Denise Kiernan is a journalist and author whose work and travels have taken her from the undulating and stiletto-crippling cobblestoned streets of Rome to the soccer stadiums of Central America and the Great Wall of China. Most recently, she dove headlong into the lives and formerly classified documents of the Manhattan Project for her latest book, the New York Times Bestseller “The Girls of Atomic City.” In Los Angeles, an unexpected Manhattan Project legacy of sorts caught her eye: Atomic Age Architecture.
As World War II came to a close, a new era began—one that regarded the power of the atom with both fear and awe. The Atomic Age also brought with it an infusion of futuristic architecture that perhaps no city showcases better than Los Angeles.
From the moment architect John Lautner designed Googie’s Coffeehouse at the corner of Sunset and Crescent Heights, a style was born that would grace everything from diners and gas stations to celeb estates. The retro, funky, mid-century modern LA look embraced a space-age optimism, often accented by starbursts, angled rooftops and ample windows. It became known as “Googie” architecture. Sadly, Googie’s Coffeehouse is no more, but Lautner’s legacy and other futuristic architectural wonders can still be found. “The Girls of Atomic City” author, Denise Kiernan, points you in the direction of some fabulous mid-century architecture in the LA area.
Los Angeles International Airport Theme Building
209 World Way
Los Angeles International Airport
Los Angeles, CA 90045
Flying into LA for a visit? Your space-age architectural adventure can begin before you even leave the airport. Finished in 1961, the Theme Building was part of the “Los Angeles Jet Age Terminal Construction” project. The round, spaceship-shaped building hovers above ground beneath a crisscross of 135-foot-high parabolic arches and makes you feel as though you might take flight again. Right smack dab in the middle of the airport complex, the Theme Building is now home to the Encounter restaurant, where you can drink, dine and enjoy the 360-degree views.
Capitol Records Tower
1750 Vine Street
Los Angeles, California 90028
Designed by Welton Becket and Associates and located just north of Hollywood Boulevard on Vine Street, the Capitol records building is one of the most recognizable architectural sites in Los Angeles, with its thirteen, stacked circular floors. If you stroll by on foot, you can spot many a recording “star” on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, including John Lennon, George Harrison, Ringo Starr and Roy Orbison. Once the sun goes down, be sure to look closely at the light atop the spiky spire that launches from the tower’s roof. The flashing red light is talking to you…in Morse code. The message? “Hollywood.”
Pann’s Restaurant and Coffee Shop
6710 LaTijera Blvd.
Los Angeles, CA 90045
You could just drive by to take in the Armet and Davis architecture of this Googie gem, with its Jetson-esque signage, massive windows and a sharply angled roof that put the “poly” in polygon. However, you may want to park your car in the lot and park your bottom on one of the swivel stools at the massive counter of this iconic LA eatery, which opened in 1958 by George and Rena Panagopoulos. Biscuits, BBQ and Blue Plate Specials. Your eyes may need to be bigger than your stomach to take in the structure and the snacks all at once.
Simply Wholesome (formerly Wich Stand)
4508 W. Slauson Ave.
Los Angeles, CA 90043
Another Armet and Davis architectural gem, the one-time Wich Stand is now a vegetarian-friendly health food store and restaurant. (Not to fret, omnivores, still a selection of meat for you.) Whether or not the healthy cuisine tickles your diner-y taste buds, the exterior is to be savored, and remains true to its roots: the atmosphere-piercing spire aims heavenward from the sloping, deep green roof, the exposed stone and windows beckon you to come inside for some nutritious eats.
Chemosphere (Malin Residence)
7776 Torreyson Drive
Los Angeles, CA
John Lautner’s octagonal, mid-century triumph looks like a flying saucer about to set down in the Hollywood Hills. A 20-foot diameter concrete pedestal supports the house, which is reached by funicular. It may look familiar–it has appeared in its share of movies and magazine spreads. Privately owned, you can sneak a peak from terrestrial level at the bottom of the driveway.
Denise Kiernan’s book “The Girls of Atomic City” was published in March 2013 by sister company Simon & Schuster.