— story by Dave Kunz, photo via thelosangelesbeat.com
Traveling along the 105 on the way in to LAX recently, I turned and noticed a depressing sight. Construction equipment appeared to be demolishing the Proud Bird restaurant. “Well, there goes that place,” I thought, as I turned my attention back to the freeway in front of me.
My momentary glance northward was actually a bit of an optical illusion. Consulting with my buddy Google revealed that, no, the Proud Bird was not actually being torn down completely. It’s just undergoing a huge renovation, the first since being built in 1967.
photo by Myles Regan
The Proud Bird and the Motor Press Guild seemed forever linked. For many years, indoctrination into the MPG meant showing up at 11002 South Aviation Boulevard, signing in and getting a paper nametag on the patio, and then socializing over a buffet lunch before hearing a presentation about some automotive subject or another. I don’t know how many years prior to my joining the organization in the year 2000 that routine started taking place on the second Tuesday of most every month, but from that point until a few years ago, it was like a weird monthly high school class reunion.
Word of the restaurant’s demise came about in 2013. Though the Proud Bird had been in that spot since LBJ was still in office, it was on land leased from the City of Los Angeles. As land values began climbing after the Great Recession, LAWA (Los Angeles World Airports) decided that the lease rate for the prime approach path property was set way too low, and a new, much higher rate had been established. At that point the management of the restaurant announced that they would be forced to close, and with that, the Motor Press Guild would be forced to find a new luncheon home. (Though there was a temporary stay of execution, so to speak.)
photo by Myles Regan
That announcement of the facility’s demise was not necessarily met with tears from many MPG members, nor former members watching down upon us. Derided on a regular basis as “lousy,” “inconvenient,” “tired,” and all manner of other disparaging descriptions, the Proud Bird had long become the place we loved to hate.
During my brief stint on the MPG Board, “old business” almost always seemed to include a theoretical proposal to find a better spot to hold regular monthly luncheons. Easier said than done, actually. The location was nicely situated near LAX, so any visiting speakers could easily fly in or out. While not convenient to anyone, it didn’t really favor people from any one area either. (Well, okay. South Bay residents had it a little easier. But many a time folks from Toyota or Honda found horrific delays in getting there from “all the way down in Torrance.”)
photo via The Daily Breeze
The Proud Bird was our default, our fail-safe, our go-to. It didn’t matter if we had 30 people for a luncheon or 300, they’d accommodate us. There was that circular driveway out front which made for a perfect display area for a speaker’s products. And of course there was the free parking, which to journalists on a heavily-scrutinized or nonexistent expense account was like a free hat AND a free polo shirt at the same time.
The Proud Bird is now being “re-imagined” after the owners secured a new long-term lease and embarked on a very costly renovation. I can imagine that upon the reopening, words like “artisan” and “crafted” will appear on the menu, and man-bun-coiffed waiters will be asking people if they’d prefer the overpriced sparkling water or overpriced still water for the table. The Motor Press Guild as a whole used to scoff that we were too good for the Proud Bird. Now, I’m afraid we’ve gotten our wish in a bizarre twist of fate. The Proud Bird seems as though it’s going to be too good (read: costly) for us.
I’ll miss the roar of 747’s landing overhead. I’ll miss the distinctive aroma of Pine Sol in the men’s room. I’ll miss the fact that I could get there without having to consult Waze or Google Maps. I’ll even miss the crowded northbound 405 at 2:00 in the afternoon, after our luncheon and associated kibitzing ran much longer than scheduled. Overall, I’ll miss that lousy, inconvenient, tired Proud Bird.