Wednesday, September 26, 2007

O.C. architecture's greatest hits

The October issue of Westways magazine features an article about Southern California’s “most significant structures,” based on a recent list from the American Institute of Architects. Of these, only one building was in Orange County: Philip Johnson’s Crystal Cathedral (1980) in Garden Grove. Additionally, Westways' own hand-picked panel of experts decided that Mission San Juan Capistrano should also have appeared on the list, which is true.

But I would like to add at least three more nationally-important O.C. buildings to the list: The Lovell Beach House on the Balboa Penninsula, Sleeping Beauty’s Castle at Disneyland, and the blimp hangars at the former Marine Corps Air Station in Tustin.

The Lovell Beach House (1926) [seen above], was where architect Rudolph M. Schindler introduced European Modernism to America. It was the first stateside example of a style that would spread across the entire nation, gradually adapting to its environment and changing form as it went. The historical and architectural significance of this house is sometimes overlooked, but can not be overstated.

Look at your bank, your city hall, your school, or your favorite donut shop. Chances are, they’re the bastard great-great-grandchildren of this building. Amid the innumerable Modern structures that now grace O.C., this home now barely stands out to casual passers-by – But it must have been quite a shock to people strolling along the beach in the 1920s.

Julius Schulman, who originally photographed this building for Schindler, was on Westways’ expert panel, so I don’t know how they missed it.

Sleeping Beauty’s Castle (1955), at Disneyland, is probably the ultimate example of programmatic architecture. Its ancestors are roadside hot dog stands that looked like giant hot dogs, motels that looked like wigwams, and ice cream shops that looked like igloos. Disney just took the idea to a whole new level when they built a 77-foot idealized version of Germany's Castle Neuschwanstein.

Even before Disneyland opened, Sleeping Beauty’s Castle had become an instantly-recognizable symbol of the Walt Disney Company, of California tourism, and of childhood fantasy itself. The design was elaborated on in four other Disney theme parks, and mimicked by countless smaller operations. Other than a few historic structures on the East Coast (e.g. The White House), it’s hard to think of another American building that is so recognizable or which inspires such an instant emotional reaction from so many people.
The Blimp Hangars (1942) at MCAS Tustin were constructed in only six months as part of the effort to protect our coastline from enemy attack during WWII. Six inflated blimps could fit in each hangar. The USMC later used the base for helicopters. Although there are still a few identical structures left around the country, there are no larger free-standing wood structures in the world. Despite claims by those who want the hangars demolished for new development, these two enormous structures are well-built and still require very little maintenance. They serve as both an important reminder of our military history and as a testament to American architectural ingenuity.

The AIA list's inclusion of the Crystal Cathedral brings up another point: Why not include the entire Garden Grove Community Church compound? It is a veritable petting zoo of amazing Modern architecture by Richard Meier, Philip Johnson and both Richard Neutra and Dion Neutra.

These are just the examples that come to mind at the moment. I'm sure I'm missing something important, and hopefully you'll write some "reply" posts telling me what I forgot.

1 comment:

Tris Mast said...

One of my personal OC favorites is the elegant Googie building (formerly Stuft Shirt and Cano's restaurants) on PCH in Newport Beach.