Long-time Mar Vista Lanes diner, Pepy’s Galley, an iconic, authentically Googie-style restaurant, closed its doors forever on Monday. By most accounts, the interior will be a total loss, as the building’s new owner, BowlmorAMF, intends to convert Pepy’s into a catering space for the adjacent bowling alley. The Mar Vista Lanes complex was designed by famed architects Armet & Davis, a seminal Los Angeles firm also known for Pann’s and the original Norm’s restaurant.
Inside Pepy’s for the last time. (Russell Fortmeyer)
For longtime business owner, Joseph “Pepy” Gonzalez, the decision marks the end of a 45-year association with the restaurant, first as an employee and then as proprietor. Pepy’s is on a month-to-month lease from the bowling alley, so he’s only had 30 days to wrap up his operations. “This neighborhood is a family-oriented place,” said Pepy. “That’s how I run my restaurant—the employees are my kids, and you customers are my family.”
The family nature of the restaurant is reflected in the multiple uses of the bowling alley complex, which also includes an arcade area and a bar with a separate entrance. Located along Venice Boulevard, just east of Centinela, the bowling alley retains many of its authentic architectural details, including a cast-concrete block façade that angles back from the property line to open up views and create visual interest.
Mar Vista Lanes opened in 1961 with a Tiki-themed bar; you can still find a single carved wood Tiki column outside the entrance to Pepy’s. It’s unclear whether the new owners will retain these classic architectural elements. In the meantime, a Facebook group has been established, seeking to prevent the closure, although the new owners have released a statement suggesting it was too late.
Jon Yoder, associate professor of architecture at Ohio’s Kent State University and an authority on the visuality of Los Angeles architecture, as well as a longtime Pepy’s customer, lamented the loss of yet another Googie-style temple to the greasy spoon. Taking time out from eating a custom, off-the-menu breakfast burrito recently at Pepy’s, Yoder reflected on the nuanced visual complexity of the Googie style, something he views as lost in the chain restaurant culture that dominates most American cities. “The spatial configuration forces mixing of different sizes of parties and types of people,” Yoder said, noting tightly controlled nautical themed space with counter seating, fixed booths, and combinable booths with flip-up table wings. “There’s some place for everyone here.”
This visual complexity was not accidental. In 1980, the late historian Esther McCoy wrote in the Los Angeles Herald-Examiner of the influence of the style, which emerged following the original Googie’s diner designed by John Lautner in 1949 and built next to the famous Schwab’s pharmacy. That diner, which has been replaced by a bland multi-story, mixed-use shopping center at Sunset Boulevard and Laurel Canyon, marked a shift, in McCoy’s view, on how restaurant design could locate the viewer in space. “For the first time the tables and booths in a small restaurant were oriented to the outside rather than the cash register…” wrote McCoy. “Through large windows at the front and side was a view of the hills in the distance, the stream of traffic in the middle ground, and in the foreground you could see who was going in or out of Schwab’s.” From the vantage point of a booth at Pepy’s, McCoy could have been describing either diner.
Googie diners are becoming rare specimens in Los Angeles, even though the style ranks as an icon of the city’s taste culture. But like much of the city’s architectural production, historically weighted toward commercial returns and public trends, eventually mainstream fascination wanes and developers seek fresher aspirational expressions of consumer fantasy. That said, no one can argue with the classic that is Pepy’s off-the-menu breakfast burrito.