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LA’s 15 most glorious remaining Googies, mapped

With their dynamic roofs and neon signs, these diners, motels, and car washes showcase the best of Googie style

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Googie is the architectural equivalent of Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart’s definition of obscenity—you may not know how to define it, but you know it when you see it. The Norms on La Cienega? That’s a Googie. The Union 76 station in Beverly Hills? Googie. That spaceship-looking thing outside of LAX? Googie.

Googie architecture got its name from architect John Lautner’s 1949 design of Googies, a coffee shop formerly located at the corner of Sunset Boulevard and Crescent Heights in West Hollywood. Googies was demolished in 1989, but the style it inspired lives on.

Bold and eye-catching, Googies were meant to attract the eyes of people driving by in cars with their upswept roofs, atomic imagery, and tons o’ neon, glass, and steel. Douglas Haskell, the editor of House and Home Magazine, applied the name to the style in 1952 after driving by Lautner’s coffee shop. He, along with the architectural old guard, disliked the aesthetic, which they found gauche.

Many of Southern California’s classic Googies have been demolished, presumably because the businesses they housed (drive-ins, coffee shops, banks, and car washes) catered to the working classes, who, according to developers, don’t deserve nice things. These, however, remain—for now, anyhow. Megan Koester

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Algemac’s Coffee Shop

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Built in 1937 and closed in 2005 to make way for a low-income housing development, Algemac’s classic facade remains—its interior now serves as a community center for said development.

Photo by Michael Locke

Bob’s Big Boy Broiler

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First opened as Harvey’s Broiler in 1958 and renamed Johnie’s Broiler in 1968, the former drive-in's original structure was partially (and illegally) demolished in 2007. Great pains were taken by preservationists to reconstruct it; Johnie’s became a Bob’s Big Boy in 2009.

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Bob’s Big Boy Burbank

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Designed by Wayne McAllister in 1949, Bob’s Big Boy Burbank (a favorite of Jay Leno, America’s former Late Night Leader) is often cited as of the earliest examples of Googie architecture in LA. Leno and his pals like to rev their classic cars in the parking lot every Friday night.

Bob’s Big Boy Burbank.
Junkyardsparkle / Creative CommonsCC0 1.0

Chips has changed little since opening in 1957; the only modification that’s been made to the structure is the addition of a small patio. The huge, angular letters attached to the top of the building (spelling out, naturally, “CHIPS”) are impossible to miss when driving down Hawthorne Boulevard.

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Covina Bowl

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Covina Bowl, opened in 1956, has a striking A-frame entrance that brought people in the door for more than six decades. A coffee shop, restaurant, barber shop and salon, children’s playroom, cocktail lounge, and 50 lanes for bowling kept patrons there and coming back.

Originally designed with an Egyptian theme, its concrete walls leading to the entrance were made to look like ancient ruins. The Los Angeles Conservancy calls it an “exuberant” and “stunning” example of Googie design and midcentury bowling alleys.

In 2017, after 61 years in business, Covina Bowl closed its doors. Its slated for partial preservation as part of a larger residential project.

Covina Bowl.
By Chris Mueller

Driftwood Dairy

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The Driftwood Dairy Drive-Thru, originally known as the Driftyland Dairy-Port, has been an El Monte institution since 1961. Above it, Drifty, the dairy’s grinning cow mascot surveys her territory from a huge, hexagonal sign, as she has for decades.

Five Points Car Wash

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Five Points is a car wash in Whittier that looks like it’s about to launch into outer space.

Johnie’s Coffee Shop

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If you want the full Johnie's experience, drive by it at night—its neon signage will be illuminated, making the structure look both garish and gorgeous. The restaurant closed for business in 2000 and is now used exclusively for shooting. Hollyweird fun fact: Y’know the scene in The Big Lebowski where Walter yells he’s “finishing his fucking coffee”? That was filmed at Johnie’s.

McDonald’s

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Completed in 1953, this is the oldest surviving McDonald’s in existence, with a mediocre-at-best museum attached to prove it. If you're a fan of dust-covered plastic toys and eroding videotapes filled with footage of now-dead McDonald’s CEOs, drop by!

Andrew Blackburn via Wikimedia Commons

Mel’s Diner

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One of legendary Googie architects Armet and Davis’s first designs, this former Kerry’s Coffee Shop was completed in 1953. Most Googie coffee shops in the Valley, unfortunately, have been demolished—in spite of it all, though, Kerry’s keeps on truckin’, now as a Mel’s.

One of Armet and Davis’s most well-known works, along with Pann’s and the Holiday Bowl (which was demolished in 2003 to make way for a shopping center, naturally), this Norms location is the oldest still in operation. “The elongated diamond-shaped trusses, the sloping roof, the long open stretch of glass that looks out onto the boulevard.

Today, these are Googie architecture staples, and standout images that themselves have become immortalized as art,” writes Farley Elliott at Eater LA. In 2015, the Los Angeles Cultural Heritage Commission intervened to save this Norms from redevelopment.

Pann’s

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Pann’s distinctive tropical landscaping and interior design was the brainchild of Helen Liu Fong, who had a hand in many of Armet and Davis’s most well known works and was one of the first women to join the American Institute of Architects. Hong preferred vibrant reds, whites, and yellows, and just before Pann’s opened in 1956, she could not come to terms with white tiles on the wall behind the counter. “At the last minute, Helen got in there and colored some of them in with red fingernail polish,” according to the Los Angeles Times.

Theme Building

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Also opened in 1961, LAX’s space-age Theme Building went through a $4 million renovation—including lights designed by Walt Disney Imagineering—in 1997, right before a restaurant called Encounter took over the space. The restaurant is closed now (with no plans to reopen), and airport officials are trying to figure out what to do with it.

Safari Inn

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You can still book a room at Pasadena’s Safari Inn, one of the few intact vestiges of California’s Golden Age of Motels. The rooms have been modernized and are somewhat bland, but the fantastic neon sign from the 1950s and safari-themed metal sculptures still remain. According to writer and LA historian Alison Martino, the motel has appeared in True Romance, Apollo 13Six Feet UnderDesperate Housewives, and The Partridge Family. 

Safari Inn.
By Chris Mueller

Union 76 gas station

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The design of the dramatic, swooping Union 76 gas station is the work of Chinese-American architect Gin Wong of the firm William L. Pereira and Associates. (Wong, a longtime associate of Pereira, is also credited as the designer of the Theme Building at LAX.)

The station’s soaring concrete canopy was described by writer and occasional architectural critic Tom Wolfe as a “‘spherical triangle’, whose swooping lines and up thrust ends reach for the sky,” says a landmarking report for the city of Beverly Hills. (The city landmarked the gas station in 2018.)

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⛽️carculture #architecture #williampereira #la

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Algemac’s Coffee Shop

Photo by Michael Locke

Built in 1937 and closed in 2005 to make way for a low-income housing development, Algemac’s classic facade remains—its interior now serves as a community center for said development.

Photo by Michael Locke

Bob’s Big Boy Broiler

First opened as Harvey’s Broiler in 1958 and renamed Johnie’s Broiler in 1968, the former drive-in's original structure was partially (and illegally) demolished in 2007. Great pains were taken by preservationists to reconstruct it; Johnie’s became a Bob’s Big Boy in 2009.

A post shared by Liz (@bcnliz) on

Bob’s Big Boy Burbank

Bob’s Big Boy Burbank.
Junkyardsparkle / Creative CommonsCC0 1.0

Designed by Wayne McAllister in 1949, Bob’s Big Boy Burbank (a favorite of Jay Leno, America’s former Late Night Leader) is often cited as of the earliest examples of Googie architecture in LA. Leno and his pals like to rev their classic cars in the parking lot every Friday night.

Bob’s Big Boy Burbank.
Junkyardsparkle / Creative CommonsCC0 1.0

Chips

Chips has changed little since opening in 1957; the only modification that’s been made to the structure is the addition of a small patio. The huge, angular letters attached to the top of the building (spelling out, naturally, “CHIPS”) are impossible to miss when driving down Hawthorne Boulevard.

A post shared by phil donohue (@phdonohue) on

Covina Bowl

Covina Bowl.
By Chris Mueller

Covina Bowl, opened in 1956, has a striking A-frame entrance that brought people in the door for more than six decades. A coffee shop, restaurant, barber shop and salon, children’s playroom, cocktail lounge, and 50 lanes for bowling kept patrons there and coming back.

Originally designed with an Egyptian theme, its concrete walls leading to the entrance were made to look like ancient ruins. The Los Angeles Conservancy calls it an “exuberant” and “stunning” example of Googie design and midcentury bowling alleys.

In 2017, after 61 years in business, Covina Bowl closed its doors. Its slated for partial preservation as part of a larger residential project.

Covina Bowl.
By Chris Mueller

Driftwood Dairy

The Driftwood Dairy Drive-Thru, originally known as the Driftyland Dairy-Port, has been an El Monte institution since 1961. Above it, Drifty, the dairy’s grinning cow mascot surveys her territory from a huge, hexagonal sign, as she has for decades.

Five Points Car Wash

Five Points is a car wash in Whittier that looks like it’s about to launch into outer space.

Johnie’s Coffee Shop

If you want the full Johnie's experience, drive by it at night—its neon signage will be illuminated, making the structure look both garish and gorgeous. The restaurant closed for business in 2000 and is now used exclusively for shooting. Hollyweird fun fact: Y’know the scene in The Big Lebowski where Walter yells he’s “finishing his fucking coffee”? That was filmed at Johnie’s.

McDonald’s

Andrew Blackburn via Wikimedia Commons

Completed in 1953, this is the oldest surviving McDonald’s in existence, with a mediocre-at-best museum attached to prove it. If you're a fan of dust-covered plastic toys and eroding videotapes filled with footage of now-dead McDonald’s CEOs, drop by!

Andrew Blackburn via Wikimedia Commons

Mel’s Diner

One of legendary Googie architects Armet and Davis’s first designs, this former Kerry’s Coffee Shop was completed in 1953. Most Googie coffee shops in the Valley, unfortunately, have been demolished—in spite of it all, though, Kerry’s keeps on truckin’, now as a Mel’s.

Norms

One of Armet and Davis’s most well-known works, along with Pann’s and the Holiday Bowl (which was demolished in 2003 to make way for a shopping center, naturally), this Norms location is the oldest still in operation. “The elongated diamond-shaped trusses, the sloping roof, the long open stretch of glass that looks out onto the boulevard.

Today, these are Googie architecture staples, and standout images that themselves have become immortalized as art,” writes Farley Elliott at Eater LA. In 2015, the Los Angeles Cultural Heritage Commission intervened to save this Norms from redevelopment.

Pann’s

Pann’s distinctive tropical landscaping and interior design was the brainchild of Helen Liu Fong, who had a hand in many of Armet and Davis’s most well known works and was one of the first women to join the American Institute of Architects. Hong preferred vibrant reds, whites, and yellows, and just before Pann’s opened in 1956, she could not come to terms with white tiles on the wall behind the counter. “At the last minute, Helen got in there and colored some of them in with red fingernail polish,” according to the Los Angeles Times.

Theme Building

Also opened in 1961, LAX’s space-age Theme Building went through a $4 million renovation—including lights designed by Walt Disney Imagineering—in 1997, right before a restaurant called Encounter took over the space. The restaurant is closed now (with no plans to reopen), and airport officials are trying to figure out what to do with it.

Safari Inn

Safari Inn.
By Chris Mueller

You can still book a room at Pasadena’s Safari Inn, one of the few intact vestiges of California’s Golden Age of Motels. The rooms have been modernized and are somewhat bland, but the fantastic neon sign from the 1950s and safari-themed metal sculptures still remain. According to writer and LA historian Alison Martino, the motel has appeared in True Romance, Apollo 13Six Feet UnderDesperate Housewives, and The Partridge Family. 

Safari Inn.
By Chris Mueller

Union 76 gas station

The design of the dramatic, swooping Union 76 gas station is the work of Chinese-American architect Gin Wong of the firm William L. Pereira and Associates. (Wong, a longtime associate of Pereira, is also credited as the designer of the Theme Building at LAX.)

The station’s soaring concrete canopy was described by writer and occasional architectural critic Tom Wolfe as a “‘spherical triangle’, whose swooping lines and up thrust ends reach for the sky,” says a landmarking report for the city of Beverly Hills. (The city landmarked the gas station in 2018.)

View this post on Instagram

⛽️carculture #architecture #williampereira #la

A post shared by KS (@ksadiyyah) on