is not on the City’s list of historic resources, But it has been cited in at least one book as an example of the “Googie” style of architecture associated with diners from the 1940s and 1950s. The Los Angeles Conservancy has worked with the architects and care is being taken to preserve the building’s character, according to its owner, John Watkins.
Addressing the Commission, Watkins said he was not interested in having the building landmarked, and he disagreed with the notion that nostalgia for the Zucky’s of old should have anything to do with refurbishing the building: “Just because you had a great experience 20 years ago, do you have to make it a landmark today?” He added that the sign is only of “sentimental value” and as it does not conform to current signage regulations, it is not included in the proposed design scheme. As for maintaining the sign on-site, he said the building tenant would have to agree, as the presence of the “Zucky’s” sign might be confusing. Watkins said he would prefer to wait until he knows who the new tenant will be before he makes a decision about keeping the sign.
Jerry Rubin also spoke to the Commission, saying that he hoped Watkins would reconsider his stance about landmarking the building and sign, noting the support given to the building by the L.A. Conservancy as well as a recent article about Zucky’s in the Jewish Journal. The history of the building, he said, qualifies it for being preserved in some way: “It brings back fond memories whenever I come to the corner of Fifth and Wilshire.”
The Commissioners had mixed feelings about landmark designation. Nina Fresco described her research into the history of Zucky’s, noting that celebrities such as Bob Dylan and Arnold Schwarzenegger had dined there and locals nicknamed it “3-Ucky’s” because the Z in the sign looked like a numeral 3, and it was a regular hangout for folks who played at the nearby bowling alley. Though she believed the building had sufficient historic significance to qualify as a landmark, most of her colleagues were of the opinion that the building remodel reflected the original style of the structure and that the project was a good example of “adaptive re-use.”
However, all the Commissioners agreed on the need to find some means of preserving the sign, whether or not it remains part of the building.
City Council liaison Kevin McKeown said that the building has no historic context without the sign, which has become such a “part of the neighborhood.”
The City’s urban designer Stephanie Reich pointed out that a plan to repaint the building would necessitate temporary removal of the sign.
Ultimately, everyone agreed that the sign should be protected, pending the completion of the building remodeling, and only Commissioner RuthAnn Lehrer opposed nomination of the sign for landmark designation.
The Commission chose to continue its consideration on nominating a multi-family residential structure at 1143 11th Street. Owner Allan Lazarus had requested landmark designation in a letter to the Commission, but at Monday’s meeting, he admitted he was trying to find out what the positives and negatives of designation would be for his needs. He had tried to do some remodeling of the windows only to be told that the building is listed in the Historic Inventory, a designation he had not asked for and had not been informed of, and that he had appealed the rejection of his modification plans to the Planning Commission. The Commission agreed that the building’s façade is noteworthy and decided to do research into the possibility of landmark designation.
A single-family residence at 808 Adelaide Place was on the list of properties scheduled for demolition, but several speakers made a case for saving it. Three residents of Adelaide Place pleaded that the property was integral to the character of the street. They informed the Commission that the house had been moved from its original location at the corner of 5th and Wilshire (later Zucky’s site). It was described as a mixture of two different styles, one being 1920s Spanish Colonial Revival, although some Commissioners stated that they had had trouble seeing the house through the plant growth around it. But enough interest was generated by the speakers that the Commission moved to continue the item to next month.
In other actions, the Commission appointed two new members to the subcommittee formed to review technical materials relating to the rehabilitation of 415 Pacific Coast Highway (the former Marion Davies house). Ruthann Lehrer and Barbara Kaplan will replace John Berley and Colin Maduzia. The third subcommittee member is Nina Fresco.The Commission took no action on the following demolition permits: 2121 Virginia Avenue; 2702 Arizona Avenue; 1120 21st Street; 1927 18th Street; 1537 16th Street; 2643 34th Street; 1048 10th Street;1517 Ashland Avenue; 839 9th Street; 1008 Cedar Street; 2449 29th Street; 535 12th Street; 633 24th Street; 1814 12th Street; 1544 11th Street; 1315 Palisades Beach Road; 1538 18th Street; and 1415 Centinela Avenue.