Bob’s Big Boy and the Vienna Secession

Bob’s Big Boy and the Vienna Secession

The Sydney D. Gamble Lecture Series explores two very different yet remarkably similar architectural styles

By Julie Riggott 08/16/2007

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If architecture is a “third skin,” a solid shelter from the elements, it's also a window, revealing the personalities and the interests of an entire community.

That's a point the Gamble House will try to convey in October with two lectures during the Pasadena Art Council's Art & Ideas Festival, wrapped around the theme of “Skin.”

“Like a Third Skin: The Leisure Architecture of Wayne McAllister” takes a close look at Wayne McAllister's 1950s Vegas hotels and Los Angeles drive-in restaurants, and “Skin and Body: The Ambiguity of Plane and Space in Vienna 1900 Interiors” reveals the furniture and interior designs of three architects 50 years earlier.

So what do these seemingly diverse styles have in common?

“Architecture in these two time periods was looking in the same direction: What is modern?” said LuAnn Haslam, a Friends of the Gamble House board member and the Sidney D. Gamble Lecture Series chair. “Both of these architects were forward-thinkers, and I think the audience will be very surprised.”

The first lecture on Oct. 13 will be presented by Chris Nichols, a Los Angeles native and author of the recently published book “The Leisure Architecture of Wayne McAllister.”

Los Angeles architect McAllister may not have had any formal training in architecture, but he had an eye for design that helped define mid-century Southern California. Some of his most famous creations with their circular, UFO-like shapes and glaring neon were practically futuristic. His style is actually called Googie, architecture inspired by the '50s automobiles with their distinctive fins and flashy chrome. McAllister's innovative ideas gave us the Bob's Big Boy drive-in — still a popular spot in Burbank — and the Sands Hotel in Las Vegas — famous for being a Rat Pack hangout.

On Oct. 23, Christian Witt-Dörring, art historian and author of “Josef Hoffman: Interior, 1902-1913,” will discuss furniture and interiors designed by Hoffmann, Adolph Loos and Otto Wagner in the early part of the 20th century. Those architects of the Vienna Secession embraced a new philosophy of art, exploring forms of expression outside of academics and history. In that sense, they were ahead of their time and set the groundwork for modernism. Later on, the recognized master of modern architecture Ludwig Mies van der Rohe went so far as to call his architecture “skin and bones.”

Exteriors and interiors at that time look so modern, said Haslam, that they could have been designed in the '50s or '60s.

The lectures will perhaps spark a discussion of the role of architecture in our own community. As Pasadena's landscape continues to evolve, the subject's already on people's minds.

“During focus groups held by the Pasadena Arts Council in preparation for Art & Ideas 2007, the notion of the changing ‘skin' of our city came up consistently among the focus group participants — changes from an architectural perspective, as well as demographically and economically,” said Terry LeMoncheck, the group's executive director.

As a result, a town hall-style forum is in the works. Titled “The Changing Skin of Pasadena,” the event is the Pasadena Arts Council's attempt to get a dialogue going about the growth the city is experiencing.

With everything from Frank Gehry's plans for both the Art Center College of Design's hillside campus and the Carrie Hamilton Theater to the mushrooming of mixed-use projects with condominiums and commercial space — not to mention Tiffany and Co. and Kenneth Cole pushing Mom and Pop out of Old Pasadena — there is certainly plenty of fodder for discussion.

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