Coffee shop designers were clearly gifted. Armet and Davis, Stanley Mestim, Wayne McAllister and Martin Stern, among others, created a popular architecture that was purely American in its confidence in a techno future unencumbered by history or elite (read European) notions of taste.
The connection of this "low art" style with the "high art" architecture of the period, which was also the heyday of the Case Study House program sponsored by Art & Architecture magazine, was both direct and tenuous.
While coffee shop designers were clearly inspired by such Case Study Houses as the famous high-tech home designed by Charles and Ray Eames in the Pacific Palisades, few of the 1950s leading avant-garde architects in Los Angeles condescended to create coffee shops.
John Lautner was a notable exception. The architect of the dramatic Chemosphere House in the Hollywood Hills also designed the first Googie's in 1949 alongside Schwab's Drugstore on Sunset Boulevard. Both designs reveal Lautner's fascination with both Frank Lloyd Wright and Space Age technology.
The theme linking "low" and "high" architecture of the period was an urge to a direct kind of design Expressionism--a sense that the building's shape and style should directly and dramatically express its structure and its function.
Such dramatic Expressionism was as much a motivation for the Eames House design as for Googie's. It also made a strong showing in airport architecture, including Los Angeles International Airport's futuristic Theme Restaurant and Eero Saarinen's concrete "launching eagle" design for the TWA terminal and New York's Kennedy International.
Historian Hess traces the genesis of this architectural Expressionism to several sources, including post-World War I German designer Erich Mendelsohn and 1920s Russian Constructivism. He also looks to the radically streamlined transcontinental trains of the 1930s and '40s designed by Americans Norman Bel Geddes, Henry Dreyfuss and Raymond Loewy.
Despite is highly eclectic origins, coffee shop architecture is very much its own style, Hess said. "Googie design defies gravity. Walls vanish, planes curve and wrap around one another with a sense of weightlessness. The coffee shop manner is all flyaway energy, free of the Earth's inertia."
Meanwhile, Googie aficionados hope that the Wichstand will not fly away into oblivion.
"We can't afford to lose this unique example of the style, that recalls an L.A. past more innocent and likable than the present," said Eugene Polk, a member of the Los Angeles Conservancy's Fifties Task Force, which campaigns for the preservation of period architecture.
"Surely an imaginative developer could find a way of recycling the Wichstand to appeal to our rapidly reviving interest in everything to do with the 1950s?"