Welcome back to Los Angeles, folks. I’m glad you could join me on this beautiful June morning. What do you say we grab a bite to eat and take a look at one of the signature architectural styles of the area? Yeah, let’s just pull in here at Norm’s. The food ain’t great, but it’s cheap and the place is open 24/7. And of course, it’s an outstanding example of Googie architecture.
Googie, named for a now shuttered Hollywood diner, is a subset of Modernism, influenced by the ideas and iconography of the Jet Age. It’s full of swooping roof lines, starburst elements, glass, steel, neon, and optimism. The mighty atom, which won the war and promised to provide safe, clean, unlimited power to America and the free world, is a prominent feature of Googie design, as is the boomerang shape, representing aerodynamic speed, which would find itself applied to everything from coffee tables to swimming pools.
The Norm’s on La Cienega, along with Pann’s in Ladera Heights and Johnie’s on Wilshire, are all spectacular examples of the style, and they were all designed by one of the first women (and I’m reasonably sure the first Chinese-American woman) to join the American Institute of Architects, Helen Liu Fong. Born in LA’s Chinatown and educated at UCLA and UC Berkeley, Fong worked for the firm of Armet & Davis for thirty years before retiring in the late 1970s. She died, aged 78, in 2005.
But Googie wasn’t limited to smaller scale projects. If you’ve flown in or out of LAX, you’ve seen the Theme Building (designed in part by Paul Revere Williams, the trailblazing African-American architect, as part of William Pereira’s modernization of the airport).
You might also be familiar with this Seattle landmark:
And yes, this very real architectural style directly influenced the look of Hanna-Barbera’s The Jetsons.
There’s a lot more to Googie than I’ve been able to do justice to here. Check it out, but prepared to be charmed by one of the most optimistic artistic movements of the 20th century.
Now get out there and have fun!