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Art Deco: Zigzag Moderne & Streamline (Art) Moderne

Art deco was a movement in the decorative arts and architecture that originated in the 1910s and developed into a major style in western Europe and the United States during the 1920s and 1930s. Its name comes from the Exposition Internationale des Arts Decoratifs et Industriels Modernes (International Exposition of Modern Decorative and Industrial Arts), held in Paris in 1925, where the style was first exhibited. The Fair's organizers insisted that all architecture and decorative arts shown be "modern" – that is, depart from tradition stylistically.

Influences on Art Deco came from a wide variety of historical and avant-garde sources, including Art Nouveau, the Bauhaus movement and Cubism. Decorative ideas came from the American Indian, Egyptian, Mayan and Aztec cultures, and ancient Greece and Rome. Above all, the style represented sophisticated modernism designed for a new century. Modern elements included echoing machine and automobile patterns and shapes, such as stylized gears and wheels, or natural elements such as sunbursts or flower bouquets. Architects associated with Art Deco include Eliel Saarinen in France, and Raymond Hood, William Van Alen, Henry Hohauser, L. Murray Dixon, and T. L. Pflueger in America. Well-known Art Deco structures include the Empire State Building, the Chrysler Building, and Radio City Music Hall, all located in New York City.

There were two facets of Art Deco: Zigzag Moderne and Streamline (Art) Moderne. Zigzag Moderne was highly decorative with the façade of zigzag buildings adorned with geometric ornamentation from which it gets its name. Zigzag Moderne was a distinctly urban style that flourished in large cities – New York, Los Angeles, Miami – where residents embraced forward-thinking modernism and the machine age. While a few dwellings were designed in the Zigzag Moderne style, it was primarily used for large public and commercial buildings, especially hotels, movie theaters, restaurants, skyscrapers, and department stores. The style required expensive and exotic materials that were artistically designed and skillfully applied by artisans. The style was largely a system of ornamentation applied to smooth building surfaces. Decoration was often completed in a luxurious assortment of materials, including exotic wood veneers, marble, painted terra-cotta, and metals.

As a later phase of Art Deco, Streamline (Art) Moderne emerged from the Great Depression. It reflected the austere economic climate by removing all unnecessary ornament, focusing on streamlined forms, such as smooth walls, rounded edges, and circular windows. The style was heavily influenced by the shapes of modern transportation – automobiles, airplanes, trains, buses, and ocean liners – that reflected the growth of speed and travel in the 1930s. It was perfect for a technological age that spawned air travel, the telephone, radio, talking pictures, and the skyscraper. Integral with the machine age, the style is founded on the idea that mass production and quality were not mutually exclusive. It was also the first architectural style to incorporate light into architecture.

While Zigzag celebrated modern life, Streamline Moderne looked to a better future. Homes were built in the Streamline Moderne style, but commercial structures – gas stations, diners, bus terminals, stores – were more modest than in the Zigzag style. Features of the Streamline Moderne style include:

  • Aerodynamic curves and flowing forms
  • Emphasis on simple lines and a very clean look
  • Long horizontal lines
  • Smooth and curved walls surfaces
  • Nautical elements, such as portholes and steel railings, often marked by a signature trio of horizontal speed stripes suggesting motion
  • Use of new materials, such as glass block, chrome, vitrolite, stainless steel, and neon signage
  • Flat roofs with ledge coping
  • Horizontal bands of windows, often steel casement, set flush with wall surfaces
  • Elements in groups of three

Along with architecture, Streamline Moderne was a style that industrial designers applied to everything, including cars, trains, movie sets, furniture, fashion design, and household appliances. Streamline Moderne was at its height at the New York World's Fair of 1939-40 where the "World of Tomorrow" showcased the cars, kitchens, and cities of the future. The style quickly went out of fashion during World War II, but there was a renewed interest in Art Deco design in the late 1960s.

Art Deco was the first 20th century architectural style in America to break with the traditional revival styles. Fullerton businessmen and residents, however, did not readily embrace these "modern" styles, preferring to construct buildings in the revival styles until the start of World War II. There are only a few examples of both the Zigzag and Streamline (Art) Moderne styles in the city. The former Rialto Theatre at 219 N. Harbor Boulevard was remodeled in 1930, with an exterior Zigzag Moderne style that remains today. The Mutual Building and Loan Association Building (1924, remodeled in 1933) at 124 W. Wilshire Avenue is also a Zigzag Moderne building.

The former Val Vita-Hunt Wesson Office (1939) at 1747 W. Commonwealth Avenue is the best example of an application of the Streamline (Art) Moderne style to a commercial structure in Fullerton. A less refined example is the Adams' Barbershop Building (1946) at 509 N. Harbor Boulevard, next to the former Masonic Temple. The two-story Gamble House (1940) at 1313 N. Raymond Avenue is the only example of a true Streamline (Art) Moderne residence in Fullerton. In the 1930s and 1940s, art deco elements were sometimes added to the exteriors and interiors of Spanish Colonial Revival dwellings, including curved bathtubs, countertops, and cabinets, along with streamlined bathrooms and kitchens. The former Fullerton City Hall, now the Police Station (237 W. Commonwealth Avenue), for instance, has art deco metal railings and tile on the exterior.

Read More about the Art Deco and Moderne Styles:

  • Bayer, Patricia. Art Deco Architecture: Design, Decoration and Detail from the Twenties and Thirties. New York: Harry N. Abrams, 1992.
  • Breeze, Carla. American Art Deco: Architecture and Regionalism. New York: W. W Norton, 2003.
  • Delacroix, Henry. Art Deco Interiors. New York: Dover Publications, 2017.
  • Gebhard, David. The National Trust Guide to Art Deco in America. New York: J. Wiley, 1996.
  • McMillan, Elizabeth Jean. Deco and Streamline Architecture in L.A.: A Moderne City Survey. Atglen, PA: Schiffer, 2004.
  • Schwartzman, Arnold. Deco Landmarks: Art Deco Gems of the City and County of Los Angeles. San Francisco: Chronicle Books, 2005.
  • Tinniswood, Adrian. The Art Deco House: Avante-garde Houses of the 1920s and 1930s. New York: Watson-Guptill Publications, 2002.

Fullerton Improvement Company Building (1930) - 211-215 N. Harbor Boulevard
Fullerton Improvement Company Building (1930)
211-215 N. Harbor Boulevard


Mutual Building and Loan Association Building - (1924 remodeled in 1933)
Mutual Building & Loan Association Building (1924; remodeled in 1933)
124 W. Wilshire Avenue


Val Vita Food Products Company Headquarters (1939) - 174 W. Commonwealth Avenue
Val Vita Food Products Company Headquarters(1939)
1747 W. Commonwealth Avenue


Gamble House (1940) - 1313 N. Raymond Avenue
Gamble House (1940)
1313 N. Raymond Avenue


Adams' Barbershop Building (1946) - 509 N. Harbor Boulevard
Adams' Barbershop Building (1946)
509 N. Harbor Boulevard


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