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Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Preserving Googie

You may not be familiar with the name, but if you’ve ever seen The Jetsons or Pulp Fiction, you recognize the style known as Googie. It is also known as Populuxe, Doo-Wop, Coffee Shop Modern, Jet Age, or Space Age. Googie was popular from the early 50s to the mid-60s and was characterized by the following elements:
  • Upswept roofs
  • Large domes
  • Large sheet glass windows
  • Exposed steel beams, which often had geometric shapes cut into them
  • Boomerang, amoeba, flying saucer and starburst shapes
  • Atomic models
These architectural features and design motifs started in coffee shops, bowling alleys and drive-ins but soon spread to convention centers, churches and structures such as the Space Needle in Seattle.

Upswept roofs, large concrete domes and exposed steel beams, often serving no function other than aesthetic, gave buildings the appearance of space stations and extraterrestrial cities found on the covers of science fiction magazines and comics.

It is possible that the boomerang shape was inspired by the work of artists Paul Klee and Joan Miro. This shape was found not only in architecture but also in textiles, archways, roadside signs, swimming pools and tile mosaics.  It was echoed in butterfly chairs, Formica patterns and corporate logos and was a symbol of the jet- and space age and was metaphorically an arrow pointing the way to progress.

Similarly, the starburst pattern, along with the atomic model and flying saucer shapes, appeared everywhere and appealed to the public’s intense interest in science and space exploration.

Googie style architecture is disappearing at an alarming rate.  It no longer looks “modern,” and it’s not old enough to be protected for its historical significance, so Googie-style buildings are being razed to build parking lots and make way for the ubiquitous Walgreen or Starbucks, which seem to be cropping up on every corner.

While there is often little that can be done to save these treasures, occasionally public outcry can stop the bulldozers.  A few years ago, concerned citizens in Fort Worth, Texas, stopped the demolition of a landmark movie theater, and we should do the same for our quickly disappearing Googie buildings.

Googie will live on, however, as long as there are collectors of mid-century pieces and as long as artists like Steve Cambronne continue to celebrate the iconic shapes of the era.


Convention Center, Anaheim, CA

Redwood car wash

Gas station, Beverly Hills

Welcome Sign, Las Vegas, NV
Photo credit: Shayne Harrington Nichols

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