Help Save LA’s Last Chili Bowl-Shaped Restaurant

Businesses shaped like cameras, tamales, coffee pots, a stockinged leg, animals, hats, and more emerged in the 1920s through the 1940s as a quintessentially Los Angeles art form, with a novel charm that attracted customers and gawkers alike.

Sadly, most of them have been demolished, and one of them is under threat of annihilation right now. The Chili Bowl, located on Pico Blvd. on the West Side, was one of a chain of chili restaurants that began in 1931. It’s one of LA’s oldest (and all too rare) remaining examples of programmatic architecture.

Both the Los Angeles Conservancy and the Los Angeles Cultural Heritage Commission sought landmark status for the Chili Bowl, but the current property owners want to instead raze the historic building. The matter went up to vote on June 15, but City Councilmember Mike Bonin voted to deny landmark status to the building, and the City Council’s Planning and Land Use Committee deferred to Councilmember Bonin’s wishes.

The cultural historians behind Esotouric just started Friends of the Chili Bowl, with a petition calling for Bonin to save and move the last Chili Bowl restaurant in the city of LA. You can help this effort to preserve a piece of LA history by signing the petition.

Karin E. Baker

About Karin E. Baker

Karin E. Baker is a native Angeleno who loves the eateries, history, nature, architecture, and art of her hometown. When not exploring poke shacks in Kona, tascas in Córdoba, and konditoris in Malmö, she writes about food, culture, lifestyle and travel. She obsesses over comma usage and classic films and is always happy to find an excuse to open a bottle of champagne.
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4 Responses to Help Save LA’s Last Chili Bowl-Shaped Restaurant

  1. Donald Neal says:

    I guess they slipped Mike Bonin plenty of compensation for his favor. It’s always about the money. I hope a better person saves it. Such a neat building.

    • Karin E. Baker Karin E. Baker says:

      Yeah, Donald, you have to question why Bonin – or any local official – thinks that such a unique building should be destroyed. Doesn’t LA have a plethora of boring, architecturally insignificant structures more worthy of replacement?

  2. Ed Simon Ed Simon says:

    Being a little older, I grew up seeing the Tail of the Pup, the Brown Derby and others. I walk through the Whale’s mouth many times when we went with my parents and my aunt to the Fish Shanty on La Cienega. I can date my love of Asian cuisines from visiting Wan-Q an Pico and feeling (at 10 years old) that we were in fact on a trip to an exotic Asian locale. Going to Universal Studios Tour was fun—but to me the highlight was having dinner at Victoria Station, which in the day was much more what I thought a train station should be like than Union Station.
    The days of iconic restaurants that brought people due to their unique looks is gone, but I hope someone in LA saves the Chili Bowl. Most of our neat theme restaurant designs are gone—it’s at least time to save what was unique theme architecture that helped create a feeling of not only enjoying a meal, but enjoying where you were. Surely some restauranteur or culinary history fan has enough money to save some of those wonderful period pieces. I’ve got memories of lots of old LA and Hollywood, but very few that stick in my memory as much as the restaurants that were as fun to look at as they were to eat in.

    • Karin E. Baker Karin E Baker says:

      I love these memories, Ed. Thanks for sharing them. You should flesh them out into an article. I never went to Wan-Q but going to Victoria Station always felt very special.

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