How Los Angeles Got Its Iconic Architecture Style

March 19, 2020

You might not recognize the name, but if you've driven around Los Angeles you'll definitely recognize the style. Googie architecture became popular in the late 1950s and 1960s thanks to one man's design. Cheddar explains how this architecture style came to be and how it disappeared as quickly as it was created.

FULL TRANSCRIPT

FEMALE_1: It was the mid 20th century.

FEMALE_1: Frank Sinatra was hot,

FEMALE_1: sock hops were very real and

FEMALE_1: Googie architecture was popping up everywhere.

FEMALE_1: That's right, Googie architecture.

FEMALE_1: You may not recognize the name,

FEMALE_1: but you definitely recognize the design.

FEMALE_1: Googie is the funky, futuristic,

FEMALE_1: sometimes gaudy signature style of architecture that

FEMALE_1: erupted all over Los Angeles in the 1940s and 1950s.

FEMALE_1: It can be identified by

FEMALE_1: its cantilevered or up swept roofs,

FEMALE_1: neon fixtures, steel overhangs,

FEMALE_1: geometric shapes, and bold color palettes.

FEMALE_1: But just because it took over the City of Angels,

FEMALE_1: doesn't mean that it was destined to last forever.

FEMALE_1: And as quickly as it erupted, it disappeared.

FEMALE_1: [MUSIC] So where did Googie come from?

FEMALE_1: It originates back to 1949 when architect John Lautner,

FEMALE_1: a student of the famous architect Frank Lloyd Wright,

FEMALE_1: was tapped to design

FEMALE_1: a fresh new look for a few coffee shops.

FEMALE_1: The look was unapologetic, to say the least.

FEMALE_1: He drew inspiration from the booming car culture and the

FEMALE_1: post-World War II jet age of the late 1940s.

FEMALE_1: In 1952, architecture critic

FEMALE_1: Douglas Haskell was working on a story

FEMALE_1: about the new coffee shops popping up around Los Angeles.

FEMALE_1: He saw the Lautner design coffee shop located in

FEMALE_1: West Hollywood on Sunset Boulevard and Crescent Heights,

FEMALE_1: which was named Googies.

FEMALE_1: Searching for a name for the style of architecture,

FEMALE_1: Haskell thought it was the perfect fit.

FEMALE_1: He described the coffee shop as one that

FEMALE_1: starts off on the level like any other building,

FEMALE_1: but suddenly it breaks for the sky.

FEMALE_1: The bright red roof of

FEMALE_1: cellular steel decking suddenly tilts upward,

FEMALE_1: and the whole building goes

FEMALE_1: up with it like a rocket ramp.

FEMALE_1: But it wasn't a beaming article that he was writing.

FEMALE_1: The article Haskell wrote for

FEMALE_1: House and Home magazine in 1952,

FEMALE_1: was a scathing one.

FEMALE_1: Commenting on the architectural style

FEMALE_1: during the Cold War saying,

FEMALE_1: "It's too bad our taste is so horrible,

FEMALE_1: but it's pretty good to have men free."

FEMALE_1: The name stuck. But while Haskell found the style crass,

FEMALE_1: others found the style enticing.

FEMALE_1: And if anything, traffic stopping.

FEMALE_1: During this time, driving became

FEMALE_1: the main mode of transportation in Southern California.

FEMALE_1: It was a benchmark of financial success.

FEMALE_1: And as more families bought their fancy new cars,

FEMALE_1: business owners recognized that people whizzing by

FEMALE_1: would miss their shops if they

FEMALE_1: didn't do something to stand out.

FEMALE_1: In this case, form followed function and

FEMALE_1: that function was getting people into their businesses,

FEMALE_1: and Googie was the way to do that.

FEMALE_1: Googie captured the feeling of the future,

FEMALE_1: and whether you loved it or not,

FEMALE_1: it was hard to ignore Googie and pretty soon restaurants,

FEMALE_1: hotels, car washes, and

FEMALE_1: amusement parks were adopting the style.

FEMALE_1: So what are the traits of Googie architecture?

FEMALE_1: For one, it's built on exaggeration.

FEMALE_1: It took on bold geometric shapes to grab attention.

FEMALE_1: Cantilevered roofs like the first ever McDonald's used

FEMALE_1: a 30 foot high version of

FEMALE_1: its infamous golden arches to hold up the roof.

FEMALE_1: Angled up swept roofs like that of

FEMALE_1: Union 76 gas stations started popping up too.

FEMALE_1: And odd, funky geometric shapes.

FEMALE_1: 5Pointz car wash used a row of tall pylons,

FEMALE_1: while other establishments used star bars,

FEMALE_1: boomerangs, and other erratic

FEMALE_1: shapes jutting out from the buildings.

FEMALE_1: They used these shapes to create

FEMALE_1: alluring signage sure to

FEMALE_1: stop any car driving down the highway.

FEMALE_1: But while the geometric shapes

FEMALE_1: provided a solid foundation,

FEMALE_1: it was the materials and color palettes that

FEMALE_1: cemented the style as one to remember.

FEMALE_1: Neon signs, steel fixtures,

FEMALE_1: and glass panels were complemented by strong reds,

FEMALE_1: yellows, blues, and greens that

FEMALE_1: came together across Los Angeles.

FEMALE_1: But it didn't stop there.

FEMALE_1: Googie was adapted by the 1964 New York World's Fair,

FEMALE_1: the Space Needle in Seattle,

FEMALE_1: Disneyland's Tomorrowland, the Las Vegas welcome sign,

FEMALE_1: and the inspiration behind the look and

FEMALE_1: feel of the classic animation, The Jetsons.

FEMALE_1: [MUSIC]

FEMALE_2: The 1962 cartoon didn't

FEMALE_2: just pull inspiration from Googie,

FEMALE_2: it copied it completely.

FEMALE_2: All the animators needed to do,

FEMALE_2: was look outside their Hollywood studio windows.

FEMALE_2: Googie embodied the future,

FEMALE_2: and according to Alan Hess,

FEMALE_2: an architect and historian,

FEMALE_2: "It made the future accessible to everyone.

FEMALE_2: It brought that spirit of

FEMALE_2: the modern age to their daily lives."

FEMALE_2: According to Hess, Googie was a realization of

FEMALE_2: the future rather than a sign

FEMALE_2: of what was to come years down the line.

FEMALE_2: People could grab a burger and wash

FEMALE_2: their car and feel like they were living in the future.

FEMALE_2: It caught on fire in the culture and

FEMALE_2: lasted for a good 25 years or so.

FEMALE_2: Googie remained an architectural staple for

FEMALE_2: much in the 1950s and 1960s.

FEMALE_2: But by the 1970s,

FEMALE_2: Googie started to disappear as

FEMALE_2: architecture made way for earth tones,

FEMALE_2: textures, low lighting and shapes

FEMALE_2: that blended architecture into its surroundings.

FEMALE_2: Hess continued, "The interest in the future,

FEMALE_2: the gee-whiz factors about plastics and

FEMALE_2: nuclear power and space flight, travel to the moon.

FEMALE_2: All of these things that had been new and exciting in

FEMALE_2: the 1950s had become more mundane."

FEMALE_2: We landed on the moon in 1969 and then it was over.

FEMALE_2: In the late 1960s,

FEMALE_2: Disneyland completely overhauled Tomorrowland,

FEMALE_2: and McDonald's eventually abandoned

FEMALE_2: Googie for brick buildings with low roofs.

FEMALE_2: Even Googies, the original

FEMALE_2: coffee shop that started it all,

FEMALE_2: was demolished in the '90s to make room for a mini mall.

FEMALE_2: Not only was the design style

FEMALE_2: not worth building anymore of,

FEMALE_2: but designers couldn't understand

FEMALE_2: why any would even be maintained.

FEMALE_2: In 1986, famed Googie designer,

FEMALE_2: Eldon David was quoted by the Los Angeles Times.

FEMALE_2: "I can't see why they'd try to preserve any of them.

FEMALE_2: We were just designing them to sell hamburgers."

FEMALE_2: In the minds of designers,

FEMALE_2: their work was done,

FEMALE_2: and could be easily continued by the work

FEMALE_2: of well done billboards and advertisments,

FEMALE_2: rather than lengthy, expensive and gauche construction.

FEMALE_2: But despite the ever changing architecture

FEMALE_2: that surrounds us every day,

FEMALE_2: if you drive through Los Angeles,

FEMALE_2: you can still see and

FEMALE_2: recognize Googie-inspired buildings.

FEMALE_2: You may not have known its name,

FEMALE_2: but you definitely know its shape and form.