Fast (Food) Forward, Part II: Historic First Taco Bell Is Avoiding Destruction One Step at a Time
It was a story that reached national heights: the first Taco Bell, which opened in Downey at 7112 Firestone Blvd. in 1962 by way of owner Glen Bell, was to be razed. Even Taco Bell itself got into the #SaveTacoBell brouhaha, offering tens of thousands of dollars to study what could be done to save the dilapidating structure thanks to Long Beach preservationist nonprofit We Are the Next and the Downey Conservancy.
What this ultimately means is that it is indeed possible the building will be saved (albeit with a lot of ifs and perhaps). And it should definitely be noted that there was one adamant Long Beach preservationist behind it all, We Are the Next Executive Director Katie Rispoli.
“If the move took place, [We Are the Next] would act as the Project Manager,” said Rispoli. “Taco Bell offered to pay the cost to complete the feasibility study so we can move forward with saving the building, roughly $9,000. From there, we will see if the building can be moved.”
If it can indeed be moved—logistics and feasibility should never be undermined—the Downey Conservancy will carry out a fundraising campaign which will be supported by Taco Bell to raise the cost to complete the project.
“Likelihood of the building moving?” Rispoli said. “Very high. I am close to 100% certain it will happen.”
Rispoli is by no means a stranger to moving iconic structures. She moved the 107-year-old train depot that used to sit near the 710 Freeway in Long Beach in a campaign that encouraged those wishing to see the spectacle to walk side-by-side during its midnight move.
This, however, adds to her organization’s clout in not only advocating for preservation but being able to tangibly work within the world of seemingly non-stop development. Even better, Rispoli’s involvement with the Downey Conservancy—she’s on the board—and its OG-Taco-Bell-in-danger! press release going viral within three days solidified the fact that what she is doing—old-school preservation with new-school tactics—is not to be ignored.
“A week after we found the story hitting national levels, myself and some other members of the Downey Conservancy were scheduled to have a follow-up meeting to discuss ideas on how to save the building,” Rispoli said. “That’s when Taco Bell called our Board President, George Redfox, and asked if they could come meet with us. He informed them we were scheduled to have a meeting that afternoon and they immediately sent a representative to come join in. At the time we didn’t know what their level of involvement would be, if any, but they were clearly supportive.”
As for now, the future home of Taco Bell Numero Uno is yet to be determined. But what is for certain is the fact that it will remain in Downey to, in the words of Rispoli, preserve the city’s historical roots in fast food culture.
“Taco Bell has explored purchasing land to build on and placing the building next door,” Rispoli said. “That is the most likely plan, so long as we can find a parcel for sale large enough to build on. Once moved, our plan is to surround the building with an open, public space dotted with interpretive signage about its history as well as the history of automobile culture in Downey.”
Should the building be moved, Rispoli and crew—much like their work on the train depot but not quite exact—plan a full restoration. This means that all of the original features and ornamentation will be brought back to look precisely as they did in 1962. This will be thanks to not only the use of as much original building material as possible but key historical documents, particularly the 1963 architectural plans for the neighboring Plaza Guadalajara. Built by the same architect as the original Taco Bell, Rispoli noted that the plaza burned down in 1983 but “the construction and features are very similar. We will be using it for documentation to understand some of the elements missing from the Taco Bell building before it is razed.”
Praise be to the Taco Gods.