Mel’s Resurrects a Googie Masterpiece in Santa Monica

Imagine traveling Route 66 in 1959, perhaps in a brand new stunning Chevy Impala. After days on the road you finally roll up to the intersection of Lincoln and Olympic (the true end of the Mother Road) in the beach city of Santa Monica, and you are greeted by a dapper looking penguin in a red bowtie atop a sign near a building that almost looks like a paper airplane about to take off. You have arrived at The Penguin.

The Penguin served weary Route 66 travelers and locals alike or decades until it was shuttered in 1991 and turned into, of all things, a dentist’s office, where it was “entombed beneath a dull drop ceiling and the beigest of beige drywall.” Then in 2016 Mel’s Drive-In came to the rescue and began a two year restoration, unearthing original flagstone, rebuilding the counter, and bringing it back to the welcoming diner it once was. Mel’s even decided to keep the iconic dapper penguin.

A dapper penguin sits atop a blue neon sign reading "Mel's Drive-In An American Classic"

The sign at the corner of Olympic and Lincoln reading "Historic California US 66 Route End"

The building, with its white low pitch roof, peeked in the middle, walls of glass, and flagstone at either end.

Low pitch white roof juts out over wall to wall windows. The building resembles a paper airplane almost.

Close-up of the penguin, who wears a red bowtie.

Along the side the roofline zig-sags toward the back. Flagstone bookends the windows.

Me, reading the menu at Mel's.

Above the counter in silver letters reads "Santa Monica"

St. Louis Arch inside the fish tank.

Silvery blue upholster booths curve gently around the length of the building, which features high walls of glass to look outside.

Inside fish tank are miniatures of Route 66 icons, including Mel's, and classic cars.

Me battling with the ketchup bottle for my fries.

A dapper penguin sits atop a blue neon sign reading "Mel's Drive-In An American Classic"

Low pitch white roof juts out over wall to wall windows. The building resembles a paper airplane almost. Two tall palm trees stand in front.

A dapper penguin sits atop a blue neon sign reading "Mel's Drive-In An American Classic"

A mosaic reading "Mel's drive-in Historic California US 66 Route Ends Here"

The Penguin was designed by Googie master architects Armet & Davis, who gave us such icons as Norms, Pann’s, and Johnnie’s here in southern California.

Mel’s Drive-In, which started out in 1947 in San Francisco, and is iconic for its role in George Lucas’ American Graffiti, is a chain that works to keep up the nostalgia of the 1950s and 60s, while also preserving important buildings, such as the former Ben Franks on the Sunset Strip, and the Max Factor building in Hollywood.

The new Mel’s is located at 1670 Lincoln Blvd. in Santa Monica, and is open 24 hours! Read more about Mel’s and check out their other locations on their website.

Sources
Mel’s Story. Mel’s Drive-In.
Nichols, Chris. “Santa Monica’s Penguin Coffee Shop Is Being Restored.” Los Angeles Magazine.

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