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.)
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.