Ship's Coffee Shop in Culver City must be closed and relocated so that Overland Avenue can be widened, according to a long-awaited environmental impact report.
Although the report, prepared by the Redevelopment Agency, said the agency has found a new site for the 1950s-style diner and would pay all relocation costs, the owner said the restaurant should stay where it is.
"It's impractical to move it," said Emmett Shipman. "The mover says that he can move it. He could probably move anything. But you can't break it up and move it. It's got terrazzo floors and it has all tile walls. All that would have to be torn apart."
The Redevelopment Agency wants to widen Overland Avenue between Venice and Washington boulevards. It issued the environmental impact report on the widening last month and has scheduled a public hearing for 7:30 p.m. April 21 in the council chambers. The agency will make a final decision May 5.
Proposals to widen Overland Avenue, which runs north-south from West Los Angeles through the center of Culver City, have been under discussion for 20 years.
Susan Berg, project manager for the agency, said the current plan calls for widening Overland by more than 40 feet to add two southbound lanes, a 60-foot-long southbound right-turn lane and a left-turn lane to Washington.
New Parking Lot
Berg said that 51 angled parking spaces would be lost on the western side of Overland but that the agency would construct a 49-space parking lot for the Culver Center shopping mall on part of the Ship's parcel. A storm drain and a 10-foot-wide sidewalk would also be installed on the western side of the street.
The agency is still negotiating with Howard T. Ryan, co-owner of the Ship's parcel, to sell the land to the city, Berg said. If the agency cannot persuade Ryan to sell, it may acquire the property by eminent domain.
The staff report said that the 30-year-old Ship's could move to a site several blocks away, on Venice Boulevard near Vinton Avenue. The agency would pay the moving expenses, which could amount to more than $40,000, the report stated. Ship's is located at 10705 Washington Blvd.
But Shipman said the proposed site is less visible from the road and more difficult to enter.
"You might as well put it in my back yard," he said.
Shipman said that if the agency acquires the land, he probably will close the restaurant and lay off about 50 employees.
"To me, (the agency) has an utter disregard for the people of Culver City, which we provide a service to," he said.
Ryan, a contractor, said that city officials are looking for a way to solve a longstanding parking problem at the Culver Center shopping mall, which is behind Ship's. He also said that the center's restaurants would prosper if Ship's were moved.
Ryan said he and Shipman gave the city a 15-foot strip of land to widen Overland in 1956, when the diner was built. He said city officials told him and Shipman then that no more land would be needed.
Agency officials said they can find no evidence of the agreement. Ryan and Shipman said the agreement was a verbal one.
Shipman said Ted Owings, former Culver City city clerk, said he remembers the agreement. City officials, however, said that even if Owings did remember such an agreement, it probably would not be valid. Owings could not be reached for comment.
"A verbal agreement would not have any (legal) standing," said Culver City's acting city attorney, Joseph W. Pannone. "Issues involving property, to be the most effective, would have to be in writing. . . . We find nothing, no mention of this supposed agreement."
Besides, Pannone said, "a past city council cannot prevent a new city council from exercising eminent domain."
Councilman Paul Jacobs, who is chairman of the Redevelopment Agency, said Overland must be widened.
"I think it's well documented that there is a traffic congestion problem," he said. "I would advise any doubter to try and make a left turn at the intersection (of Overland and Washington) around 5 p.m."
Planners say Overland must be widened because it will serve major developments in the city such as Filmland Corporate Center and the Goldrich & Kest senior housing complex.
But preservationists say Ship's should be saved as an architectural landmark. The Los Angeles Conservancy and several individuals have written to the city urging it to preserve the diner.
The Culver City Ship's was the first of three that Shipman built in the Westside in the mid-1950s. He owns another on the corner of Olympic Boulevard and La Cienega. In 1984, he lost his lease on the third one in Westwood.
'Coffee Shop Modern'
Its design is hailed as an example of "Coffee Shop Modern" or "Googie," an architectural design developed in Southern California in the 1950s in response to the car culture and the Space Age. The restaurant's neon sign suggests a flying rocket ship.
Alan Hess, a San Anselmo architect, said that Ship's is one of only half a dozen examples of the '50s style in the Southland that have not been altered or remodeled.
"The good thing about Ship's is that it looks the same way it did in 1956 when it opened," said Hess, who recently wrote a book on coffee shop architecture in Southern California.
He said that it is easier for city officials to focus on Overland's traffic patterns than on the esthetic and historic value of Ship's.
"It is tragic that we will lose this building for a street widening project that is not really pressing," he said.