The Story of Googie Architecture, the Iconic Architectural Style of Los Angeles

When I lived in Los Ange­les, I enjoyed no break­fast spot more than Pan­n’s. The place had it all: not just sig­na­ture plates rang­ing from bis­cuits and gravy to chick­en and waf­fles, but trop­i­cal land­scap­ing, stone walls, a slant­ed roof, ban­quettes in bur­gundy and counter seats in cream, and as the pièce de résis­tance, a neon sign that lit up one let­ter at a time. Built in 1958, Pan­n’s stands today as quite pos­si­bly the most immac­u­late sur­viv­ing exam­ple of Goo­gie, a mid-twen­ti­eth-cen­tu­ry aes­thet­ic that takes its name from anoth­er Los Ange­les cof­fee shop opened near­ly a decade ear­li­er. Though designed by no less seri­ous a mod­ern archi­tect than Frank Lloyd Wright pro­tégé John Laut­ner, Goo­gie’s gave rise to per­haps the least seri­ous of all archi­tec­tur­al move­ments.

“It’s a style built on exag­ger­a­tion; on dra­mat­ic angles; on plas­tic and steel and neon and wide-eyed tech­no­log­i­cal opti­mism,” writes Matt Novak at Smith­son­ian mag­a­zine. “It draws inspi­ra­tion from Space Age ideals and rock­et­ship dreams. We find Goo­gie at the 1964 New York World’s Fair, the Space Nee­dle in Seat­tle, the mid-cen­tu­ry design of Disneyland’s Tomor­row­land, in Arthur Rade­baugh‘s post­war illus­tra­tions, and in count­less cof­fee shops and motels across the U.S.”

But the acknowl­edged cra­dle of Goo­gie is Los Ange­les, whose explo­sive devel­op­ment along­side that of mid-twen­ti­eth-cen­tu­ry Amer­i­can “car cul­ture” encour­aged the ultra-com­mer­cial archi­tec­tur­al exper­i­men­ta­tion whose first pri­or­i­ty was to catch the eye of the motorist — and ide­al­ly, the hun­gry motorist.

You can hear the his­to­ry of Goo­gie told in the Ched­dar Explain video “How Los Ange­les Got Its Icon­ic Archi­tec­ture Style,” which adapts Novak’s Smith­son­ian piece. In “Goo­gie Archi­tec­ture: From Din­ers to Donuts,” pho­tog­ra­ph­er Ahok Sin­ha goes into more detail about how the style turned “archi­tec­ture into a form of adver­tis­ing.” Like all the most effec­tive adver­tis­ing, Goo­gie drew from the zeit­geist, incor­po­rat­ing the strik­ing shapes and advanced mate­ri­als con­nect­ed in the pub­lic mind with notions of speed and tech­nol­o­gy embod­ied not just by auto­mo­biles but even more so by rock­ets. For Goo­gie was the archi­tec­ture of the Space Race: it’s no acci­dent that the cre­ators of The Jet­sons, which aired in 1962 and 1963, ren­dered all the show’s set­tings in the same style.

It could fair­ly be said that no one archi­tect invent­ed Goo­gie, that it emerged almost spon­ta­neous­ly as a prod­uct of Amer­i­can pop­u­lar cul­ture. But “for some rea­son, we got stuck with the name,” says archi­tect Vic­tor Newlove, of Armet Davis Newlove and Asso­ciates, in the inter­view clip above. For good rea­son, per­haps: to that fir­m’s cred­it are sev­er­al loca­tions of the din­er chains Bob’s Big Boy (where for years David Lynch’s took his dai­ly milk­shake) and Norms, both of which are still in busi­ness in Los Ange­les today. Its archi­tects Eldon Davis and Helen Liu Fong also designed Pan­n’s, which for many Goo­gie enthu­si­asts remains an unsur­pass­able achieve­ment — and one whose com­pe­ti­tion, since the moon land­ing and the end it put to not just the Space Race but the sen­si­bil­i­ty it inspired, has been dwin­dling one demo­li­tion at a time.

Relat­ed con­tent:

The Mod­ernist Gas Sta­tions of Frank Lloyd Wright and Mies van der Rohe

1,300 Pho­tos of Famous Mod­ern Amer­i­can Homes Now Online, Cour­tesy of USC

How David Lynch Got Cre­ative Inspi­ra­tion? By Drink­ing a Milk­shake at Bob’s Big Boy, Every Sin­gle Day, for Sev­en Straight Years

How Insu­lat­ed Glass Changed Archi­tec­ture: An Intro­duc­tion to the Tech­no­log­i­cal Break­through That Changed How We Live and How Our Build­ings Work

That Far Cor­ner: Frank Lloyd Wright in Los Ange­les – A Free Online Doc­u­men­tary

Every­thing You Ever Want­ed to Know About the Beau­ty of Bru­tal­ist Archi­tec­ture: An Intro­duc­tion in Six Videos

Based in Seoul, Col­in Mar­shall writes and broad­casts on cities, lan­guage, and cul­ture. His projects include the Sub­stack newslet­ter Books on Cities, the book The State­less City: a Walk through 21st-Cen­tu­ry Los Ange­les and the video series The City in Cin­e­ma. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall or on Face­book.

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  • Alan Hess says:

    You’ll be inter­est­ed in my lat­est book “Goo­gie Mod­ern: Archi­tec­tur­al Draw­ings of Armet Davis Newlove) from Angel City Press, just pub­lished in March. It pub­lish­es a wide selec­tion of draw­ings from the ADN archives of client pre­sen­ta­tion draw­ings and design devel­op­ment sketch­es nev­er seen before, adding to my pre­vi­ous book “Goo­gie Redux: Ultra­mod­ern Road­side Archi­tec­ture” (Chron­i­cle Books, 2004.) There’s more to be learned about Goo­gie, an impor­tant chap­ter in the his­to­ry of twen­ti­eth cen­tu­ry Mod­ern design.

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