Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Space age bowling alleys and coffee shops - Why I love Googie architecture!

Space Age Lodge - Gila Bend, AZ - Postcard photo from Greg Ottinger

What is Googie? I could spend hours trying to describe it, but the front page of Chris Jespen's Googie Architecture Online does it so well.

Googie architecture was born of the post-WWII car-culture and thrived in the 1950s and 1960s. Bold angles, colorful signs, plate glass, sweeping cantilevered roofs and pop-culture imagery captured the attention of drivers on adjacent streets. Bowling alleys looked like Tomorrowland. Coffee shops looked like something in a Jetsons cartoon.

Why do I love it?

If you have read my previous blog entries, you know that I have a soft spot for the era of Tomorrowland and the dreams of the space age.

Rocket to the Moon - Disneyland

I was not even alive during the age of Googie, but I feel a connection to its quirky vision of the future that never was.

Googie to me seems to be an attempt to create a sense of the future in a time that was still far away from the year 2000. In the 50s and 60s, space travel was still a technological marvel. Computers were giant and mysterious machines. Color television was nearly miraculous.

There were hints of a world to come, where these new wonders would be as common as the telephone, that was nearly a lifetime away.

Googie reflects an optimism of a time when the future and technology were still new and exciting, offering a sense of adventure that awaited us. It was cheerful when nuclear war fears were now looming over a nation.

Seimons Pavilion - 1964 World's Fair

Now we are used to computers and space travel. The future that Googie teased us with has come, and like a child who gets the shiny new toy on Christmas day, now that we see it out of the box, we are slightly disappointed that it is not everything we have hoped it would be. It is often difficult to be optimistic as we read headlines about global warming and bird flu. When we look to the future now, it scares the hell out of us.

The Pine Room - Cecil Motel, Manitoba, Canada -Photo from a postcard

Googie has made a comeback of sorts today. Retro furniture and the designs of the 50s, 60s, and the often mocked 70s are being rediscovered by a new generation.

For younger people who were raised with laptop computers and threats of terrorism, an age when civic centers, bowling alleys and diners looked like spaceports seems kooky.

Kooky is what we need a little of right now in our day to day lives. Most of us live in an identical landscape of stripmalls, office towers, and housing tracts, which cover an ever growing cookie-cutter America.

While we love our big box stores and coffee houses, it is a rare space (no pun intended) that has its own unique identity.

Googie is playful and often unique. In the world of Googie, an everyday place for eating, shopping, or entertaining is a trip out of our everyday world. That why Googie lovers mourn the passing of a bowling alley or a coffee shop that is plowed under: each example is usually one of a kind.

Perhaps that is why Googie is being appreciated over half a century later, because everyone could use a little space age whimsy: where even a common storefront can be a new frontier and where a brighter tomorrow is served up with pie and coffee.

Satellite Shopland - Katella Way, Anaheim, CA -(Near I-5 Freeway and Haster St.)

A very special thanks to Chris Jespen for his pictures and his amazing site.

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