Elyse Grinstein, architect of the avant-garde KFC building at the SE corner of Western and Oakwood has died, reported the Los Angeles Times today. Grinstein was an arts patron and co-founder of Gemini G.E.L., one of the country’s foremost publishers of art lithography. At 48, she enrolled in UCLA’s master’s program for architecture. She graduated at 50 and interned with her close friend, Frank Gehry, before starting her own firm, Grinstein/Daniels Inc., according the Times.
The building, at 340 N. Western Ave. in Koreatown, was completed in 1990…and designed (in a very modern nod to LA’s long tradition of “programmatic” architecture, or buildings that looked like what they sold) to resemble a bucket of chicken.
At that time, the LA Weekly wrote:
“The KFC franchise epitomizes the blocky, colorful, asymmetrical, and never subtle building-as-symbol style that typified postmodernist architecture twenty years ago. With fin-like windows for wings, and a red roof for the rooster’s comb, the chicken’s “head” sports the weirdly mounted face of the colonel, with his kindly smirk. It’s as if he’s raising his knowing brow down at potential patrons and saying, “Come on in. You’re gonna love eating my delectable chicken inside this giant chicken (that’s also a bucket).””
“All restaurants, whether posh or popular, are essentially a form of theater,” Grinstein told the the L.A. Times when the building opened. “People go out to dine to see and be seen, whether on Western Avenue or Main Street. We try to set the stage with appropriate scenarios that are dramatic without being intrusive, to achieve a balance between the private act of dining and the public act of people-watching.”
Dramatic, yes. But attractive? That’s in the eye of the beholder — and KFC has shown up on more than one “ugliest buildings” list over the years. But few can argue its status as a local icon. It remains a very visible, instantly recognizable landmark on Western Ave.