With its iconic space age-style Googie architecture and Jetsons-like signage boasting that it Never Closes, the first Ships Coffee Shop was established in 1956 in Culver City, Los Angeles.
Restaurateur Emmett Shipman and his father Matt had a hit on their hands from day one. The restaurant was gorgeous, the food was high quality and sassy waitresses sang out orders and kept coffee cups filled.
Two other locations followed – at Westwood (1958) and La Cienega (1963).
True to its word, Ships was open 24 hours a day, seven days a week and 365 days a year, and generations of Los Angelenos dined there, sometimes twice a day. One customer claimed he'd eaten at his local Ships every day for ten years.
Los Angeles historian Alison Martino, a lifelong fan, noted that because every table had its own Sunbeam toaster, Ships always smelled like burnt toast. Ships also had the best freshly squeezed OJ, chicken pot pie and mashed potatoes in the city, she observed.
The Westwood Ships, designed by revered architect Martin Sterns Jnr, who also helped transform Las Vegas from a low-rise sprawl into an extravagant high-rise desert metropolis, closed in 1984 and was demolished to make way for a 20-storey office building.
The Ships at La Cienega and Olympic, designed by the famous Googie architectural firm Armet &Davis, closed on August 30, 1995. The building was later remodeled, losing all its charm.
The Ships at Washington and Overland, also designed by Stern, was the first to open and the last to close a day later on August 31, 1995.
Owner Marilyn Shipman, widow of Emmett, said Ships had struggled to compete with increasing numbers of fast-food locations in LA and decided to close rather than compromise on quality.
The Los Angeles Times sent a reporter along to cover the ‘wake’ for the last of the dearly-loved landmarks. Diners flocked to booths and counter seats to pay their respects and many people were emotional, some in tears, the article noted.
So many people wanted copies of the stylish menus as souvenirs that waitresses were forced to make photocopies. This vintage menu art print is taken from one of the surviving 1995 menus.
Ships continued to live on for a few years through an official website run by the Shipman family but closed permanently in 2016, some 60 years after the first location opened.
Courtesy Al Quattrocchi
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