As I write this, the fate of The Proud Bird has yet to be decided. Los Angeles World Airports recently announced it would raise the rent on the property from $200,000 a year to about $500,000 a year in keeping with their policy of market-rate valuation, forcing the restaurant to close unless something could be negotiated. As of a week ago, the restaurant (which has been filled to capacity for the last few weeks) was granted a reprieve of one month to continue operating while discussions about a new lease take place. Most of the places on the Southland Archive are endangered in one form or another, but it’s painful to see one that may be shuttered so clearly beloved by the public.
The Proud Bird was opened in 1967 by World War II pilot and aviation aficionado David Tallichet in an area that has long been affiliated with the aerospace industry. Mines Field, as LAX was known when it opened in the late 1920s, became Los Angeles Airport in 1937 when the city decided that a municipal airport was essential to the continued growth of the city. Although World War II hampered its completion, in 1946 airlines that had been using other regional fields were attracted to the newly expanded facilities and Los Angeles International Airport was christened in 1949. From the post-war period onward, the area has seen major investment from the aerospace industry with many related firms (Boeing, Lockheed-Martin, etc.) continuing to keep offices nearby. It was these aerospace industry workers who started first coming to the Proud Bird and who continue to give it business today.
The complex was larger than expected (there are several private rooms of various sizes including several large banquet rooms, a ball room, outside patio and the intimate, wood-paneled Churchill Room) so the brief wait for seating gave us a few moments to take stock of the place and peruse everything on display. The photo collection is vast. It is divided into thematic sections (The Tuskegee Airmen, The Aztec Eagles, Planes in the First World War, Eddie Rickenbacker, etc.) with occasional historic artifacts (WWI German officer’s peaked cap, WWII Army Air Corps flight helmet, etc.) displayed for good measure. After obtaining a drink from the bar, we meandered outside, looking at the historic planes on display. These aircraft range from Bi-Planes of dubious authenticity to Jet Age Test Planes and Fighters.
Once seated, diners have an unobstructed view of an LAX runway which features planes landing every few minutes. If you sit directly next to the windows, pairs of headphones are placed on each sill to provide you control tower chatter at the comfort of your table (!). The service is friendly and the menu is decidedly steakhouse with Prime Rib, Filet Mignon, Salmon and New York Strip available. Although this seems like a pretty basic endeavor, the quality of steakhouse cuisine in ole timey digs can vacillate pretty wildly. I’m happy to report that everything ordered from The Proud Bird was very good…delicious even. Honorary Archivist Mike, brother of Joe, had prime rib while Joe had a New York strip. I started with beer cheese soup, also went the prime rib route and certainly did not leave hungry. The meat was tender, not too gristly and had a great taste that didn’t require any additional seasoning. For drinks, The Bird made a pretty solid 1944 Mai Tai (perhaps cribbed from Trader Vics?) that necessitated an additional after-dinner perusal of the aircraft on-site.
Whether or not the Proud Bird will stay open, who can say? In recent interviews the current owner John Tallichet (the son of founder David Tallichet) says he “is not optimistic”. The idea has been floated to turn it into a museum or other non-profit to allow LAWA the ability to rent the land at a reduced rate. That would require a lot of close interworking and it just might be that the Tallichet’s are through with the Proud Bird and all the problems it brings with it. All I can say is that the food was good, the ambiance unique, and the place sufficiently aged to give it a well-deserved place in the dusty e-files of the Southland Archive.