Proving that cats always land on their feet, a 49-year-old neon sign in Los Angeles inched closer to historic designation earlier this month.
The city's Cultural Heritage Commission voted 4-1 on July 12 to recommend the Felix Chevrolet sign for designation as a Los Angeles Historic-Cultural Monument. At the meeting, however, representatives of Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and a city councilmember opposed the designation, saying it could impede development of the area.
Because lofts and condos are planned nearby, local activists nominated the three-sided sign with a 180-page application last August.
"I truly believe that politicians will be surprised by the public response," says Jim Childs, chair of the Adams Dockweiler Heritage Organizing Committee, a preservation group he formed in 1988. "Everybody loves the Hollywood Sign, but this [sign] makes people smile. I haven't met anybody who doesn't get excited by Felix the Cat."
Winslow Felix, a prominent businessman of Mexican descent, opened Felix Chevrolet in 1920. Felix, a friend of animator Pat Sullivan, who created the "Felix the Cat" movies, borrowed the popular character to jump-start his new business. In 1958, a new owner hired Wayne Heath, who designed signs for Denny's and Winchell doughnuts, to create the existing sign, whose Plexiglas-and-neon letters measure 15 feet tall.
Felix Chevrolet's current owner, Darryl Holter, son-in-law of the owner who erected the sign, is willing to donate the sign to the Neon Museum, but has said little about the 1920s moderne showroom.
"The commission found that the showroom and the sign were two integral parts to the whole and should not be separated from each other or relocated from its prominent historic location," says Mike Buhler, director of advocacy for the Los Angeles Conservancy, which testified in support of the nomination at the July 12 meeting.
Now the commission's decision goes to the city's Planning, Land Use, and Management Committee, which in September will pass a recommendation to the city council for a final decision.
Although the potential designation doesn't protect the sign or the showroom, it would trigger a review process that makes it more difficult to remove or demolish the structures.
In the meantime, Childs and his committee will try to get the word out about the threat to the Felix sign.
"When political pressure can deny the people's right to their legacy … it's wrong, but wrong things happen," Childs says.
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