It was the 1950s. America was a superpower, and the Los Angeles area was the center of it. The space race was on. A car culture was emerging. So were millions of postwar babies. Businesses needed ways to get families out of their automobiles and into coffee shops, bowling alleys, gas stations and motels. They needed bright signs and designs showing that the future was now. They needed color and new ideas.
They needed Googie.
This whimsical, Space Age look grew out of the Midcentury Modern style -- think LAX's flying-saucer-like Theme Building -- and became synonymous with Southern California's fun-loving lifestyle.
Even the story of how Googie got its name is fanciful. Yale professor Douglas Haskell spotted the Googie coffee shop, the eponymous building that once sat at Crescent Heights and Sunset boulevards. He declared the style "Googie" in a 1952 House and Home magazine article.
"Googie is a sub-category of Midcentury Modern that is bolder, more exaggerated in forms," said Alan Hess, author of "Googie Redux: Ultramodern Roadside Architecture." Commercial architects such as Wayne McAllister and the team of Louis Armet and Eldon Davis were experimenting with new materials and finding creative ways to lure folks into their buildings, Hess said.
For The Record
Los Angeles Times Tuesday, May 20, 2008 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 1 inches; 43 words Type of Material: Correction
Googie architecture: A May 18 Travel section article on Googie architecture listed the wrong address and telephone number for the Starbucks at the former site of Ships Culver City. The correct information is 10705 W. Washington Blvd., Culver City, CA 90232; (310) 202-8984.
For The Record
Los Angeles Times Thursday, May 22, 2008 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 1 inches; 45 words Type of Material: Correction
Googie architecture: A May 18 Travel article on Googie architecture listed the wrong hours for the Starbucks at the former site of Ships Culver City. It is open 5 a.m. to 11 p.m. Sundays through Thursdays and 4:30 a.m. to 11:30 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays.
For The Record
Los Angeles Times Sunday, May 25, 2008 Home Edition Travel Part L Page 3 Features Desk 1 inches; 62 words Type of Material: Correction
Googie architecture: A May 18 article on Googie architecture listed the wrong address, telephone number and hours for the Starbucks at the former site of Ships Culver City. The correct information is 10705 W. Washington Blvd., Culver City, CA 90232; (310) 202-8984. It is open 5 a.m. to 11 p.m. Sundays through Thursdays and 4:30 a.m. to 11:30 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays.
Like most trends, Googie peaked and then began to disappear. Anaheim, once a gold mine of '50s architecture, lost most of the Googie motels that bordered Disneyland in the 1990s, architectural historian Daniel Paul said in an interview.
Which is OK with some people.
"People aren't generally able to appreciate architectural history that happened in their lifetime," said Chris Jepsen, an Anaheim-based historian who also runs SpaceAgeCity.com, a website covering the Sputnik era. "You tell people that the restaurant they went to as a teenager has history and they look at you like you have three heads."
But for others, Googie represents an era of hope and optimism. Either way, that carefree attitude now defines Southern California culture. Perhaps, these not-so-ancient relics help remind us of why we've come to love it here.
I asked Googie enthusiasts for their favorite examples of the style and compiled this list of what might be considered the best local examples. Keep in mind that they often are located in neighborhoods and suburbs that don't have the funds or the need to update and modernize every few years, so these won't necessarily be the ritziest places in town. Still, these are worth making a detour.
So here is the springtime SoCal Googie tour. (Note: More fun if taken in a DeSoto Fireflite.)
4501 Rosemead Blvd.
Key characteristics: Polynesian-style design, plant life. Similar styles include the Mission Tiki Drive-In, Montclair; the Tiki Ti bar, Silver Lake; the Tonga Hut, North Hollywood.
Pop culture talking points: Parts of Johnny Depp's 1998 film "Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas" were filmed here. Rufus, the pacu fish that talks to Depp, lives in the tank next to the hostess stand.
Why it matters: Now that the Beverly Hills Trader Vic's, the epitome of Polynesian culture reinterpreted on our shores, has been demoted to little more than a poolside lounge at the Beverly Hilton, it's up to off-the-beaten-path finds to keep the tiki torch glowing.
This Rosemead hide-out pays tribute to the themes and artwork that came back with the soldiers returning from the Pacific theater. Island decor mostly popped up in suburbs, where it was considered new and daring by residents. "Tiki has an escapist and exotic quality," said Paul. "Since we won the war, we associated it with something positive."
At Bahooka, crab puffs, beef dips and baked ham are washed down with rum-based Scorpions and Head Shrinkers from 11:30 a.m. to 9 p.m. Mondays through Thursdays, 11:30 a.m. to 10:30 p.m. Fridays, noon to 10:30 p.m. Saturdays and noon to 9 p.m. Sundays.
BEACH-LIN CAR WASH
126 S. Beach Blvd.
Opened: Late 1950s or early '60s.
Key characteristics: Free-form design, steel beams and wires.
Other nearby Googie examples: The Anaheim Convention Center, the Linbrook Bowl (although the exterior has been remodeled).
Why it matters: Exposed steel beams interlocked by wire grab drivers' attention from the road while contributing to a Space Age vibe. "I've often told people that I've seen these early illustrations of what NASA thought their first buildings on the moon [would look like], and boy, it looks like that car wash," Jepsen said. Washes are still available 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. Mondays through Saturdays and 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sundays.
BOB'S BIG BOY
4211 W. Riverside Drive
Pop culture talking points: A Big Boy statue made for a nice escape pod for Dr. Evil in the "Austin Powers" movies.
Key characteristics: Streamline Moderne architecture, large glass windows, plant life.
Noteworthy architect: Wayne McAllister.