Photos by Katie Rispoli.
The Taco Gods have smiled on a small building that was once home to the nation’s first Taco Bell as Long Beach-based preservation advocacy group We Are the Next has almost completed its effort in saving and restoring the structure as it prepares to move the building temporarily to Irvine on Thursday.
The first Taco Bell, which opened in Downey at 7112 Firestone Blvd. in 1962 by way of owner Glen Bell, was to be razed—that is, before Taco Bell itself got into the #SaveTacoBell brouhaha, offering tens of thousands of dollars to study what could be done after aforementioned nonprofit We Are the Next and the Downey Conservancy brought the small structure to national attention.
Nearly eight months later, We Are the Next Executive Director Katie Rispoli announces that the structure is under the lookout for a permanent home while sitting in OC.
“The first Taco Bell is not just a fast food restaurant,” Rispoli said. “It’s a symbol of a man who grew up poor in the Great Depression building an empire, and how he helped develop the identity of Downey in doing it. This building wasn’t designed by a famous architect and it’s not particularly beautiful in the conventional sense—but it does demonstrate how even the most ordinary buildings can tell tremendous stories. In Downey and the surrounding area, where much of the city looks ordinary from the outside, we need to set a precedent and demonstrate the great power that can come from unexpected histories in seemingly-ordinary places.”
Rispoli wasn’t light about managing the project, noting that it has been both time-intensive and complicated. Of course, ultimately winning is the fact that it has been extremely rewarding.
“Initially, I was skeptical of how this building could fit into the narrative of LA County,” Rispoli said, “but since then I have seen its story come to life and wholeheartedly embraced efforts to create its next chapter in LA County.”
As for the building’s ultimate purpose, that remains up in the air as Rispoli works with Taco Ball, the City of Downey, and surrounding areas to figure out how it can be activated.
“I would love to see the building be brought back to life as a Taco Bell restaurant, but if not it must be used in a way that benefits the community in Central LA County,” Rispoli said. “This is a huge piece of Downey’s history, and it helped shape the identity of that region of the county in the 1960s and 70s. It’s significance should be emphasized and I courted in future planning.”