Laura Bliss is CityLab’s West Coast bureau chief. She also writes MapLab, a biweekly newsletter about maps (subscribe here). Her work has appeared in The New York Times, The Atlantic, Sierra, GOOD, Los Angeles, and elsewhere, including in the book The Future of Transportation.
Watch live on the web as the 1960s Mission-style building gets relocated to corporate headquarters for safekeeping.
I always assumed that Taco Bell was named after the bells that top California missions, a kind of romantic blurring of the realities of the 18th-century Franciscan compounds. But today I learned that Taco Bell was, in fact, named for a human Bell: Glen Bell, who “pioneered” the concept of tacos as fast food in 1960s Southern California.
Now, in a collision of all of these Columbus-y strands of history, the place that housed the very first Taco Bell—the small, “Mission-style” building in Downey, southeast of L.A., was built 1962—will be preserved for posterity.
Though the structure hasn’t had a Taco Bell in it for decades, several other taco purveyors have set up shop within its stucco walls. After the last such eatery closed in 2014, the property owners announced they planned to redevelop the site. Local preservation groups stepped in to protect the structure from demolition, eventually contacting Taco Bell executives. Now, the building will be saved.
“When we heard about the chance of it being demolished, we had to step in,” Taco Bell CEO Brian Niccol told Los Angeles magazine’s Chris Nichols. “We owe that to our fans. We owe that to Glen Bell.”
Thursday night, the modest structure will be transported 45 miles on the back of a truck to corporate headquarters in the city of Irvine. Nichols reports:
Like the space shuttle and the LACMA rock, the first Taco Bell will slowly roll through city streets in Downey, Norwalk, Cerritos, and through Orange County on its way to Irvine. The company has designated restaurants along the route “watch points,” where people can catch a glimpse of the eatery on the move.
And anybody can watch the restaurant’s trek across southern California on the web, right here.
Taco Bell hasn’t yet said what it plans to do with the structure, but it’s clear from the social media response that people are pleased. This is not the first time an old fast-food structure has been saved by fans from the wrecking ball. In the case of Taco Bell “Numero Uno,” however, rarely have the parameters of “historic authenticity” been so blurred.