Friday, October 9, 2009

The Jetsons are Historic

The Los Angeles Times noted last week that the more recent architecture and designs of the "Early Modern" period are now eligible for historic designation, as are most of the boomers that lived that era. Many of them are the Case Study homes built from designs by Buff and Hensman, Smith and Williams, Cal Straub, Richard Neutra, Pierre Konig and A.Quincy Jones, mostly fellas from the USC architecture school who practiced in the post-war era. These were documented by Esther McCoy in her tome, "Blueprints for Modern Living" Others from the USC group include Lyman Ennis and James Pulliam. They were a very integrated group that worked in concert with each other on many occasions, sharing a value system of streamlined international interpretation at the small scale. For example, Whitney Smith worked for Harwell Hamilton Harris, and later teamed up with Wayne Williams, a student of his at USC, for a productive career in residential, industrial and small commercial projects. Their design archives are here in Wonderland.

A subgenre of early modern in Los Angeles is Googie architecture, a wonderfully "flip" commercial design style that borders on cheap flash. Nothing reserved about this style! This was famously used in family restaurants and coffee shops, and of course the Theme Building at LAX. It was a slightly later period that is now hitting the 50-year mark to the delight of Jetson fans all over the country, since these buildings are now eligible for the historic designation that brings tax breaks and renovation crews. This style was a celebration of the loopy, modern spaceship meme that permeated the advertising slant of this kind of design; a very animated and out-of-the-box public display of 60's optimism, along with those big car fins and Schwinn Radio Flyer bikes.

With the preservation and adaptive reuse of the best of these structures, there's a hope of retaining the vitality, character and scale of the urban fabric established during this era.