Space aged ‘googie’ style goes from warp speed to time warp.
Preservationists say some of the outlandish ornaments are worth saving.
Along bustling thoroughfares such as Beach Boulevard and Katella Avenue, a piece of Orange County’s architectural heritage is quietly dying.
Motels, bowling alleys, coffee shops and other structures designed during the 1950s and 1960s in an outlandish style known as “Googie” are slowly disappearing, victims of changing tastes and stricter city design standards.
The style celebrated the dawning of the Space Age and Southern California’s car culture with bold uses of glass, steel and neon. Jetting angles and tall flashing signs were meant to invoke images of spaceships and the solar system.
The wide avenues near Disneyland proved an ideal setting for motels such as the Astro, the Cosmic Lodge Inn and the legendary Inn of Tomorrow, which featured a geodesic dome, a dramatic glass-walled lobby and a souped-up Volkswagen bus known as the “rocket mobile” that shuttled guests to the theme park.
“These designs reflect the post-war prosperity, the excitement and enthusiasm of the era,” said John English, a preservationist who leads architectural tours of the county. “The structures give us an identity and remind us of where we’ve been.”
But finding those vibrant links to the past is increasingly difficult. When the style fell out of favor in the 1970s, many Anaheim motels were refurbished with more contemporary designs.
The space-age style is further threatened by Anaheim’s ambitious effort to give the resort district around Disneyland a face-lift.
Over the next five years, the city plans to remake the streetscape with a variety of public works projects.
The Anaheim Resort plan is supported by local businesses, but preservationists lament the loss of even more Googie works. “What we are looking at are cultural artifacts,” said Dave Zenger, founder of the preservation group Fullerton Heritage.
The obtuse shapes and sharp angles that define Googie could at one time be seen nationwide.
The style has its roots, though, in Southern California.
Architects and urban planners have dubbed the look “Coffee Shop Modern,” “Extreme Modernism” and “Googie”–a name derived from a famous and long-ago-demolished West Hollywood cafe.
The form thrived in Orange County during the 1960s, spawning such now-departed landmarks as the Anaheim Bowl with its three-story sculpture entrance that resembled a maze of rippled concrete shooting skyward.
The greatest concentration of space-age architecture sprouted along Katella Avenue, which in the 1960s and early 1970s resembled something out of “The Jetsons.”
Disneyland embraced Googie in several attractions, including the House of the Future, an X-shaped building on a pedestal. Inside, 1950s visitors were wowed by such futuristic appliances as a microwave oven and a touch-tone phone.
Disney’s decision to close the House of the Future in 1967 is viewed by many as the beginning of the end of the local Googie movement.
Many nearby businesses followed Disneyland’s example, toning down the extreme designs.
“We felt we needed to update the look,” said Bill O’Connell, who with developer Al Stovall built several Googie motels in Anaheim. One of their properties, the Inn of Tomorrow, now bears a more commonplace name: Best Western Stovall’s Inn.
Despite such modifications, Katella Avenue has kept a bit of the space-age flavor. The street is flanked by two Googie landmarks: the Satellite Shopland’s rotating sphere and the Anaheim Convention Center, a flying saucer-like structure with a triangular entrance sign.
But more change is coming. The city is requiring many businesses to replace their free-standing neon signs with ground-level “monument signs” that go with the districts new look. City officials are offering to replace the signs at no charge.
Anaheim will spend $172 million to build new street medians and sidewalks, take utility lines underground, plant gardens and make other improvements.
“We’re trying to create a timeless look,” said Mary McCloskey, deputy planning director. “The goal is to create a resort environment where people will stay longer.”
Many motel and restaurant owners applaud the city’s determination to change a look that some consider not only outdated but a little tacky. O’Connell said the Googie style no longer suits a destination for both business travelers and families on vacation.
“How would you like to be a doctor attending a convention in Anaheim, and your secretary says you are staying at the Inn of Tomorrow or Space Age Lodge?” O’Connell asked. But preservationists argue that some of the outlandish ornaments are worth saving.
“This is part of the area’s original architecture,” English said. “Before they were built, this area was orange groves.”
A Fine Example of “Googie”
DOWNEY (1958)
A tatty Taj Mahal by day, a glowing marqueed oasis by night, Johnie’s (love the single “n”) gleams invitingly as Firestone Boulevard takes a Jayne Mansfield sized curve. A frequent movie location (“Short Cuts,” “What;s Love Got To Do With It”).
Despite its bicentennial provenance, this Mann’s Chinese of grog-soaked Polynesian grills is as un-self-consciously tacky as its tiki torch lit forbearers. ┬áDine on cuisine that knows no nation beneath huge coral and aquamarine lit fish tanks.
Graphically, dramatically Googie… at least on the outside. The roof’s large white triangles form an arrow pointing downward, an unconscious comment, perhaps, on the eventual decline of the Googie style. Designed by Louis Armet and Eldon Davis, kings of roadside architecture, who created Ships and Norm’s.
LA PUENTE (1968)
Form truely follows function in this, the ultimate drive thru, unabashedly shaped just like the product it sells. As architecture critic Alan Hess has noted: “The sign and building have become one.”