The Quest to Save the First Taco Bell From Demolition

The original location is set to be destroyed -- unless Taco Bell saves it first.

ByStefanie Tuder
March 19, 2015, 5:24 PM
PHOTO: An undated handout photo shows the first ever Taco Bell in Downey, Calif.
An undated handout photo shows the first ever Taco Bell in Downey, Calif.
Taco Bell

— -- It’s weird to think of Taco Bell as a cultural icon. But, reality is -- whether good or bad -- that fast food chains are as much a part of the fabric and history of the United States as any other element.

So with that in mind, Taco Bell is working under a looming deadline to save its original location from being destroyed.

"When we first heard about the demolition, we were kind of in disbelief,” Taco Bell public relations manager and newsroom editor Matt Prince told ABC News. “We wanted to figure out a way how we could learn more about the situation and get as involved as possible.”

Founded in 1962 by Glen Bell in Downey Calif., Taco Bell first set up shop in a 400-square-foot building with arched entryways and a namesake metal bell on the top. There was no room for seating; customers ordered from a counter and ate on the go.

From that prime location in a booming town on a busy street, Taco Bell quickly grew to nine locations within two years, then 100 within five years. After being sold to PepsiCo in 1978, the chain shut down some outdated locations, including the original.

Since then, the building has been the home to two other taquerias, but the property owner decided the land had more value than it was getting, and planned to demolish the building to place a higher value on the land. That’s when the Downey Conservancy got word of the owner’s plans and worked to save the building.

"The building holds a lot of value for Downey and its own personal history, but I think it also holds a lot of value for America and its cultural history and how things were playing out in the mid-20th century,” Downey Conservancy board member Katie Rispoli told ABC News. “Downey was built out around the automobile during this important time period for American culture when Americans were obsessed with cars. It all sort of developed this cultural phenomenon for fast food, and Downey quickly was becoming fast food USA.”

To save the institution, Taco Bell contracted non-profit community organization We Are the Next, of which Rispoli also heads up, to conduct a feasibility study to determine if the building could be moved, how much it would cost and if there is anything wrong structurally.

"I don’t think there’s any question whether or not the building physically can be moved; it’s a very simple process” Rispoli, who recused herself from Downey Conservancy decisions around the project, said. “The questions of if we can do it is more so of how do we need to cooperate with regulatory agencies to make this happen, would we be working with the city of Downey, would we have time to buy land before the building faces demolition, if we do buy land, is it going to be in Downey or somewhere near Downey? So we have a lot of factors we’re considering right now.”

The study is not concluding for another six or so weeks, so there are currently still more questions than answers on the project.

“Whether it’s used for another Taco Bell or as a museum or as community space we don’t know,” Prince said. “That’s the fun conversation we get to brainstorm about now. That’s the next question."

ABC News Live

ABC News Live

24/7 coverage of breaking news and live events