An iconic restaurant icon near LAX gets a second chance at a new beginning
The Proud Bird flies again!
In 1967 WWII pilot, pioneer and Specialty Restaurants Corporation founder David Tallichet opened The Proud Bird restaurant, situated next to the runway at LAX for prime airplane landing and touch-down viewing, as a result of his affinity for aviation. Now 50 years later, the part food hall/part museum and outdoor aviation yard has sprung back to life, largely thanks to the vision of his son, John Tallichet.
“There are a lot of emotional ties to the restaurant,” explains John, who was only 3 years old at the time the restaurant originally opened. After receiving numerous calls from longtime patrons on the heels of closing due to increasing costs and varying factors, they decided to keep it open but make it fresh. “I’m sure he’d be very happy we fought to keep it open and reinvented it.”
“We’re constantly evolving and it’s a work in progress, but there’s still more to come.”
The revamped establishment is replete with a Curtiss P-40 Warhawk (a replica of the WWII fighter plane) and a slew of exhibits including SpaceX (focusing on Elon Musk and his team and space transport) and Women Aviators (highlighting renegades such as Amelia Earhart and Bessie Coleman—the first licensed African American female pilot).
The self-service food bazaar boasts six culinary kitchens spanning chicken and waffles, barbecue, poke salad bowls, wood-fired pizzas and Thai shrimp noodles. There is also a large bar area, a dining area and an event space.
“We wanted to design these areas where people can come in and hang out,” says John, who explains that guests can download an app to listen to the south runway tower at LAX and pick up a set of earbuds from the front desk. “We’ve gotten a lot more families than I remember seeing before, and it’s really fun for me to watch.”
One prime hangout spot is the outdoor airplane park housing nearly a dozen replica and original aircraft, such as a Douglas DC-3 and a twin-engine Lockheed P-38 Lightning once used for ground attack, dive bombing and level bombing. Guests with extra time can also schedule an in-depth tour with docents at the front desk.
For the arduous undertaking of compiling and sorting items and memorabilia for the new design and museum exhibits, John enlisted the help of Carla Roth, principal of Roth Projects, LLC.
“There were over 1,400 collection items that were photographed, catalogued or scanned,” she says. “The story of the collection was fascinating. The Tallichet family had preserved and shared stories that celebrated unique alliances and spirited aviation heroes … for example, the Aztec Eagles [Mexican Air Force fighter squadron collaboration with the U.S. military during WWII] and the story of Israeli hero Lou Lenart, the leader of four pilots who boldly attacked 6,000 Egyptian troops invading the newly formed Israel in the 1848 War of Independence.”
In the main hall, a Tuskegee Treasury exhibit made of bright yellow, powder-coated steel beams and Sintra PVC wall panels celebrates the Tuskegee Airmen—a group of African American military pilots who fought in WWII (with the largest chapter now in Los Angeles.) The exhibit is equipped with a visitor-activated SoundStick audio system, an integrated lighting system and black-and-white photos of aviation heroes.
Throughout the design and planning process, no detail was overlooked. Carla and her team even made calls to contemporary aviation pioneers for permission to use photographs including Jeff Bezos, Buzz Aldrin, Elon Musk and astronaut Scott Kelly.
“My team was mostly female, which I think in retrospect really added something to the way the material is presented,” adds Carla, who admits one of her favorite artifacts is a piece acquired from a local collector on loan. It is wood from the iconic Spruce Goose—a Howard Hughes and U.S. government-funded aircraft that was built almost entirely out of laminated birch.
“We didn’t use a lot of militaristic or overtly masculine colors or motifs,” she continues. “We were perhaps more fascinated by the mystery of flight, the magic of aviation, the dreamers and pioneers who pushed the field forward. I think this resulted in exhibits that are accessible to a wider audience.”
But what resonated with Carla perhaps the most was preserving the family legacy. “I have to confess working with the Tallichet family—John Tallichet in particular—was inspiring. I was often struck by his generosity of spirit and willingness to take on this project. Yes, it is a legacy project for their family, but they dedicated themselves to sharing a story and celebrating aviation history with an authenticity I would expect at an accredited museum.
So that was interesting to me as a museum professional. It was an honor to be involved in shaping this legacy story.”
Now since reopening, John has already received a lot of feedback. “We want to see people really enjoy, and we’ve had a lot of people say, ‘Thank you’ and embrace the new,” he says. “We’re constantly evolving and it’s a work in progress, but there’s still more to come.”
The Proud Bird
11022 Aviation Boulevard in Los Angeles | 310-670-3093 | theproudbird.com