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Revisiting the Googie architecture Buildings in California

by Roy Akirov
September, 2021

The Googie architecture dates back to the 50s and 60s. It is an insane style, combining Atomic Age, car culture, jets and Space Age influences. A beautiful madness it is. The Jetsons cartoon series was inspired by it.

If you take a drive through Southern California or Los Angeles, chances are you’ll still get to see some remnants of this deeply American architecture style. Here’s your little guide to Googie architecture.

What is Googie architecture?

Googie architecture was a futurist design movement that brought about hard angles, cantilevered roofs, and space-age coffee shops. It was all about exaggeration, drama, plastic, steel and neon-bright optimism. We could call it the embodiment of post-war American futurism.

And it all started with a Googie coffee shop located in West Hollywood and designed by American architect John Edward Lautner.  He didn’t just call it Googie. In fact, the term was at first pejorative, and it had been coined by architecture critic Douglas Haskell. Douglas Haskell allegedly first used the word “Googie” as he was driving by, but it wasn’t good.

In fact, he even wrote a biting satire published in the February 1952 issue of “House and Home” magazine. He didn’t see any taste or refinement in Googie’s popular appeal.

Nevertheless, no one cared for critics. The Googie architecture caught on because it captured people’s eyes and dreams. McDonald’s embraced this design because they found out it would get drivers’ attention, prompting them to stop for a quick bite at McDrive.

Googie architecture examples

So, How Did Googie catch to the public?

According to architect and historian Alan Hess, Googie started just as WWII ended, and it lasted for a good 25 years. In this time, it was all the rage, the super-aesthetic of the 50s and 60s. It is the pinnacle of American retro-futurism.

If you want, you can revisit the 60s interior décor style now to brush up on your knowledge.

The 50s and 60s in America represented a time full of enthusiasm, cash and technological optimism. Googie was the style that made the future even more accessible. It was unaffected, honest, and appealed to millions. More than that, it wasn’t just an architecture style for the wealthy houses. It was also for the small shops, gas stations, banks, car washers – these buildings adopted the style, and people loved it because it looked like it brought the spirit of modernity into their daily lives.

They felt like they were really living with The Jetsons. The advertisements, magazines, and movies of that era were all looking to live that technological future. It was part of the culture, and Googie architecture made it all possible.

Why Did Googie Architecture Become so Famous in the 50s and 60s?

Blame it on driving. People were driving in their cars a lot, and they would miss many of the brands’ commercials. So, businesses realized they needed to get their attention, especially in California. Southern California was the land of the freeway at that time. You could literally pick one restaurant at every interchange. So, how do you get motorists to stop at yours? You go Googie.

From California, Googie architecture spread to Texas, Florida, New Jersey, Michigan etc. Nevertheless, Los Angeles was the centre because LA has always had a taste for experimental modern architecture. In the 50s, Los Angeles was bustling with modernity.

Ok, Show Me Some Googie Architecture Examples

Googie fell out of favour in the 70s when it no longer represented the American vision of the future. Nevertheless, you can still spot some Googie architecture in LA today.

The LAX Theme Building

You can’t miss this UFO-shaped building if you live in LA or flying through LAX. It is a true icon of LA, and yes, it’s in Googie style.

In 1997, the building was renovated. The Walt Disney Imagineering offered their services in designing the lights, and a restaurant opened inside. It’s a funky piece of Googie art.

The McDonald’s on Lakewood Blvd, Downey, CA

It was built in 1953, and it is probably the oldest surviving McDonald’s restaurant embracing the Googie design.

McDonalds on Lakewood Blvd Googie
Source: Instagram (lewis_clarke_23)

Those massive yellow arches had since become a staple for McDonald’s branding. The building was renovated in 1996, and up to this day, you will still find the same walk-up window, the golden arches and the 60-foot tall Chef sigh with “Hamburgers” written underneath. The location also features a museum with some of the oldest McDonald’s memorabilia.

Norms West Hollywood

The Googie Architecture signs are still there, still in operation. This is a beautiful Googie building with an enormous sign with 5 diamond-like spaceship thrusters. The sloping roof and the big windows looking out to the Boulevard are also reminiscent of the funky Googie era.

In 2015, the restaurant was labelled as a historic monument by The Los Angeles City Council.

Union 76 Gas Station Beverly Hills

This is one epic gas station. You just can’t stop ogling that boomerang, Jetsons-like roof, can you?

This gas station opened in 1965, and we’re glad we still have it to this day.

Chips

This diner was opened in 1957, and 67 years later, it still looks beautiful. Architect Harry Harrison came up with these concrete walls, the prominent roof, and the massive steel beam with Chips written in large, angled letters.

Other Googie buildings you should check

If you have tickled your curiosity, here’s a list of other great Googie buildings that you can check in Southern California:

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