Preserving Los Angeles's Googie: An Analysis of a Commercial Style, Change, and Preservation

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Los Angeles
space age
commercial architecture
doo wop
Historic Preservation and Conservation
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Nájera, Emelyn

"Inspired by the imposing forms of planes, ships, and sleek futuristic technology, Googie gave Los Angeles’s commercial architecture “wings, angles, texture, color, and just about anything else that would catch the eye and lure a passing motorist.” Like its Programmatic precursor, Googie was cultivated in a vernacular commercial landscape geared towards advertisement. The style defied tradition with its glossary of dramatic angles; its ostentatious color palette; and its use of steel, chrome, and neon. Notably, it saw extensive use in the most vernacular of commercial structures, lending character to bowling alleys, motels, car washes, gas stations, and restaurants. By the 1960s Googie architecture had spread beyond the Southern California boundaries, dotting the country with corresponding roadside designs. However, by the 1980s the style’s popularity had waned, and stiff competition in the commercial landscape coupled with a pressure to maximize the profitability of prime real-estate locations, resulted in the demolition of significant Googie structures. As a result, some of the style’s most iconic sites, like the eponymous Googie Coffee Shop on Sunset Boulevard, were razed in favor of newer commercial ventures. This thesis investigates the internal and external mechanisms of change affecting Los Angeles’s Googie commercial architecture, examining case-studies of preservation successes and failures, and the regulatory frameworks in place for the advocacy and preservation of the style. Key lessons learned through this study pose an argument in favor of the preservation of Googie and the everyday buildings of our urban lives. "

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