Googie-style Union 76 gas station in Beverly Hills moves toward landmark status

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An eye-catching and oft-photographed Googie gas station in Beverly Hills is getting a new chance at landmark status. Last week, the Beverly Hills City Council voiced its support for taking steps toward landmarking the property and handed the matter to the cultural heritage commission for the next phase.

The design of the dramatic, swooping Union 76 gas station is the work of Chinese-American architect Gin Wong of the firm William L. Pereira and Associates. Wong, a longtime associate of Pereira, is also credited as the designer of the Theme Building at LAX.

“In my opinion, this building is one of the reasons that we have a historical preservation ordinance,” said councilmember John Mirisch, who suggested reviving the landmarking process for the gas station. (A 2013 attempt at historic status for the property was thwarted, because the owner didn’t support it.)

Wong died this month Wong, underscoring the need to protect his “masterpiece,” Mirisch said.

Wong’s design was intended for Century Boulevard near LAX but another design was chosen for the airport site, and it was used instead to replace an existing gas station at Crescent Drive and Santa Monica Boulevard.

Googie is a flamboyant post-war architecture style intended to catch the attention of passing motorists. In this case, it worked: Gas sales increased from 100,000 to 150,000 gallons per month when it opened in 1965, according to a staff report.

Glen Leisure, a member of the family that owns the gas station property, told the City Council at its September 19th meeting that he did not disagree that the building is worthy of landmarking.

But, he said, he’s worried about the limits that landmarking might have on future uses of the site. “If it was no longer a gas station, what would it be? What kind of use could it be in terms of Beverly Hills property, the land values, and the economic return you’d get on a property like that?” he said.

Leisure said “landmarking at this point would restrict our options,” but that he was open to seeing what possibilities for reuse the city could suggest.

City staffers told the council that the gas station would be the first building in Beverly Hills to be landmarked without having owner support for the designation.

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