Debate grows over landmark status for Highland Park Googie-style market

By Nathan Solis

Highland Park’s Shopper’s Market building is in an awkward position these days. Current tenant Superior Grocers wants to revamp the market’s facade, but local preservationists consider the building a hallmark of Googie architecture that was popular when the building was built in 1960.

The city’s Cultural Heritage Commission voted unanimously to designate the mid-century building on Figueroa Street at Avenue 45 a city historic cultural monument.  But new Councilman Gil Cedillo  introduced a motion to slow down review of  the landmark nomination to “enable all interested stakeholders more time to fully deliberate its merits.”  Meanwhile,  support for Superior Grocers’  remodeling plan has drawn the support of a local coffee house owner and has also attracted the attention of a member of the Los Angeles Planning Commission.

The historical-cultural monument nomination, filed by the Highland Park Heritage Trust, is now scheduled to be reviewed by the Planning and Land Use Management Committee on Tuesday, Oct.  22 before it heads to the full City Council for a final vote.

Superior Grocer’s proposed revamp would altar the store’s facade of broad windows and swooping arches. The attention the building is receiving is nothing new, as a number of other super market chains have wanted to altar the store’s design in the past. “Lucky’s wanted to go big box in 1997 when they were there and Albertsons wanted to remodel as Neo-Craftsman,” says local historian and author of the historical nomination Charles J. Fisher.

Fisher sees the building caught between two opposing views: the Shopper’s Market building is now over 50 years old and is viewed as a cultural heritage to the community.

“But it’s also viewed as being old or something that should be changed. Mock-craftsman is not something historic. This new design is trying to patronize the community to blend in with the area, and it’s not going to blend in,” says Fisher of the proposed designs from Superior Grocers.

Former Councilman Ed Reyes was a vocal supporter of preserving the Shopper’s Market building and a mover of presenting the issue to the City Council.

Current Highland Park Councilman Cedillo has yet to make a statement on the proposed nomination, but does sit on the Planning and Land Use Management Committee along with Jose Huizar and Mitchell Englander.

Christine Pierron, head of the Arroyo Seco Neighborhood Council’s land use committee,  views the issue as important to everyone.

“It falls into the zone people don’t really see as historical, because they use it everyday as a market … it’s just sitting there, crucial for the area,” Pierron said.

On a rainy day outside Superior Grocers a woman carrying her groceries remarks on the proposed change, “No es necesario. (It’s not necessary.)”

An employee who spoke anonymously said, “I think that if they do remodel it would be a big headache, because we would still be open.”

Why has it taken so long for the market to be recognized as a historic-cultural monument?

According to Fisher,  the historic district that includes much of Highland Park and Garvanza has had an agreement with Superior Grocers that they would not nominate the building if Superior promised to leave store’s facade alone. “Earlier this year Superior came to us letting us know that they were going to remodel the front of the store and they did not want our input,” says Fisher who sits on board of the Highland Park-Garvanza Historic Overlay Preservation Zone.

Superior Grocers, which lease the building, was unavailable for comment at the time.

Superior Grocers has picked up some recent supporters. Local coffee shop owner Yancey Quinones  of Cypress Park said in a written statement that he supports Superior Grocer’s plans to remodel the building. Quinones goes on to state that architect Ronald Cleveland, who is credited with designing more than 100 supermarkets,  “made millions and yet he never helped the neighborhoods where his designs were executed.” Said Quinones in his statement:

“I choose to side with Superior Market for their investment in our community through scholarships, donations and partnerships they offer. I have yet to find another entity which is willing to work side by side with our neighborhoods, businesses, schools and parents.”

A media advisory and Quinones’ statement was distributed last week via email by Marta Segura, a newly appointed member of the Los Angeles Planning Commission.  Segura, who works as a community relations consultant, did not respond to emails asking how she got involved in the matter. “The bottom line is that I am working only with the community,” said Segura, who noted the landmark nomination will not be reviewed by the Planning Commission.

Walk past the Superior’s mid-century facade and you will find a modern interior, with up-to-date refrigerators, bakery section, and fluorescent lights. From the inside it appears like most other supermarkets in the area.

Fisher says that the nomination is not intended to disrupt the store’s business, but to preserve the exterior.

“Yes there are encumbrances with a historical status. It puts certain limitations, like trying to demolish or change the facade,” he  said. “There have been similar issues with buildings like this in the past throughout Los Angeles, but now only a handful of them remain now.”


  1. Just want to note that it’s the same Councilman Cedillo who did not care that the owner of the Masonic Temple where his office is located violated HPOZ rules. Not surprised that the councilman would slow down the review for landmark designation.

  2. Since when did supporting the local community via scholarships and jobs mean that any business could trump historic preservation laws simply because they feel entitled to it? Great for Superior for being an active participant in the goings on of Highland Park — but community participation shouldn’t override meaningful attempts at saving historically significant features or structures.

    I’m sure that, back in the 1950s and 1960s, many people thought attempts to preserve the many great theaters lining Broadway, stopping demolition of craftsman homes or enacting historic overlay zones were useless endeavors, too. Now, LA has been kicking itself for allowing the destruction of so many early 1900s structures for the sake of “modernity.” Not everything new is necessarily good. We need to recognize that preserving structures and styles of times past will only help preserve the diverse, wonderful nature of the Eastside communities, but will also serve as inspiration for community members who want to preserve other structures in the future.

    Either way, Superior is acting…well, pretty Superior. It’s kinda funny for a grocery store that’s constantly littered with rotting produce, expired products and horrible customer service. In college, we used to call Superior “Inferior,” and it looks like that judgement still rings true.

    • Preserving buildings that have value built into them, as most traditional architecture does, is not the same as preserving the slap-dash crap that got ping ponged up in the 1950’s onward. This is cheap “modern” cinder block and stucco crap, made for a meaningless, drive-by world that a growing majority of us can’t even afford to inhabit (even if we wanted to) anymore.

      Superior’s design is at least a big step towards a more human-scaled architecture for a community that has been routinely paved over to aid regional commercial and public policy interests.

      Superior is trying to make a profitable, context-specific, investment in their business here – what more do people want?

      I think I know what this is all about: people want Trader Joes or Whole Foods and not a Mexican market. Boo hoo hoo. Superior serves the community we have, not the one that preservationists want.

      • Your last argument doesn’t make sense … “those people” who want Trader Joe’s or Whole Foods would probably want a more updated facade to their grocery store. Most of the folks that are arguing to save the style of this building (myself included) are from the near neighborhood, shop the local markets, and really appreciate the uniqueness of Superior. Or they don’t care either way – Googie or faux-craftsman, they just want their groceries. Why waste the money?

  3. Googie or not, the building that exists now is not worth preserving for all time. Nothing about the current design communicates anything vital nor important to our community nor about our neighborhood other than, “Yes, we bulldozed our past to put up cheap boxes like this dedicated to commerce above all else”. The international style is the opposite of culture – it works against culture. Buildings like this have been mercilessly torn down because their value as buildings is zilch (made of the cheapest materials) and their value as cultural symbols are negative.

    The pseudo-craftsman style Jack in the Box at Avenue 43 is a cartoon of appropriate architecture, and so this Superior will fit right in with the strip mall at Avenue 43, the gas station across the street, and the phony olde-tyme-run-over-by-cars feel of this area.

    Let it go, folks. Superior is building what belongs here, not some Le Corbusier warehouse-in-a-park.

  4. In a rare moment, I’m disagreeing with Mr. ubrayj02. Googie matters. No, it’s not Neo-Classical-Victorian-Colonial-Mission-Revival. And while it may not be an outstanding example of Googie, it does represent a true California-born style that is disappearing from the landscape. The proposed facade is a weak faux Craftsman like the ones you might see among the track homes of Rancho Cucamonga.

    The facade of Superior Grocers is NOT why people shop there. It is the 5x$1 corn, and the fact that they are one of only two full-service supermarkets in 90065. Look around Mt Washington on most weekday mornings and you will see the hillsides dotted with Amazon or Vons grocery delivery trucks. Thousands of people pass this supermarket everyday to get to their home’s atop 90065, but will not shop at Superior’s. Not because it lacks a fake craftsman exterior like the Avenue 43 Jack In The Crack, but because the interior is a miserable warehouse supermarket lacking the higher-quality products that people who can afford to live on Mt. Washington want to eat. People still morn the Albertson’s that was there. People still dream that some day the Superior will be replaced by a Whole Foods.

    Interestingly, that very location is where Los Angeles Historical Cultural Monument #40, Heritage Square’s Hale House was originally built. Like the Googie supermarket that stands there today, in the 1960’s the Queen Anne-style Hale House was considered unworthy of preservation and the owner wanted to demolish it. Luckily, preservationists saved it, and it is now one of the most photographed houses in the city.

    • I agree that the Superior Grocers exterior facade should be saved. According to the LA Conservancy, it is one of the few remaining Googie-style stores left in the City of LA.


      Does it need a brush up? Yes, I think it needs a refresh. It did when Albertsons (closed February 2006) was the tenant and it still does today. However, why do some businesses seem to think that a refresh also requires an architectural design change? So strange when midcentury architecture is featured and appreciated in so many print ads, films, TV commercials, car brochures, and more.

      Here are some ideas that perhaps Superior would consider in the interest of the community and yet still preserve one of the few remaining Googie-style stores:

      1) Add California native plants / trees and/or succulents to current landscaping areas.
      2) Remove the unsightly recycling truck from the parking lot
      3) Limit the permanent “sidewalk sale” to sale days. Consider adding some potted plants or flowers in place of the cardboard displayed merchandise currently outside the store. Maybe Antigua Coffee who is planning to open up inside could actually set up a nice outdoor seating area in place of the current stacked cardboard boxes? Just a thought. After all, from the outside there is a pretty nice view of Debbs Park and Montecito Heights.

      Even Costco has enough sense to keep merchandise inside the store. Superior cannot say that they stack items up because the store is too small. One of their newest stores, Superior Grocers #40 in Bellflower stacks up even more merchandise outside. It seems like the bigger the store, the more room they have on the outside to display!

      Just a couple of years ago, a developer in Century City wanted to tear down the Century Plaza Hotel to build something “better”. Thankfully, in that case, the LA Conservancy stepped in and rallied up a lot of support. Another example is the Bob’s Big Boy in Burbank, the oldest standing Bob’s Big Boy around. At one point a few years ago, the owner had plans to demolish the restaurant. Again, preservationists stepped in and after a long battle, saved the restaurant. Today, the owner realizes that the building is a landmark. Unfortunately, developers successfully razed Johnnie’s Broiler Restaurant in Downey. Luckily, pieces of the landmark building and sign were saved and later restored by the current Bob’s Big Boy that is open at that location. On a sadder note, Gelson’s in West Hollywood closed the cool Mayfair Market on Santa Monica several years ago. It was remodeled completely and opened as a Gelson’s. This is a prime example of an exterior remodel that is already out of style. Had Gelson’s only thought ahead and left it well alone, it would still be considered cool architecture. There are so many more examples of neighborhoods that have lost mid-century architecture. Let’s not let Highland Park be the next victim.

      Please preserve history in Los Angeles by supporting the Historic Cultural Monument nomination of the Superior Grocers Building.

      Paul Evleth
      Mt. Washington

    • “Like the Googie supermarket that stands there today, in the 1960′s the Queen Anne-style Hale House was considered unworthy of preservation”

      Thank you! This is exactly the point I was trying to make elsewhere on this post. It might not seem “useful” or “worth saving” now, since the 60s weren’t that long ago — but when mid century and Googie/Space Age architecture goes the way of the Queen Annes and Eastlake style homes or brick faced buildings, in 2040, people will ask, “Where did we go wrong?”

      People don’t shop at Superior because it’s an ugly store. People don’t shop at Superior because the chain sells low quality food. There are other Hispanic markets I feel better giving my money to and eating food from.

  5. I’m sure that very few of the people who currently shop at Superior are thanking their lucky stars that the Highland Park-Garvanza HPOZ Board is working diligently to ensure that this piece of Googie architecture will be preserved for all eternity. It sounds like some folks might be hanging onto the architecture in case the existing customer base is eventually replaced with a different type of shopper – a future consumer who is thrilled that this quirky, old design is still standing among all of the trendy spots that have opened up in their revitalized part of town. We shall see… I do shop there occasionally and the exterior could definitely use some freshening up. I’m hopeful that there will be a happy medium for preservationists and those who would like to see this space not look so downtrodden.

  6. While I am no fan of developments featuring parking in the front and buildings in the back, the proposed re-design does nothing to change this situation. What is being proposed will destroy Northeast LA architectural history, progressively making the neighborhood less unique and more bland, but “modern and clean.” In Eagle Rock we demolished the “dirty” Shopping Bag Building for the “new and clean” Walgreens that now sits at Colorado Blvd and Eagle Rock Blvd. I would hate to see this facade go away.

  7. Historic preservationists are the bane of gentrifiers. Googie store has gotta go, hipsters throw down mo cash and tell them who’s boss. If HP wants to keep in the top 10 hottest neighborhoods, you gotta give some slack. Quasi-historians wanna-be-involved-in-the-community, go save some victorian-craftsman-bungalow-postwater-queeneanne-spanish-home.

    Public History, PhD

  8. Anyone who has visited that supermarket lately knows its a dump and not the safest place to be at night (although the store itself has security guards) I can see why Superior would want to do a remodel.

    If I was Superior, and would pack my bags and leave if they are not allowed to try to make their store better.

  9. ubrayj02 says that “Superior is trying to make a profitable, context-specific, investment in their business here – what more do people want? I think I know what this is all about: people want Trader Joes or Whole Foods and not a Mexican market. Boo hoo hoo. Superior serves the community we have, not the one that preservationists want.”

    No, actually what I want (as someone who lives nearby, drives by the store every day and shops there at times) is for one of the the last remaining scraps of non-bland/grim architecture on that stretch to not be ruined. That’s really it. I personally don’t care what store occupies the space, and imagine most others who favor its preservation do not either. No amount of (in my view, sorry) confused pseudo-intellectual talk about that type of building having some sort of “negative value” as a “cultural symbol” (what?) negates the fact that (to me, and evidently to others as well) it just simply looks interesting/cool/unique/pretty/however you want to phrase it. (And at dusk, with the lights on, it is pretty spectacular.) That’s subjective, sure. It’s an aesthetic judgment; so is your view that it is essentially “stucco crap” that fails to “communicate anything vital nor important to our community.” (I have a hard time knowing exactly what that means, and how the new design might do that; also, communities change, and to some degree I feel it is often safer/wiser to err on the side of retaining something that — as others point out — may well be valued even more as time passes. And surely there is enough that already ‘communicates’ to the contemporary community?)

    In the end a lot of it, I guess, will simply come down to how many people feel one way or the other. I for one would not set foot inside again if they (again, in my view) ruin it. Not saying that would matter in the slightest to them (and btw, they lease the store, correct? Does the owner care/have a say?), but there may be a few more out there like me.

  10. It doesn’t seem like it would be very hard to both preserve the architecture and spruce up the look. This is a pretty cool looking facade. It seems like the main problem might be a combination of tunnel vision mated with a severe lack of creativity on the part of the owners.

    The councilman on the other hand seems to be lining his pockets … we’d all be better off if he found another job.

    • I doubt Superior Markets is lining the councilman’s pockets. What they are doing is investing in the community through scholarships, donations and partnerships. Or is that just an example of circumlocution?

  11. “Like the Googie supermarket that stands there today, in the 1960′s the Queen Anne-style Hale House was considered unworthy of preservation”

    The difference is that a Victorian from the 1800’s is a real Victorian. This “Googie style” market is not a real Googie building, its a mediocre imitation, it really has no historical significance. Just because it kinda sorta looks like a Googie building doesn’t make it worth preserving for all of time. Preserve real Googies not bad knock offs.

    • Who, though, is to determine once and for all that it has “no historical significance”…? Call it, if you would prefer, a “mid-century grocery market” as they do below, if it does not qualify in your view as a “real Googie”. From laconservancy.org, which claims that there are about 5 other remaining examples of such stores in the entire city of Los Angeles (and if that does not imply that there is at least SOME sort of historical significance involved, what would? If you happen to still personally think it is mediocre, that is another question, I would argue):

      “The Shoppers Market building is a good example of the mid-century grocery market that is becoming an increasingly rare building type.

      Only a handful of such buildings remain in the city that haven’t been altered beyond recognition or demolished. The few intact examples currently house the Vicente Foods in Brentwood, a Ralphs Market in Studio City, a 99 Cents Only in North Hollywood, a Hannam Market World in Koreatown, and a vacant former Big Lots in Hollywood.

      Though they were designed in many different styles by different chains and stores, these markets are instantly recognizable for their wide spans, visible lighting patterns, and extensive glazing that displays the inside out.”

      • The article clearly states “…local preservationists consider the building a hallmark of Googie architecture”. This building is honestly not, most of the essential hallmark of Googie style is the dramatic upward angled ceiling, this building does not have that. All it has is some facade that looks somewhere in between 1960-1970, far from the start bursts and acute angles of 1940-1960 googies.
        Now you want to say well it’s not Googie but its mid-century, and theres only a few example of mid-century grocery stores left so lets preserve it. Please, Mid-century is a broad overused term and quite frankly not everything from mid-century architecture is worth preservation, like for example strip malls or this store.

        After checking ZIMAS, the building appear to have been built in 1966. Most books on the subject place mid century between 1935-1965. With many cutting it off in the early 1960’s, but lets say that this is mid century architecture, boy it sure is a most underwhelming example of it. Here are good examples for comparison. http://mcarch.wordpress.com

        And BTW I’m all about preserving Architecture, I’ve been spending the last 5 years of my life restoring a unique 100+yr old home. I just believe that not everything is always worth preserving, keep the good examples, and if we knock down the bad ones so be it. This city has limited space so lets not dwell and preserve the mediocre, preserve the exceptional and make room for the next generation of architects to erect something better in its place.

  12. It is a large parcel right next to a Gold Line stop! It should be replaced by a mixed use housing project with a grocery store and perhaps other smaller commercial spaces and as many apartment units as is allowable by the high density codes. We live in an urban area. Get over it. This rare large parcel should be developed with mass transit in mind. Who cares about a few pieces of angled aluminum!

    • This isn’t downtown. Please. This is a neighborhood dominated by single-family homes, duplexes, and triplexes, and a train track running through it doesn’t make that any less so.

      • Downtown Los Angeles is noted for buildings well over 3 or 4 stories. A 2 or 4 storied mixed use building on a lot this size is NOTHING like downtown. Given this site’s proximity to the Gold Line, 24 hour bus service, Sycamore Grove Park and the mini commercial complex between Avenue 45 and Avenue 43 I think it would be a winner both financially and for the community if a sprawl-style cinder block building were converted into something more adaptable and profitable to whatever the winds of fortune throw at it. An auto-oriented stucco covered box with a huge moat of half-occupied asphalt is not doing us any favors.

        • Agreed. This is suburban, carchitecture crap. It’s an inefficient, parking crater and reminder to the fact that 50 years ago, we were determined to cover the whole damn city with pavement.

        • Do you honestly, believe the developers will erect something that compliments the community? Or do you believe what will be erected will be a square box with the CHEAPEST possible materials….because the community does not know how to DEMAND quality, smart development? Get your head out of the SAND!

          The Googie facade may not be to your liking; but, it has a quality that makes it unique to Highland Park. Too bad the developer and a few people do not invest the time to inquire on other possibilities for SMART development in Highland Park.

          The developer wants MONEY/PROFITS!!! They come into communities, ruin them with their ugly, poorly thought out projects, and leave to another site. In addition, our current infrastructure is NOT equipped to provide the services the residents of LA need.

          I am one of those kid’s who shopped with her mom! My mom is now 80 years old and she no longer has me taking her to the old Lucky’s Market. She shops at El Super. Drive by…take a look. The beauty of the building is in the eye of the beholder! When you were a kid, “Did you have Art Appreciation?”

  13. I have been to this supermarket since it was a Lucky’s when my mom would conscript me for grocery shopping. I still find myself in that store and to be honest from when I was a kid till now it never struck me as anything historical let alone needing preservation. I think someone earlier said it right, the people who shop there are not really the ones trying to save the front.

    • If the interest is in jobs and more business, save the money on the exterior redo and invest in upgrading the interior layout and design. What local shoppers from Mt Washington bereave is the selection and quality. I have shopped at this store, yet find it the least serviceable market among all in the area where it counts – inside.

      El Super on York Blvd. retained their mid-century architecture after local involvement and seems to be doing just fine. http://highlandpark.wordpress.com/2009/08/20/el-super-is-near/

  14. My Father, Charles Futterman, was the owner of Shoppers Markets. He built this store. He often spoke of the architects and his appreciation of their design. I still love that design. It was a popular look then, and I’m glad so may people seem to like it to this day. I hope it stays.

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