Preservation Watch: Goodbye to Irv’s Burgers

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Jason Groman singles out vintage buildings in West Hollywood soon to receive the kiss of the wrecking ball.


KCRW’s Jason Groman (composer of DnA’s theme music) is a native Angeleno with architecture in his DnA: he is nephew of venerable Palm Springs architect Donald Wexler. He keeps tabs on historic Los Angeles buildings that are disappearing in the blizzard of new building starts, and here takes us on a trip down memory lane in the City of West Hollywood.

West Hollywood as of late has been in my Preservation hot zone. Iconic locations are being torn down in favor of new developments. This summer there were two big losses on the Sunset Strip: the Tiffany Theatre and the Petersen Office Tower. They were torn down to make way for a four tower project called Sunset/LaCienega (rendering, above). The project consists of two ten-story hotel towers, two eight-story residential towers (by SOM and local architect Lorcan O’Herlihy, who has designed some terrific residential buildings in West Hollywood) and ground-level retail stores throughout.

tiffany theaterTiffany Theater

The Tiffany Theater received the kiss of the wrecking ball on August 8th, 2013. Built in 1935, the historic theater featured an interior that was designed by Ben Mayer and a façade and marquee was designed by Heath & Company. The Tiffany was the first movie theater on the Sunset Strip. Nestled in between Dean Martins “Dino’s Lodge restaurant, & Hugh Hefner’s “Playboy Club” Highrise, pictured above. But before the Tiffany was destroyed, the sign was preserved thanks to the efforts of a local historian Alison Marino.

I always thought that the Tiffany was the best theatre in the country to see a 3D film. The unique angle of the auditorium created the perfect conditions for projecting 3D films. The Tiffany hosted many revival 3D revivals of Dial “M” For Murder”, “House Of Wax” and even “Kiss Me Kate”.  The Tiffany had record crowds in the late ’70’s to the early 80’s as home for the midnight showing of the “Rocky Horror Picture Show” (now screened at The Nuart in West Los Angeles).

Petersen Office Tower

peterson buildingOn the demolition slate to make room for the Sunset/LaCienega Project is the Petersen Office Tower, the former home of Robert Petersen’s Publishing Headquarters, the firm that created Hot Rod Magazine, Motor Trend, Guns & Ammo, Tiger Beat and Teen magazines.

This building was  part of LA lore even before Robert Petersen moved in, and is believed to have once served as a film vault for Howard Hughes. It’s also been rumored that Robert Petersen met Margie McNally, his future wife, in the building back when she was Miss Rhinegold Beer.

End of the Road for Irv’s Burgers

Mama Hong, pictured right, will always take care of you. The Hongs’ American Dream was realized after purchasing Irv’s Burgers in 2000. Sonia, Sean and Mama Hong (shown left) used all of their savings to keep Irv’s Burgers afloat; however, it will be closing at the end of October. According to Sonia Hong, “The next door neighbor is taking over her kitchen, and is throwing us out.” We encourage everyone to visit Irv’s within the next three weeks and order up one the best burgers in Los Angeles, and give Mama Hong a hug!

As Vickie Burns wrote in 2004 in “Route 66 Mother Road,” Irv’s Burgers has remained a roadside eatery since its inception in 1948. As part of the late-40s/early 50s boom Irv’s Burgers was designed to serve the motoring tourist that shaped Los Angeles. Carey McWilliams notes, “Not only did the tourists stimulate the later mass migrations, but they left an imprint on the land.” Fronting as it does the “Mother Road,” Route 66, Irv’s Burgers prominently participated in and reflected the road culture of the period. “The highway, which ran from Chicago to Santa Monica, came to represent the romance of the open road. Today, it still rekindles fond memories of ’57 Chevys and family summer vacations.” 

LINDA IRVSAs Route 66 lost its prominence as a national artery, the focus of Irv’s Burgers changed. Throughout its seven-owner history, it became a haunt for actors and film crews. Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix, and Jim Morrison sampled its burgers. Martin Sheen and John Cassavetes sat at its stools. Linda Ronstadt featured Irv’s Burgers on the cover of her “Living in the USA” album.

The Tiffany Theatre, The Petersen Building and Irv’s Burgers may not have been among the most architecturally significant buildings in Los Angeles, but the institutions spoke to the heart of the city.

Tower Records

Tower Records is a kiss away from being demolished but fans of this piece of music history fear that it’s not long before it will be erased to make way for a larger development on this valuable piece of real estate.

As a kid I spent many hours at the Tower Records store on the Sunset Strip. On one summer evening in 1987, a stretch limo pulled into the constantly over-crowded parking lot, and out walked Michael Jackson. While thumbing through the new release section Michael Jackson walked up to me and asked, “What’s hot?” I looked up and suddenly realized who asked me that question. With trepidation I said, “you are, sir.”

Jerome Cleary of West Hollywood Patch and author of Riot on Sunset Strip: Rock ‘n’ Roll’s Last Stand in Hollywood, has launched a crowdfunding campaign to support efforts to have the building landmarked in someway, marking it history as a musical center and the Strip’s prominence in pop culture history — a challenge because the building, dating from 1971, is too “young” to qualify for designation as a local cultural resource.  He writes, “the history of Hollywood and Los Angeles is that of an international  recording center,” because of its many studios in and around the Strip.

tower records