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

Googie-style Superior market in Highland Park.

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.”

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