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Exaggerated Modern / Googie

Exaggerated Modern architecture – also known as Googie architecture – began in Southern California, then fanned out to other areas of the nation, with amazing popularity in Las Vegas and Miami.  This architectural style was at its peak in the 1950s and 1960s.

Today, the term "Exaggerated Modern" is being used to describe this style of architecture.  The term "Googie", which was initially used to identify this style, is traced back to restaurants designed by John Lautner in the early 1940s.  In 1949, Lautner designed Googie's coffee shop (next to the famous Schwab's drug store) at the corner of Sunset Boulevard and Crescent Heights in Los Angeles.  When Professor Douglas Haskell of Yale spotted the coffee shop, he coined its style as "Googie architecture."  The label stuck when Haskell wrote an influential article on the style in House and Home magazine.  The name suits the exotic and playful style that was once used to design thousands of buildings – coffee shops, restaurants, motels, car washes, bowling alleys, car dealerships – throughout Southern California.

The Exaggerated Modern (or Googie) style took its cues from Streamline Moderne and commercial vernacular architecture of the 1930s and 1940s.  It began as a way to make the most of strip malls and other roadside locations and to catch the eye of passing motorists.  The style reflected the exuberance, enthusiasm, optimism, and faith in the future and technology prevalent in the 1950s.  It borrowed heavily from popular culture and the Space Age, and is often described as a combination of the Flintstones and the Jetsons.

Common features of Exaggerated Modern architecture include:

  • Roofs sloping at an upward angle, giving the appearance that they could take off in flight
  • Large sheet glass windows
  • Exposed steel beams and trusses
  • Design elements having curvaceous, geometric, and unusual shapes: domes, boomerangs, starbursts, cutouts, flying saucers, amoebas, etc.
  • Flamboyant colors
  • A building design relating to a theme, such as the Space Age or Atomic Age
  • Bold use of old and new materials, including sheet glass, steel, neon, plastic,  plywood, rock and fake rock (permacrete)

The ultramodern Bob's Big Boy restaurants, early McDonald's restaurants, Disneyland's Tomorrowland and Monsanto House of the Future, Seattle's Space Needle, and the Cinerama Dome in Hollywood are all well-known examples of Exaggerated Modern architecture.

Because of its association with Disneyland, Anaheim became the ideal city for Exaggerated Modern architecture.  Hundreds of buildings designed in this style dotted Harbor Boulevard and Katella Avenue, especially around the theme park, in the 1960s and 1970s; gradually, most of them have disappeared, as Anaheim has adopted stricter building design and sign standards in the area around Disneyland.

Unlike Anaheim, Fullerton never went overboard on this style, but a few commercial buildings were constructed. The only structures still standing in Fullerton with the Exaggerated Modern style are located at the southwest corner of Commonwealth and Nutwood Avenues. Designed by the modernist architectural firm of Armet and Davis, the buildings, now part of Hope International University, are spectacular examples of this style.  A more modern take on the style can be seen at the commercial complex at 133 W. Chapman Avenue in the downtown area.

Exaggerated Modern architecture was out of favor by the mid-1960s.  Historical and cultural events – the assassination of President Kennedy, the Vietnam War, social unrest – combined to temper the optimistic attitudes of the 1950s.  Many "serious" architects also criticized the style as frivolous, crass, and kitschy.  It was very much architecture appropriate for the times and needs of the day. 

Read More about Exaggerated Modern (Googie) Architecture:

  • Haskell, Douglas. "Googie Architecture." House and Home February 1952: 86-88.
  • Hess, Alan. Googie: Fifties Coffee Shop 
     San Francisco: Chronicle, 1986.
  • Hess, Alan. Googie Redux: Ultramodern Roadside Architecture. San Francisco: Chronicle, 2004. (Revised version of 1986 work.)  Includes a guided tour of Googie buildings in Los Angeles, Orange County, and Palm Springs.
  • King, Barbara. "So Goofy, So Giddy, So Googie." Los Angeles Times October 20, 2005: F2.

Hope International University campus building (1964) - 2500 E. Nutwood Avenue
Hope International University campus building (1964)
2500 E. Nutwood Avenue


Hope International University campus building 2 (1964) - 2500 E. Nutwood Avenue
Hope International University campus building
2500 E. Nutwood Avenue



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