Call Me “Googie”

You know, I’ve talked before about my obsession with the pop culture of the mid-20th century. This obsession has disturbed some and bewildered others. To those who fall into one these two disparaging categories, I wanted to graciously offer some practical and logical explanation.

You see, I grew up in Southern California – Orange County, California to be exact. Orange County (it wasn’t ‘the OC’ when I was a kid) is a unique place.

California experienced quite a population boom in the dust-bowl years. The people who came there in the 1930’s and the decades following were entranced with the old romantic notions of California. Early European explorers believed California to be an island paradise ruled by Amazon women and their Queen Califia. Remnants of these myths and the fever of the “gold rush” of the late 19th century continued to fill American’s heads with visions of California as the “Golden State”, the tropical paradise where the sun shone all the time and opportunity awaited. And far from the crowded east and southeast, freedom beckoned.

The folks who settled in Southern California had an adventurous spirit and an eye on the future. They dreamed big dreams. This was expressed in virtually all facets of society. By the 1950’s, with post-war consumerism in full-swing, prosperous Southern California was bursting with images of its adventurous mindset. Veterans who had encountered the mysterious and romantic South Pacific islands during the war years brought back the “Tiki” culture. As man ventured into orbit, vestiges of the “space age” were also prevalent. Southern California embodied the pioneer spirit of all Americans. Disneyland, opening in Orange County in 1955, was a prime example, with places like Adventureland and Tomorrowland.

That brings me back to my point. The culture of Southern California is rich with imagery of America’s fantastic mid-century dreams – expressed most vividly in “Googie” architecture, named after a unique coffee shop called “Googie’s” in Hollywood circa 1949. Similar sights could be found along Route 66 leading into the Golden State…beckoning the traveller to this magical world.

I think my fascination with mid-century culture is a direct result of growing up in So Cal in the 1970’s, as I was surrounded by this unique architecture. I lived in Anaheim, home of Disneyland. My grandparents lived about a geographic mile from Disneyland. I must have traveled down Katella Avenue a million times, and I can vividly recall watching through the car windows as neon signs and odd buildings housing kitschy motels of every shape and color passed by. For those who aren’t familiar, to the right is a mid- 1980’s photo of Katella Ave., which borders Disneyland on the south. It was our own little version of the Vegas strip. Not only does this photo illustrate the concentration of gross commercialism that surrounded Disneyland in those days, but also the large number of Googie-styled hotels and motels that dotted the Southern California landscape during the 1950’s and 1960’s.

Let’s look at a few examples of some of my favorites on this strip and around OC.

The Space Age Inn might be the most elaborate of the motels on Katella.

This place was super groovy. It had all the elements of futuristic design.

The lighting at night was extra-cool, too…

Magic Carpet Motel (formerly the “Pixie”) was one of several “Alladin” themed motels. The little star at the top added the “space age” element. Another orient-themed motel was the “Magic Lamp” with a big genie sign out front.

These were examples of mysterious foreign cultures imbued into American design.

The Cosmic Age Lodge, like the Space Age Inn, was another typical example of 1950’s outer space themed motels. This “space age” theme was probably the most prevalent theme and the most influential design element, with boomerangs, stars, rings, and atoms galore. I love the sign at the bottom of the Cosmic Age that says “COLOR TV!”.

The lobby of the Cosmic Age Lodge was also a wonder to behold, as seen below.

Then there was the Satellite Shopland sign. When this icon was torn down several years ago, there was a huge uproar. While the “progressive” folks thought it was tacky, other nostalgic folks (like me) thought it was awesome! An artist from Pasedena finally bought it and refurbished it to its original silver color.

Other everyday places in OC were Googie architecture, too. This included Denny’s, Bob’s Big Boy restaurants, various diners, shopping centers, bowling alleys, etc.

Lyndy’s coffee shop is an example. I drove the old ’57 over there a few times for a snack.

As you can see, these eye-catching images of the 50’s and 60’s made a serious impact on me and may partially explain my fascination with mid-century nostaligia. If you’re interested in seeing more, check out the “Googie” link on the “Blogroll” sidebar to the upper right of this page.

So maybe you think I’m weird. That’s OK.

Just call me “Googie”.


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