Mr. Googie

Photo by James Bunoan”This was supposed to be the googie future,” says author Alan Hess, looking around at the reality of 2002, “but the last man walked on the moon 30 years ago. When I was growing up, I knew perfectly well that when I was my father's age, I'd be living in the Monsanto House of the Future. But it didn't quite work out that way.”

Hess is the architecture critic for the San Jose Mercury News, but he's also—though we're probably the only ones who would actually say it to him in person—Mr. Googie. His 1985 book (soon to be reissued in a new-and-improved edition), Googie: Fifties Coffeeshop Architecture, remains the definitive work on the genre, as well as something of a pioneering step in legitimizing the fast-food joints and bowling alleys—like Anaheim's Linbrook Bowl (right) and the soon-to-be-demolished Kona Lanes in Costa Mesa—of yesterday.

“Googie was never taken seriously, which meant suburban development was never taken seriously, so it was pretty much left to developers to do whatever they wanted,” explains Hess (below). “It's so easy to criticize parking lots and traffic jams, but you don't get anywhere by criticizing. You need to understand why it's like that.

In googie architecture, you'll find the roots of the modern suburb, he says, and in the modern suburb is the balance of everyday life in the 21st century. Ignoring the gaudy caveman days of cities like Anaheim and Costa Mesa—the car-centric, capitalist, conservative techno-enclaves that evolved into the landscape we're scattered over today—is to ignore how and why that neon googie future settled into our stucco-and-tile present. And, he might add, to ignore a little bit about who we were and who we're becoming.

Alan Hess
Photo by James Bunoan

“Googie took modernism seriously,” Hess explains. “Googie architects really liked the idea of creating a new world.”

A googie world might be just as commercialized, just as techno-fetishistic and even just as surreptitiously imperialistic as our own—but in googie, there was a place for enthusiasm, individualism, even simple fun, all taken just as seriously as commercial concerns. It says something that googie is regarded as excessive today—personality just isn't cost-effective.

“It's part of our history, and our history is our common memory and consciousness,” he says. “If we erase part of our memory, it's like trying to function with partial amnesia. And if we get rid of googie, we'll lose the vitality, the memory, the variety and the presence of the people who went before us. And that will make for a poorer common landscape.”

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