As many of you know, I love places and things that are old and awesome. My day job involves Historic Preservation, so I’m incredibly lucky that I get to devote lots of time to preserving the historically significant aspects of the built environment and still pay my bills on time. However, I do not live in Los Angeles. Specifically, I do not live in the City of Vernon; which means that despite my love and dedication to Historic Preservation, I can’t stand in front of the bulldozer to stop the current owners of La Villa Basque from an inappropriate remodel. La Villa Basque is a restaurant/lounge/coffee shop that was built in 1960, and still retains its pristine Mid-Century Modern appearance and décor, particularly its signage and interior. It was used recently to film scenes in Season 4 of Mad Men, which received the L.A. Conservancy’s 2011 Media Award.
Unfortunately, it appears that owner, former City of Vernon Mayor Leonis Malburg, and the operators of the restaurant do not appreciate this intact Mid-Century Modern building for the historic resource that it is. According to the L.A. Conservency:
The restaurant recently changed management and is undergoing some changes. The Conservancy considers La Villa Basque to be truly unique and, until now, highly original. We have reached out several times to the new management to no avail.
The banquet rooms have been gutted and combined into one large event space. Custom wooden screens have been removed from the main dining area and main entry, along with other original features.
While the new managers may have the very best of intentions, they might simply not fully understand how important the individual original features are to the restaurant’s overall character.
A recent email from L.A. Conservancy also indicates that the original (and amazing) sign will soon come down in order to accommodate the restaurants new name, Vivere. Full disclosure: I have not been to La Villa Basque to confirm this, as I live more than 100 miles away. However, I still find the news heartbreaking. The L.A. Times ran a recent article that provides additional information:
The operators are giving La Villa Basque a new name, “Vivere,” and a sign in front boasts “New Chef, New Menu, New Vibe.” Nooooooooooooooo!
New Chef? New Menu? Of course! But why New Vibe? Earth to Mr. Malburg and associates… the “Vibe”, i.e. Retro 1960’s, is ALL THE RAGE right now. Why not capitalize on that?
Ironically, in its “History” section, the website for La Villa Basque boasts about the architecture and calls the restaurant a Vernon Landmark:
Built in 1960, La Villa Basque Restaurant is a staple of the City of Vernon. The French/Basque style heritage has attracted over 1 million guests since its doors opened. The decor is original Googie Architecture with a Rat Pack martini lounge with contemporary overtures like plasma TV and progressive wine list.
Remember what I said about capitalizing on the Retro-1960’s vibe? The website also has a section promoting the restaurant for filming location scouts:
Why not consider Vernon for your next production. With Warehouses, Restaurants, Factories, Rail yards and Wide Boulevards, this clean town may have exactly what you need. Modern and classic architecture co-exist in a city that understands your needs. We are certain you can save money and keep your project under budget filming here.
Keep your plasma TV, and your progressive wine list. But also keep your fantastic Mid-Century appearance. Are your booths worn out? Ok, fix them up. Is your ceiling leaky? Fix that too. Repair as needed. But why change a good thing? A thing that is clearly already recognized as a destination, and could be promoted as such.
I find it so unfortunate that people can be so short sighted when it comes to architecture. The 1960’s may seem too recent to preserve, but mark my words, someday Mid-Century Modern architecture will be looked at like Victorian architecture is today. People were tearing Victorian and Craftsman houses down like crazy not too long ago, and now we’re collectively kicking ourselves for destroying the historic fabric of our older neighborhoods. I’m not saying that all Mid-Century modern buildings should be preserved indefinitely. But the pristine ones? The perfect ones? The unique ones? Why not keep them intact? We’ll thank ourselves later. Heck, I’ll thank you now.
For more pictures of this Mid-Century treasure, check out this photostream on Flickr: La Villa Basque