The designer who gave Googie its aptitude


Helen Liu Fong was 12 years old when her school counselor asked her what she would like to be when she grew up. Fong’s answer? An architect, although she became no longer completely certain of what an architect did. When asked, she answered, “I don’t recognize. Do you build houses?”

According to Steven Wong, curator of the Los Angeles Municipal Art Gallery and previous meantime director at the Chinese American Museum, that lady, through endurance and resolution, grew as much as she grew to be an architectural visionary.

Fong’s specialty turned into a Googie structure, which Wong calls futuristic “Jetson type of aesthetic” coffee stores and hotels that would sweep America’s highways within the center of the ultimate century. Fong’s most famous projects include the Holiday Bowl on Crenshaw Boulevard, the first Norms Restaurant, Johnie’s Coffee Shop, and the kicking Pann’s Restaurant at 6710 La Tijera Boulevard.

Fong was born on January 14, 1927, in Los Angeles, certainly one of five kids. In 1910, Fong’s father, Toy Wing, had arrived at Angel Island within the San Francisco Bay. He soon introduced his wife and oldest son to America using fake papers and settled in LA’s Chinatown. According to the 2012 catalog for Breaking Ground: Chinese American Architects in Los Angeles (1945-1980) at the Chinese American Museum:

The family lived at 1220 West Ninth Street and operated Sunrise Laundry at the same premises. From an early age, the kids contributed their time to sustain the circle of relatives enterprise; they were given widespread duties, including jogging dirty laundry… and ironing laundered socks. In their confined, unfastened time, the youngsters discovered how to examine and write in Chinese.

Although Chinese American ladies had anticipated combecomemoms and homemakers, Fong’s father decided that his daughter should get an education “so she will be able to stand on her toes.” Fong was a diligent pupil, and in 1939, she won first prize at Virgil Junior High for her essay on Americanism. Bucking norms for her subculture and her gender, she went to UCLA before shifting to UC Berkeley.

In 1949, she fulfilled her adolescent dream, earning a diploma in the city and making plans at the architecture college at Berkeley. But it became no longer easy for a lady—let alone a Chinese American female—to discover a role as an architect in the late Nineteen Forties. Fong finally became employed as a secretary by the architect Eugene Choy, whose works encompass Chinatown’s Chinese Consolidated Benevolent Association and Cathay Bank.

“At that time, I assume it became flawlessly desirable to brush aside ladies’ credentials,” Wong says. “Eugene Choy—who additionally suffered from the race as an architect in an area that changed into quite homogeneously white—employed Helen as a secretary. I suppose that’s telling. [He was] supportive; however, at the same time, she needed have been a lot more than a secretary.”

In 1951, after years with Choy, Fong was employed as a junior draftsman using Louis Armet and Eldon Davis’s younger modernist firm. According to Breaking Ground, she quickly proved to be a useful worker. Coworkers described Fong as personal, stern, and an opera lover with a wide smile. She becomes “quiet, not brash, but she had a manner of stepping into and getting something she wished.”

Armet and Davis had determined Fong simply in time. Soon after she got on board, the firm started its first undertaking using the Googie fashion, which changed into the peak of hip in the Los Angeles area. The assignment becomes The Clock Restaurant in Westchester. Fong soon proved a master of sensible yet fanciful touches, insisting the structure “robust colors, such as reds, because they might sign up from the roadside.”

Armet and Davis soon became the principal purveyors of lodges, gas stations, and, specifically, espresso shops inside the uniquely Californian Googie fashion. “In the 1950s, there had been human beings flooding into California. They have been coming here for a new type of existence. They did now not just want to copy their lifestyles back in Chicago or Ba, Baltimore,ston,” says architect and Googie historian Alan Hess. “That’s what California turned into all about. The indoor-outside way of life, the climate… however, and the freedom to stay in this new way. And those coffee stores symbolized that, almost on each road nook.”

Fong quickly has become a part of the layout group for most of the firm’s maximum iconic Googie commissions. 1955, the company designed the first Norm’s Restaurant at 8511 South Figueroa Street. “As part of the Southern California panorama, the long-lasting Norms exemplified the Googie emphasis on signage with a vertical line of pennant shapes the usage of neon to encase the letters of the founder’s Norm Roybark’s first call,” the Breaking Ground catalog explains.

Soon after came the enduring Holiday Bowl, the legendary bowling alley on Crenshaw Boulevard, loved by generations of African and Japanese Americans. According to Breaking Ground, Fong designed much of the bowling alley’s kitschy cocktail living room. The front room protected a 3-D map of Japan made with “refrigeration cork and coated with gold foil edges” in honor of the proprietor’s Japanese historical past.

Fong also, on occasion, branched out beyond industrial architecture. In 1956, she designed a modernist-fashion house for Mrs. And Dr. Chauncey Starr. The small wooden-body unmarried circle of relatives featured an outdoors of plaster, redwood, and a roof blanketed with gravel. The family-pleasant residence becomes profiled in a laudatory Los Angeles Times article titled “Women in Architecture:”

The hub of the plan is the kitchen and adjoining family vicinity. Located within the middle of the house, it has the living room and main suite on one side, the youngsters’ rooms on the opposite facet, direct admission to the storage, and a view of the garden on the rear. While the kids were smaller, Mrs. Starr had to put together food while watching them play in the circle of relatives room.

Now they’re older, they pursue their artwork and studies within the adjoining location and frequently play checkers with their mother at the separate eating counter while cooking dinner. The garage is effortlessly to hand for video games and tricycle riding at some point in rainy climates—all without problems supervised from the kitchen.

In 1958, Helen became heavily involved with the Armet and Davis-designed Pann’s Restaurant in Inglewood. Its angular roof, wrap-around glass windows, and formidable number-one colored booth typify the Googie Coffee Shop fashion. By this time, Armet and Davis began to unfold the Googie ethos some distance from its Southern California birthplace.