[dropcap size=big]I[/dropcap]f seeing L.A. history expunged by the union of trigger-happy developers and corrupt officials horrifies you, you may want to avert your eyes from the next sentence.
Hollywood’s 94-year-old restaurant Pig ‘n Whistle has been gutted and its iconic façade dismantled, before so much as a single permit was issued.
A legendary Cali chain of restaurants and candy shops with roots stretching back to downtown in 1908, this Egyptian Theater-adjacent, Walk of Fame location of Pig ‘n Whistle debuted in 1927. A noted hang of old-timey celebs like Shirley Temple and Howard Hughes, the restaurant earned a mention in the classic 1974 film Chinatown, and once even offered its own stock options.
Its sweeping copper-green marquee, ancient neon sign, and intricate façade, complete with two fife-playing swine, stood as one of Hollywood Boulevard’s oldest and most recognizable sights; its interior of antique tile and carved oak rafters long the backdrop of a crucial roost for guests and stars alike attending the Egyptian.
Now, its insides have been razed and replaced with a new cantina look, its exterior whitewashed, with two grinning skulls replacing the musical pigs around a massive, plastic-backed sign for 'Mr. Tempo' placed prominently across its brow, suggesting a forthcoming cantina from the empire of restaurateur Jorge Cueva.
Sold in 1958 to owners of the still-standing Micelli’s, the Hollywood Pig ‘n Whistle space has lived through numerous reincarnations over the decades, including a stint as a casual pizza spot. Today it is considered a registered cultural resource, but is yet to be designated an official historic landmark. Before the turn of the century, the space was restored to its former glory by chef and nightlife entrepreneur Chris Breed, who positioned it as a restaurant by day and clubbier destination at night.
We first caught wind of the active demolition through the Twitter account of Vintage Los Angeles, who posted yesterday and helped fuel an upsurge in protests from preservation-minded Angelenos. The post sounded the alarm about unpermitted construction on this historic L.A. building.
“The fact that there are guys standing there on the marquee without permits, just doing it as fast as they can, that’s not the way to treat a Hollywood landmark,” Kim Cooper, a social historian, and co-founder of L.A. tour company Esotouric tells L.A. TACO.
Cooper, along with her husband-and-business partner Richard Schave, first learned the building was in the sights of developers back in August. As photos of the dismantled signage swept social media yesterday, a stop-work order was issued at the couple’s insistence, halting further unpermitted construction on the new business. The sign has since been intercepted by Valley Relics Museum before anything worse could occur.
This type of destroy-first, ask-permission-later way of working is nothing they haven’t seen before, having previously worked to preserve a Hollywood bungalow where L.A. author Charles Bukowski lived, following its acquisition by a new owner.
In fact, what’s happening at Pig ‘n Whistle is sadly too believable, given how Netflix is said to have pushed out the non-profit that previously operated the Egyptian Theater next door, took it over, then closed it.
“I have emails on our site showing Mitch O’Farrell working with Netflix to sort of cover-up things that were going on surrounding the takeover of the Egyptian theater. And that’s not okay,” Cooper says.
“People in City Hall are facing RICO charges for the ways they deal with developers and big businesses. Mitch O’Farrell was elected to take care of his community and to serve his constituents, and I don’t think that Netflix is a constituent. Netflix is a big investor.”
Cooper continues, “Everybody would have welcomed a new operator [at Pig ‘n Whistle] who treated it with respect. Now everyone’s asking, 'What is this? What’s it going to be? Is this going to be something that is welcoming to this community, who cares about history? Or acting as if we don’t matter?'”
The answer may lie with the serial entrepreneur whose signage has taken over the Hollywood legend. Jorge Cueva, known as Mr. Tempo, reportedly rose from washing dishes to executive positions at the Daphne’s Greek Café and Sharky’s Woodfire Mexican Grill chain.
His upscale concepts, which include Tempo Cantina and King & Queen Cantina, stretch from Valle de Guadalupe to Santa Monica, with new locations planned in La Paz, New York, Guadalajara, and Vegas, among the many.
A serial entrepreneur, Cueva’s website advertises Mr. Tempo water, Mr. Tempo wine, Mr. Tempo cigars, Mr. Tempo shoes, and Mr. Tempo chamoy candy, among other self-branded Spaceballs: The Movie-esque merchandise.
But it’s in Baja California’s Valle de Guadalupe that Mr. Tempo has been most controversial, lumped in with the many game-changing capitalistscoming under fire in an Instagram account calling out corrupt districting officials, and roasting entrepreneurial incursionists in a fight for the soul of this rabidly popular Mexican wine region.
Cueva immediately received criticism for opening his restaurant concept in Valle de Guadalupe that boasts Flamin' Hot Cheeto-crusted sushi rolls and tequila shots, starkly standing out from the more lux-forward 'Baja Mediterranean' style food and wine-based food culture in this Mexican wine country. Valle's longtime residents, whose families go back generations in the region, accuse Cueva of bringing an unwanted Cantina environment that promotes rowdier tourists, who prefer getting lit to taking in Valle's long-established, serenity-paired, fine-wine ambiance.
Already, the damage done to Pig ‘n Whistle’s interior and façade is beyond alarming to preservationists and anyone who values L.A. history.
Cooper and Schave reminds us we’re not powerless in these situations, however, encouraging anyone concerned to let our voices be heard by the staff of appointed and elected officials. “We know that Mitch O’Farrell’s inclination is that anybody who can write him a check is a constituent,” she says. “That’s not the truth. His constituents are the people who were emailing him yesterday saying, ‘Hey, we want you to call Building & Safety, which had a report saying there was construction happening without permits, and close it. We want you to do something.’”
“If they can restore what they destroyed, that would be a real wake-up call for people who come into these historic spaces and think they can do whatever they want and ask permission later.”
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