The designer who gave Googie its aptitude


Helen Liu Fong turned into 12 years old when her school counselor asked her what she would like to be whilst she grew up. Fong’s answer? An architect, despite the fact that she became no longer completely certain what an architect did. When asked, she answered, “I don’t recognize, 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 grow to be an architectural visionary.

Fong’s specialty turned into Googie structure, what Wong calls futuristic “Jetson type of aesthetic” coffee stores and hotels that would sweep the highways of America within the center of the ultimate century. Some of Fong’s maximum famous projects include the Holiday Bowl on Crenshaw Boulevard, the first Norms Restaurant, Johnie’s Coffee Shop, and the nonetheless 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. Using fake papers, he soon introduced his wife and oldest son to America and then 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 have been given widespread duties which include jogging dirty laundry… and ironing laundered socks. In their confined unfastened time, the youngsters discovered to examine and write in Chinese.

Although Chinese American ladies had been anticipated to come to be moms and homemakers, Fong’s father turned into decided that his daughter get an education, “so she will be able to stand on her own 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 adolescence dream, incomes a diploma in metropolis making plans from the architecture college at Berkeley. But it becomes 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 turned into finally employed as a secretary via the architect Eugene Choy, whose works encompass Chinatown’s Chinese Consolidated Benevolent Association and Cathay Bank.

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

In 1951, after years with Choy, Fong was employed as a junior draftsman by means of the younger modernist firm of Louis Armet and Eldon Davis. According to Breaking Ground, she quickly proved to be a useful worker. Coworkers described Fong as personal and stern, but also 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 here on board the firm started out its first undertaking using the Googie fashion, which changed into the peak of hip within 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-function “robust colors, such as reds, because they might sign up from the roadside.”

Armet and Davis soon became the principal purveyor 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 Baltimore or Boston,” says architect and Googie historian Alan Hess. “That’s what California turned into all about. The indoor-outside way of life, the climate… however additionally the feel of freedom to stay your existence in this new way. And those coffee stores were emblematic of that, and 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. In 1955, the company designed the first Norm’s Restaurant at 8511 South Figueroa Street. “As part of the Southern California panorama, the long-lasting Norm’s 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 way of generations of African and Japanese Americans. According to Breaking Ground, Fong designed a good deal 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 domestic featured an outdoors of plaster and redwood and a roof blanketed with gravel. The own family-pleasant residence become profiled in a laudatory Los Angeles Times article, titled “Women in Architecture:”

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

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

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

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