If you know L.A. lore, you know why a cat sells cars on Figueroa. It was the agreement between two friends, the "creator" of Felix the Cat, animation studio head Pat Sullivan, who gave car dealership owner Winslow Felix full use of Felix the Cat to sell automobiles. In 2007, Felix Chevrolet (now Felix Chevrolet-Cadillac) and it’s historic geometric neon sign at Figueroa and Jefferson is considered a landmark.
Well . . .not quite yet.
The neon sign, and the showroom itself, received a site inspection from The Cultural Heritage Commission just last Thursday, March 15. It's the second of three steps needed to designate a landmark as an official Los Angeles Historic-Cultural Monument. The first is “consideration” based on merit of the application, the second is a tour of the site, and the third is a decision that may come as soon as May 3 when a meeting will take place during the 32nd California Preservation Foundation Conference being held at the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel.
The Felix Chevrolet showroom is also being considered for landmark status as the building is associated with the re-introduction of automobile sales following World War II and is a rare regional example of a postwar automobile showroom. And not for the original design, according to a report by Jim Childs, Chair of the Adams-Dockweiler Heritage Organizing Committee, who sent the August 2006 application to save the cat.
The report quotes sources that state the 1946 dealership alteration “no longer embodies the distinctive characteristics of an early automobile showroom,” but found “the showroom’s characteristic design has historical significance in its own right. "The paring of highly modern canted glass showroom with the curvilinear canopy, executed in the tradition of the Streamline Modern style, embodies the basic characteristics of an early postwar automobile showroom.” It adds that the showroom and storefront keeps it's historic significance intact, and "The Felix the Cat rooftop sign is unchanged and retains all aspects of integrity."
To many it's a surprise that the Felix Chevrolet sign is not already designated a cultural landmark and it makes the surrounding site vulnerable to the continued development along The Figueroa Corridor. USC has expanded it’s architectural brick chic with the Galen Center Pavilion, across the street from the Felix Chevrolet lot and there’s more retail and housing planned in the region. With the passing of sign designer Wayne E. Heath last May, The Felix Chevrolet rooftop sign received a lot of attention as an iconic example of 1950’s commercial signage.
Last year, the public outcry for the orange Union 76 Balls prompted ConocoPhillips to offer museums displaced signage. But there's only one Felix the Cat sign, and not many classic showrooms left. Soon, Felix Chevrolet may officially be a designated landmark representing the fully equipped legacy of California's early automobile cultural, 1940's postwar modern buildings, and 1950's neon sign history.
We will post some highlights from the August 2006 proposal, courtesy of Jim Childs.
Top: Felix the Cat sign at night. November, 2006. Middle: Felix Chevrolet showroom and sign. March, 2007. Bottom: Felix the Cat sticker on vintage Chevy, seen at car show on Route 66. November 2006 Photos: ViewFromaLoft