A year ago, the city's Cultural Heritage Commission roundly recommended Henry's Tacos in Studio City be named an architectural monument.
Now the owner of the 51-year-old landmark says the taco stand must close by New Year's Day because its landlord won't parlay with prospective buyers.
Preservationists say because a city land-use committee had shelved the monument recommendation, the classic Googie-style hut could ultimately face the wrecking ball.
"Fifty-one of my 57 years has revolved around Henry's Tacos," said Janis Hood, whose grandfather built the stand at Moorpark Street and Tujunga Avenue. "I'm more than devastated.
"I am devastated for the whole community who have supported us this many years."
Hood nominated Henry's Tacos late last year hoping to preserve one of the nation's oldest gringo taco stands.
Built by her grandfather Henry Comstock in 1961, it preceded the first Taco Bell. Few in the San Fernando Valley had ever tasted a Mexican taco, let alone a gringo version like Henry's.
In the last half century, neither his signature tacos nor his walk-up stand and period "tacos" sign had changed. Hood now owns the business; a landlord owns the property.
"These mid-century intact food stands are becoming much rarer throughout the city" said Ken Bernstein, director of the Office of Historic Resources, which recommended landmark status.
In December, the Los Angeles Cultural Heritage Commission voted 5-0 to recommend the city name Henry's Tacos -- considered a beloved example of "Googie vernacular -- a Historic-Cultural monument.
The landlord, property owner Mehran Ebrahimpour of Beverly Hills, objected to the landmark nomination, saying it could affect the property's sale or development.
The landlord then refused to renew Hood's lease -- and raised her now month-to-month rent by 150 percent.
Then in February, the City Council's Planning and Land Use Management Committee let the landmark nomination lapse. The reason, many say, was a lack of support by local Councilman Paul Krekorian, who wanted a negotiated lease.
Hood, who wants to sell the family business and become a psychotherapist, said she then lined up serious buyers -- which the landlord has turned away. Without a lease, any buyer of the Henry's name will be left with no taco hut.
The result, she said, is Henry's Tacos will close on Dec. 31. And the popular taco stand will soon stand vacant.
"It's a thriving business. There's no reason for it to close," said Hood, who will specially open Sundays the rest of the month to serve nostalgic customers. "Unless we have a miracle, and this landlord realizes we have a win-win, this is it."
Ebrahimpour did not return calls Tuesday. Krekorian issued a lengthy statement saying it would be sad to see the taco icon close.
"While I have always been supportive of a historical designation for the building, the passionate effort by many in our community to save Henry's continues to be best directed to the business owner and the property owner," Krekorian said. "For it is they alone who will decide whether Henry's will continue."
But some say Krekorian may have crumbled taco shells on his hands for his refusal to support a City Council landmark vote.
If Henry's Taco's had been named a city monument, critics say, it would have pressured the property owner to lease his landmark to whomever offered to buy the Henry's Taco business.
"Krekorian refused to support the nomination. It was stopped in council by Krekorian," said historian Charlie Fisher, author of the Henry's Tacos landmark nomination. "As a result, we have no monument."
Other preservationists worry about Henry's Tacos, too, in a city that has thrown landmarks beneath the bulldozer.
"We're concerned about its future," said Adrian Scott Fine, advocacy director of the Los Angeles Conservancy. "If the business decides to close, there's no protection for the building and its future.
"We want to see the building preserved and used, and the best thing would be to have a taco stand."
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