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An introduction to Googie, SoCal's signature architectural style

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Googie came to reflect a very 1950s and ’60s view of what “the future” meant

A single-story midcentury diner with a swooping long roof and a neon sign of the restaurant’s name (“Corky’s).
On Van Nuys Boulevard, Corky’s Restaurant, designed by Armet & Davis, has a sweeping rooftop that’s classic Googie.
Liz Kuball

The death of LAX Theme Building architect Gin Wong and the landmarking of his infinitely photogenic 76 gas station in Beverly Hills has brought the funky and disappearing architectural style Googie back into the spotlight.

While Southern California is rich in architectural variation, Googie—exemplifying the collision of car culture and the Jet Age futurism that bloomed after World War II—is arguably the signature style of the region.

Cantilevered roofs, starbursts, and hard angles are all themes in Googie architecture, notes ArchDaily.

All three traits can be seen in the building that gave the style its name: a coffee shop called Googies in West Hollywood, designed by the great Organic Modernist John Lautner and built in 1949. Unfortunately, House and Home architecture critic Douglas Haskell coined the term “Googie” in 1952 as a pejorative. (He thought Googie was tacky.)

As driving became the dominant mode of transportation in SoCal after WWII, business owners realized pretty quickly that people in cars miss a lot. Googie designs were geared toward catching eyes of drivers, enticing them to slow down and come in. (McDonald’s loved Googie.)

Googies on Sunset Boulevard in West Hollywood. Designed by John Lautner, completed in 1949.
via Michael Ochs Archives / Getty Images

Googie captured the post-war high that made people feel that the future was now and they were living in it. As time passed, Googie came to reflect a very 1950s and ’60s view of what “the future” meant.

Architectural historian Alan Hess has written extensively on the bold, spacey style.

“One of the key things about Googie architecture was that it wasn’t custom houses for wealthy people—it was for coffee shops, gas stations, car washes, banks... the average buildings of everyday life that people of that period used and lived in,” he told Smithsonian in a 2012 interview. “And it brought that spirit of the modern age to their daily lives.”

Many Googie-style businesses closed up shop decades ago. Three decades ago, the Los Angeles Times reported that “much of this architectural genre... is slowly succumbing to remodeling or has been relegated to the Googie graveyard.”

A little more distance has given us a better appreciation for Googie, but a lot has already been lost. Below are a few remaining examples of this wacky, bold style.

The 76 gas station in Beverly Hills, designed by Gin Wong at William L. Pereira & Associates. Completed in 1965.

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Bob’s Big Boy Broiler in Downey. The architect was Paul B. Clayton. It was completed 1958.

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Pann’s diner in Ladera Heights was designed by Armet & Davis and built in 1958.

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Johnie’s coffee shop on Wilshire Boulevard and Fairfax. Designed by Armet & Davis in 1956.

McDonald’s on Lakewood Boulevard in Downey. The oldest operating McDonald’s, this building was completed in 1953 and was designed by Stanley Clark Meston. It recently added a drive-thru.

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The Norms on La Cienega was designed by Googie masters Armet & Davis in 1957. A 2015 demolition scare rallied preservationists and Googie fans around the diner, and it was landmarked that same year.

The Theme Building at Los Angeles International Airport. Designed by Gin Wong at the firm Pereira & Luckman, and completed in 1961.

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