I still cannot define (or even decide) to what extent I will include architecture in my overall vision of what is Quirky Berkeley, but I know that I will include – and am now including – Googie architecture as officially part of the Quirky Berkeley Fabric. I only wish we had more.
Even if you don’t know the term “Googie,” you know what it is. It is crass, kitschy, modernistic, futuristic commercial mid-century architecture. It is also very cool. Glorious even. It is also known as Coffee Shop Moderne or late-modern commercial, but Googie is the name that sticks.
The Jetsons did not come to television until 1962, but the graphic ethos of The Jetsons is pure Googie.
Googie – born in the late 1940s and lasting through the 1960s – features aomebas and boomerangs, stars and atoms and flying saucers, rockets and satellites, dingbats and spiky balls and shining globes bristling with antennae, sphere-and-rod combinations, parabolas, tapered columns and cantilevers, sharp angles and trapezoids and zig-zags and diagonals and tilting roofs.
The name “Googie” comes from the long-gone Googie’s coffee shop in Hollywood, designed by John Lautner in 1949.
Googie’s was a hangout for Hollywood’s elite and striving. Here are a few gratuitous photos of James Dean at Googie’s, exterior and interior.
Three months after these photos were taken, James Dean died. So much life there! In my many, many 509-mile drives from Salinas to Calexico between 1974 and 1980, I passed many, many times the memorial to Dean in Cholame, near the junction where he died. End of James Dean digression.
The name “Googie” as applied to the architecture was ironic. Googie’s Coffee Shop was not John Lautner’s first effort at coffee shop moderne, or architecture that would eventually be known as Googie, and it was certainly not the first example of Googie design. Two earlier Lautner projects scream “Googie,” the Desert Hot Springs Motel and Henry’s Drive-In in Glendale.
It was pure serendpity that that architectural historian and critic Douglas Haskell latched upon Googie’s coffee shop as the archetype and eponym for all similar architecture.
Lautner was a high-modern architect much revered by his peers. I can’t imagine he would have been happy to be branded Googie. His large body of non-Googie work is stunning:
So – let’s thank him for Googie but remember him for more, much more.
We don’t have a lot of Googie in Berkeley. Not far from us there are some great examples.
At the boardwalk in Santa Cruz:
In Sacramento there is quite a bit. Three examples:
In July, 1976, I took the California State Bar in Sacramento. Maria and I ate breakfast at the Pancake Circus. I had a brief Bad Moment contemplating what I was about to do. It passed. And I passed the Bar. More Sacramento Googie:
Wow! When I moved to Oakland in 1981 Biff’s was still limping along as J.J.’s. I went a time or two, but was partial to Dave’s Coffee Shop on Broadway for late-night apple pie and tea. Not far from Biff’s, which escaped demolition but has not escaped neglect, is Giant Burger. It is hurting, but still alive.
The original design of the Oakland International Airport by John Carl Warnecke has strong Googie influences, barely visible today:
These three photos were made by Gerald Ratto in 1962. I hope to find higher quality copies to switch in, but there give the sense of Googie. At least I think they do.
One last stop before Berkeley, and that is in San Leandro, at Jerry’s Beefburgers.
Okay – back to Berkeley. As I was saying, there is not a lot of Googie in Berkeley. If we are allowed to dip into the past, there once was a little more than we now have.
Today it is the Super Eight. No hint of Googie. But even in our heyday, there wasn’t a lot of Googie. Were we too staid? Too sophisticated? Too not immersed in car culture that seems to go hand-in-hand with Googie? It is an admitted reach to come up with more than three or four solid examples, but I believe in them, and I will argue that there are Googie influences in others.
To be clear,I am not counting the contemporary-but-retro examples of Googie that can be found, although I can’t resist the sign from the Saturn Cafe at 2175 Allston. It is pure retro Googie:
First prize (there are only three) goes to Oscar’s at 1890 Shattuck. It brings me a smile every time I drive by it. I eat there a few times a year. Pure Googie. Built in 1950.
Today it is Bacheeso’s restaurant. It has been many different restaurants. I always assumed that it had started life as an International House of Pancakes franchise, but that is wrong. It started life as a Woody’s Smorgasburger. Say what?
Woody’s was a small chain mostly in Southern California, but somewhat in the north. Their gimmicks included do-it-yourself condiment bars and build-it-yourself sundae stations. The restaurants were designed by Neil M. Johnson, a Los Angeles architect whose most famous work was probably the Steel House in the Los Feliz neighborhood of Los Angeles.
Just for the fun of it, here is a little Woody’s ephemera.
Photos of other former Woody’s may be found here.
Back to Berkeley and the third solid example of Googie still standing:
In addition, there is at least one sign that I have photographed that I think makes the A Team for Googie signage:
Now for the rest. I offer them as suggestions of Googie. My architecture mentor has this to say about that which follows: “They are just debased Modernism and don’t communicate the nature of the Googie movement. Cakes without the telltale trimmings!”
Well. Well. Let’s keep them in for the time being. Look at them. Having learned a little bit about Googie, look at things more carefully. Visual acuity while exploring is never a bad thing.
The also-rans of Berkeley Googie, which may or may not be nothing more than debased Modernism:
Charlotte’s first ice cream was a soft-serve chocolate cone from here. George Foster founded the Foster’s Freeze business in 1946 when the State would not let him open Dairy Queen franchises in California because of stringent dairy laws. Those who swear by Dairy Queen do not appreciate comparisons with Foster’s Freeze.
This was once a Sam’s Burgers. I hope to find a photo of it when it was. Maybe it looked more Googie.
Just east of the Googie/Semi-Googie/Debased Modernist car wash is the temple Netivot Shalom.
It used to be a Jay-Vee liquor store. It was a good strong contender for Googie status.
Here is the best photo I have found of Jay-Vee. It had a killer definitely-Googie sign. I am working on that. You can see the Googie, no?
This building on San Pablo has gone through many lives – Willys dealer, liquor store, equipment rental, marijuana dispensary, and – empty.
Daniella Thompson collected great old photos of the site and wrote in her expected thorough and definitive way about the building for BAHA.
Let me throw myself on the mercy of the court on the next one.
A final stab at Googie now –
The final example of architecture that I am including here is not a great fit for Googie, but it fits better here than anywhere else. It is found at the CVS pharmacy on Stattuck and Rose – formerly Long’s Drugs, and before that Bill’s Drugs, and before that Lucky’s. The supermarket was built in 1947 and opened in April, 1948. And not that it matters – between 1964 and 1967 Lucky’s operated the store under the name Bonanza.
The two-square pylon tower is the signature piece here.
Industrial Designer Raymond Loewy designed the prototype of the pylon tower for Lucky’s. Time magazine told us in 1947 that Lucky’s “burly, pink-faced” president Charles Crouch had hired Loewy to see if “barnlike, depressing super markets could be imbued with some beauty.”
East Bay architect Paul Hammarberg adapted the Shattuck-Rose site to the Loewy archetype, reducing the number of squares from three to two.
In the early 1980s, the city’s Landmarks Preservation Commission considered declaring the building a landmark. The application was rejected, and as a result several major changes were made; the yellow and green porcelain tiles on the exterior were painted over, and the large windows facing Shattuck were built over.
In 1998, Longs applied for permit to demolish the Shattuck and Rose tower down. Permission was denied and the tower stands.
Just for fun, here are a couple pieces of Lucky ephemera that bear the pylon tower – usually three squares representing three square meals a day. According to Charles Hathaway, the two-square tower at the Berkeley Lucky was “strictly the result of sign ordinances.”
And photos of other Lucky’s with a pylon tower, most of which are from the most interesting website Groceteria.com:
When I showed these photos to my friend, he remembered that our mutual friend Gabby had discovered the glory of Googie when he was in Philadelphia in 1970. If I knew that, I had forgotten. Good for Gabby though. I think that in another lifetime he might have been an architect or historian of architecture.
My friend asked me if I had not gone to the New York Worlds Fair in 1964. I said yes, that I had. I showed him the one photo that I still have that I took when I went with my friend Criswell – the head of the chapel vestry at my school 45 years ago – the summer after 8th grade.
We took the train from Philadelphia to New York and got ourselves to the Worlds Fair and had fun and got ourselves home to Philadelphia. He was 14, I was 13. You wouldn’t see that so much these days!
My friend then mentioned that Gabby had just sent him a modest collection of postcards from that Worlds Fair. In the interest of time and space, I don’t present them right here, but if you are interested:
After our chat about Gabby I asked my friend what he thought of my attempt to present Googie in Berkeley. I am not sure what I expected him to say, but this is what he did say: