Googie architecture

Googie, also known as populuxe or doo-wop, is a subdivision of futurist architecture, influenced by car culture and the Space Age and Atomic Age, originating from Southern California in the late 1940s and continuing approximately into the mid-1960s. The types of buildings that were most frequently designed in a Googie style were motels, coffee houses and bowling alleys.

Features of Googie include upswept roofs, curvaceous, geometric shapes, and bold use of glass, steel and neon. Googie was also characterized by space-age designs that depict motion, such as boomerangs, flying saucers, atoms and parabolas, and free-form designs such as "soft" parallelograms and the ubiquitous artist's-palette motif. These stylistic conventions reflected American society's emphasis on futuristic designs and fascination with Space Age themes. The style is related to and sometimes synonymous with the Raygun Gothic style as coined by writer William Gibson. As with the art deco style of the 1930s, Googie became undervalued as time passed, and many buildings built in this style have been destroyed.


According to author Alan Hess in his book "Googie Redux: Ultramodern Roadside Architecture", the origin of the name Googie goes back to 1949, when architect John Lautner designed the coffee shop Googie's, which had very distinctive architectural characteristics. Googie's was located at the corner of Sunset Boulevard and Crescent Heights in Los Angeles but was demolished in the 1980s. According to Hess, the name Googie stuck as a rubric for the architectural style when Professor Douglass Haskell of Yale and architectural photographer Julius Shulman were driving through Los Angeles one day. Haskell insisted on stopping the car upon seeing Googie's and proclaimed. "This is Googie architecture." He made the name stick after an article he wrote appeared in a 1952 edition of "House and Home" magazine. [Hess 2004, p.68]


Googie's roots lie in the Streamline Moderne architecture of the 1930s. [Hess 2004,p.26] Alan Hess, one of the most knowledgeable writers on the subject, writes in "Googie: Ultra Modern Road Side Architecture" that mobility in Los Angeles in 1930s was characterized by the initial influx of the automobile and the service industry that evolved to cater to it. With car ownership increasing, cities no longer had to be centered on a central downtown but could spread out to the suburbs, where business hubs could be interspersed with residential areas. The suburbs offered less congestion by offering the same businesses, but accessible by car. Instead of one flagship store downtown, businesses now had multiple stores in suburban areas. This new approach required owners and architects to develop a visual brand so customers would recognize it from the road. This modern consumer architecture was based on communication. [Hess 2004, p.30]

The new smaller suburban stores were essentially signboards advertising the business to vehicles on the road. This was achieved by using bold style choices, including large pylons with elevated signs, bold neon letters and circular pavilions. [Hess 2004, p.41-42] Hess writes that due to the increase in mass production and travel in the 1930s, Streamline Moderne became popular due to the “high energy silhouettes its simplistic designs created.” [Hess 2004, p.29] These buildings featured rounded edges, large pylons and neon lights, all symbolizing, according to Hess, “invisible forces of speed and energy,” that reflect the influx of mobility that cars, locomotives and zeppelins brought. [Hess 2004, p.29] Streamline Moderne, much like Googie, was styled to look futuristic to signal the beginning of a new era – that of the automobile. Drive-in services such as diners, movie theaters and gas stations built with the same principles developed to serve the new American city. [Hess 2004, p.29] Drive-ins led the way in car-oriented architectural design, as they were built in a purely utilitarian style, circular and surrounded by a parking lot, allowing all customers equal access from their cars. [Hess 2004, p.39] These developments in consumer oriented design set the stage for Googie in the 1950s, since during the 1940s World War II and rationing led to a pause in the development due to the imposed frugality on the American public.

The 1950s, on the other hand, celebrated its affluence with decadent designs. The development of atomic energy and the reality of space travel captivated the public’s imagination of the future. [Hess 2004, p.46- 47] This was the vision that architects looked to for reinventing modern architecture. Googie architecture tapped this vision by incorporating energy into its design with elements such as the boomerang, diagonals, atomic bursts and bright colors. [Hess 2004, p.47 and p.192 - 193] According to Hess, increasing consumer edge to commercial architecture was influenced by the desires of the mass audience. [Hess 2004, p.50-51] The public was captivated by rocket ships and the atomic energy, so, in order to draw their attention, architects used these as motifs in their work. Buildings had been used to catch the attention of motorists since the invention of the car, but the 1950s took it a step further and created a genre of architecture that was used exclusively for the roadside service industry.

, Douglas Honnold and the team of Louis Armet and Eldon Davis. Also instrumental in developing the style was designer Helen Liu Fong, a key member of the firm of Armet and Davis. Joining the firm in 1951, she created such iconic Googie interiors as those of the Johnie's Coffee Shop on Wilshire Boulevard and Fairfax Avenue, the first Norm's Restaurant on Figueroa Street, and the Holiday Bowl on Crenshaw Boulevard.

America's preoccupation with space travel had a significant influence on the unique style of Googie architecture. Speculation about space travel had roots going as far back as 1920s science fiction. In the 1950s, space travel became a reality for the first time in history. In 1957, America's preoccupation grew into an obsession, when the Soviet Union launched Sputnik I, the first human-made satellite that "slipped the surly bonds of Earth." [ ["...slippped the surly bonds of Earth" quoted from a poem by John Gillespie Magee, Jr.] The obsession intensified into a near mania when the Soviet Union launched Vostok 1 carrying the first human, Yuri Gagarin, into Earth orbit in 1961. The Eisenhower and Kennedy administrations made competing with the Soviets for dominance in space a national priority of considerable urgency and importance. This marked the beginning of "The Space Race."

With space travel such an important part of the national zeitgeist, architects decided that they wanted to give people a little taste of the future in the here and now. Googie style signs usually have something with sharp and bold angles, which suggest the aerodynamic features of a rocket ship. Also, at the time, the unique architecture was a form of architectural braggadocio, as rockets were technological novelties at the time. Perhaps the most famous example of Googie's legacy is the Space Needle in Seattle, Washington. A revealing comparison can be made between the Space Needle and the non-Googie Osaka Tower of 1966.Fact|date=July 2008


Googie Architecture developed from the futuristic architecture of Streamline Moderne, but at the same time rejected it. While 1930s architecture called for simplicity, Googie embraced excess. Hess argues that the reason for this was that vision of the future of the 1930s was obsolete by 1950 and thus the architecture evolved along with it. During the 1930s, trains and zephyrs had been on the cutting edge of technology, and Streamline Moderne mimicked their smooth simplistic aerodynamic exteriors. [Hess 2004, p.46] This simplicity may have reflected the depression era’s forced frugality. Googie heavily influenced retro-futurism. The somewhat cartoonish style is appropriately exemplified in the Jetsons cartoons, and the original Disneyland in Anaheim, California featured a Googie Tomorrowland (much of Tomorrowland still features Googie architecture, such as the Tomorrowland Terrace, Pizza Port, and Disneyland Railroad station). Three classic locations for Googie were Miami Beach, Florida, where secondary commercial structures took hints from the resort Baroque of Morris Lapidus and other hotel designers; the first phase of Las Vegas, Nevada; and Southern California, where Richard Neutra built a drive-in church in Garden Grove. Googie was also the inspiration for the set design style of "The Incredibles".

The eye-catching style flourished in a carnival atmosphere along multi-lane highways, in motel architecture and above all in signage. Private clients were the backbone of Googie, though the Seattle Space Needle qualifies as "establishment Googie" (even though the Space Needle is, and always has been, privately owned).

Ultimately, the style fell out of favor and, over time, numerous examples of the Googie style have either fallen into disrepair or been destroyed completely - usually being replaced with buildings that lack the distinctive flashiness of the style.


Cantilevered structures, acute angles, illuminated plastic panelling, freeform boomerang and artist's palette shapes and cutouts, and tailfins on buildings marked Googie architecture, which was beneath contempt to the architects of Modernism, but found defenders in the post-Modern climate at the end of the 20th century. The common elements that generally distinguish Googie from other forms of architecture are:

Roofs sloping at an upward angle - This is the one particular element in which architects were really showing off, and also creating a unique structure. Many roofs of Googie style coffee shops, and other structures, have a roof that appear to be 2/3 of an inverted obtuse triangle. A great example of this is the famous, but now closed, Johnie's Coffee Shop on Wilshire Boulevard in Los Angeles.
Starbursts - Starbursts are an ornament that goes hand in hand with the Googie style, showing its Space Age and whimsical influences. Perhaps the most notable example of the starburst appears on the "Welcome to Fabulous Las Vegas" sign, which has now become somewhat famous. The ornamental design is in the form of, as Hess writes, "a high-energy explosion." [Hess 2004, p.194] This shape is born of the 1950s fascination with the future and atomic age. It’s also an example of non-utilitarian design as the star shape has no actual function but merely serves as a design element.

The boomerang was another design element that captured movement. It was used structurally in place of a pillar or esthetically as a stylized arrow. Hess writes that the boomerang was a stylistic rendering of a protruding energy field. [Hess 2004, p.192]

Architecture professor Douglas Haskel (mentioned below) perhaps described the Googie style best, saying that, "If it looks like a bird, it must be a geometric bird." Also, the buildings must appear in some cases to defy gravity, as Haskel noted that, "Whenever possible, the building must hang from the sky." Googie is not a style noted for its subtlety, as inclusion, rather than minimalism, is one of the central features.

The most famous Googie building may be the Theme Building at Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) designed by James Langenheim of Pereira & Luckman and built in 1961.

One of the last remaining and largest Googie-styled drive-in restaurants, Johnie's Broiler in Downey, California, was partially demolished in 2007.

The fall of Googie

The architectural community never appreciated or accepted Googie, considering it too flashy and vernacular for academic praise. [Hess 2004, p.66-69] The architecture of the 1970s reflected this change. The rise of postmodernism in architecture replaced Modernism. As Hess discusses, beginning in the 1970s, buildings were meant to blend in to the urban sprawl, not attract attention. [Hess 2004,p.178] Since Googie buildings were part of the service industry, most developers did not think they were worth preserving as cultural artifacts. [Hess 2004,p.1868] Despite the humble origins of Googie, Hess writes that, “Googie architecture is an important part of the history of suburbia.” [Hess 2004, p.186] Googie was a symbol of the early days of car culture. It wasn’t until the 1990s that efforts at conservation began. [Hess 2004, p. 184] By this time it was too late to save famous landmarks such as Googie’s and Ship’s which were demolished. [Hess 2004, p. 181] Despite the loss of these important landmarks, other famous Googie buildings such as the Wich Stand and some of the original Bob’s Big Boy locations have been preserved and even restored to their original splendor. [Hess 2004, p. 184 – 185.]

ee also

* Wildwood, New Jersey
* Home of the future
* Novelty architecture
* Miami Modern Architecture
* Design for Dreaming
* The Golden Years (1960 film)
* The Gernsback Continuum



*Hess, A. "Googie Redux:Ultramodern Roadside Architecture," Chronicle Books, 2004.

Further reading

Books are arranged in chronological order by year of publication:
* "Learning from Las Vegas", by Robert Venturi 1972 (ISBN 978-0262720069)
* "Orange Roofs, Golden Arches" by Philip Langdon 1986
* "Googie: Fifties Coffee Shop Architecture" by Alan Hess, 1986 (ISBN 978-0877013341)
* "Populuxe: the Look and Life of Midcentury America" by Thomas Hine, 1986 (ISBN 978-1585679102)
* "LA Lost and Found: An Architectural History of Los Angeles" by Sam Hall Kaplan 1987 Pages 145-155
* "Southern California in the 50s" by Charles Phoenix 2001
* "Los Angeles Neon" by Nathan Marsak and Nigel Cox 2002
* "Mimo: Miami Modern Revealed" by Eric P. Nash and Randall C. Robinson, Jr. 2004
* "Googie Redux: Ultramodern Roadside Architecture" by Alan Hess, 2004 (ISBN 081184272X)
* "Doo Wop Motels: Architectural Treasures of The Wildwoods" by Kirk Hastings 2007
* "The Leisure Architecture of Wayne McAllister" by Chris Nichols, 2007 (ISBN 978-1586856991)

External links

* [ Lotta Living] , an online Community for fans of Googie architecture (and the message board for the LAC Modern Committee and Recent Past PReservation Network
* [ Googie Architecture Online]
* [ Roadside Peek: Googie Central]
* [ Category at Open Directory Project]
* [ Googie styles in Los Angeles, California]
* [ Synthetrix Photos Of The Forgotten] - Documenting * [Googie style motels surrounding Disneyland in Anaheim, California
* [ Seattle Googie] - Documenting Googie architecture in Seattle, WA
* [ Wildwood Doo Wop] - Documenting "Doo Wop" (Googie) architecture in Wildwood, NJ
* [ Googie style Satellite Hotel in Colorado Springs, Colorado]

Preservation groups working to save Googie architecture include
* [ Los Angeles Conservancy Modern Committee]
* [ Palm Springs Modern Committee]
* [ Doo Wop Preservation League]
* [ Recent Past Preservation Network]
* [ DOCOMOMO] , Dutch-founded DOcumentation and COnservation of buildings, sites and neighborhoods of the MOdern MOvement
* [ Los Angeles Conservancy home]
* [ John Lautner Foundation] , Googie architect site

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