When heaven was a drive-thru hamburger

Two beautiful urban oddities – one in sunny LA and the other in east London – have survived to tell a unique story of the human spirit. Now they both face the wrecking ball

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Norms diner on La Cienega Boulevard, Los Angeles.
Norms diner on La Cienega Boulevard, Los Angeles. The Googie style was typically applied to commercial roadside structures such as diners, bowling alleys, motels and gas stations, to serve the postwar car culture / © Hunter Kerhart/Los Angeles Conservancy

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Norms diner on La Cienega Boulevard, Los Angeles.
Norms diner on La Cienega Boulevard, Los Angeles. The Googie style was typically applied to commercial roadside structures such as diners, bowling alleys, motels and gas stations, to serve the postwar car culture / © Hunter Kerhart/Los Angeles Conservancy

When I first found Norms, a diner on La Cienega Boulevard in Los Angeles, I didn’t know it might be a historic monument. I was looking for a place to eat, and found something appealing in the five-times stacked sharp-angled kites of its vertical sign, and their echoes in the repeating over-sized shapes of its roof structure. I liked the fearless optimism and joyful redundancy of the design, the plays of clunk and refinement, vegetation and industrial product, of orange letters against the complementary blue of the California sky. On the inside the glass walls give the contact with the exterior that you might get in a classic modernist house in the lush hills of Pacific Palisades, the bright sunlight modified by deep eaves. [….]

It turns out that Norms, created in 1957 by the architects Armet & Davis, is a gem of Googie architecture, the fast-disappearing style of Eisenhower-era America. In one nice description, it is based on the dream that man left his caves and grass huts and through hard work and ingenuity has built an amazing modern world. Tomorrow he will conquer any remaining problems and colonise the rest of the galaxy. However, for all his achievements and modern science man will never lose touch with the natural world and his noble roots.

The style got its name from three coffee shops designed by the flamboyant Los Angeles architect John Lautner, and it was typically applied to diners, bowling alleys, motels, gas stations, commercial roadside structures to serve the postwar car culture. It drew inspiration from science fiction, from UFOs and spaceships, but also from the Pacific island cultures that American soldiers had encountered during the second world war. ….

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