Mid-Century Modern Non-Residential Buildings Driving Tour

It was in the postwar era that dramatic shifts in commercial development occurred, largely due to the impact of the automobile. Historic downtown centers were abandoned for new regional shopping centers that were developed to serve the sprawling suburbs, and also in response to the automobile culture that enjoyed the freedom of new freeways and improved roads. The automobile changed the form and design of commercial architecture as well, with the introduction of drive-ins to service the new fast-paced postwar lifestyle, roadside architecture that sprang up along the new auto routes, and the large-scale department store placed in the center of a sea of parking spaces. New architectural forms were developed as well, with the creation of the California Coffee Shop style (commonly known as “Googie”) rooted in the organic formal principles of Frank Lloyd Wright, but adapted to the scale and site of the car-oriented commercial strip.

Numerous new corporate headquarters and factories were also built in the years immediately following World War II, which reflects the shift to the suburbs occurring during this period. Businesses moved their jobs to suburban areas to follow the migrating worker population, leaving behind the traditional downtown financial and business centers.

This tour features non-residential buildings from the mid-twentieth century in various architectural styles including Streamline Moderne, Art Deco, International Style, New Formalism and Googie Style.  It includes commercial, office, industrial and institutional buildings and the work of significant architects including Edward Durell Stone, Craig Ellwood & Associates, Smith & Williams, Ladd & Kelsey, Periera & Luckman, Wurdeman & Becket, Armet & Davis and James Pulliam.

You can click on any property in the list below to jump to information about that property in the California Historical Resources Inventory Database.  Known as the CHRID, this program promotes and protects cultural heritage through documenting and sharing information on historical resources.

1.  Ambassador Auditorium, 169 S St John Avenue (LINK)
Completed in 197, this New Formalist building was designed by Daniel, Mann, Johnson & Mendenhall (DMJM) and is widely considered one of the greatest concert halls in the United States and one of DMJM’s defining works.  The reflecting pool and fountain, with soaring egret sculpture by David Wynn, behind the building are integral components of the design.

2.  Friend Paper Company, 100 W Green Street (LINK)
Constructed in 1965, the distinctive features of the Friend Paper Company Pressroom include a folded plate roof supported by slender columns, an exposed garden area, floor-to-ceiling windows and exposed pebble aggregate concrete wall panels.  The building was designed by the architect firm of Smith & Williams.

3.  Bank Americard Center, 101 S Marengo Avenue (LINK)
This building is an example of late International Style corporate architecture and is a large windowless box clad with a veneer of brilliant-white travertine, mounted in vertical and horizontal courses with matching veining.  The ground floor is a glass-curtain wall and is recessed from the outer building face.  The projecting upper floors are supported at the ground floor by pilotis wrapped in bronze-anodized aluminum.  The building and surrounding plaza were designed by Edward Durell Stone.

3.  Pasadena Winter Garden, 171 S Arroyo Parkway (LINK)
This building was originally an ice-skating rink and embodies the characteristics of Streamline Moderne architecture as interpreted by locally prominent architect, J. Cyril Bennett.  Peggy Fleming, who grew up in Pasadena and won the Olympic gold medal in 1968, practiced her ice skating here in the 1960s.

4.  Royal Laundry Drive-In,  443 S Raymond Avenue (LINK)
This building has a primary façade forming a concave curve to the street and has aluminum windows. A horizontally striated metal fascia finishes the edge of the canopy. A wing wall extending form the north side screens the interior driveway court from public view.  The south end of the primary façade is punctuated by a tall Streamline Moderne pylon which carries signage, calls attention to the building from passing cars and defines the south end of the Royal Laundry complex.

5.  Medical Building, 547 E Union Street (LINK)
The Blaisdell Medical Building is an excellent and unaltered example of modern design by architect Whitney Smith.

6.  Robinson’s Pasadena, 777 E Colorado Boulevard (LINK)
The J.W. Robinson Department Store is a significant example of modern commercial architecture designed by Pereira and Luckman, a significant architectural firm from this period.

7.  First City Bank, 123 S Lake Avenue (LINK)
This building is a significant representation of the International Style.  Distinctive features include steel-framed glazed walls and poured terrazzo exterior terraces.  The building was designed by the significant architectural firm Ladd & Kelsey.

8.  Abacus, Konditori & Petit Carrousel, 232 S Lake Avenue (LINK)
This building is a significant example of the International Style and has exposed steel framing, floor-to-ceiling windows and an aluminum sun shade at the second floor.  There is a floating exterior steel staircase in the rear.  It was designed by significant architect James Pulliam

9.  O.K. Earl Office, 199 S Hudson Avenue (LINK)
This is a one-story International Style building with a blue glazed brick exterior that originally housed the offices of a prolific building contractor.  The entry areas have floor-to-ceiling windows and floating concrete steps.  The building appears to float above the ground.

10.  Draper’s, 396 S Lake Avenue (LINK)
This building was designed by H. Roy Kelley. It is symmetrical and has a flat roof and two glass storefronts. The second floor is clad in large travertine panels and both store entrances are recessed under the second floor extension. The building has several glass “floating” display boxes.

11.  Bullock’s Pasadena, 415 S Lake Avenue (LINK)
Bullock’s Pasadena is a landmark designed suburban department store built with post-war technology. This structure was one of the first modern buildings in Pasadena; the emphasis was on open planning, indoor/outdoor living, convenience, informality and horizontality. Bullock’s Pasadena also borrowed features from the Streamline Moderne style of the 1930’s –architectural elements reminiscent of a ship, such as curved walls and corners, portholes in piers and the canopy over the Lake Avenue entrance.  It was designed by the firm of Wurdeman & Becket and is listed in the National Register of Historic Places.

12.  Draper’s, 1855 E Colorado Boulevard (LINK)
The original building on this property was a residential bungalow which was later used for a retail store, Simeon Draper’s Women’s Clothing. In 1938 the original front porch was enclosed and in 1948, the house was completely remodeled in the Moderne style, which remains today.  The building is a City-designated landmark.

13.  Woodbury Well, 1879 E Walnut Street (LINK)
This one-story building is designed in an exuberant Art Deco style. It has fluted pilasters, a stylized door header with sunburst imagery, decorative relief with chevrons surrounding a “crown city” logo as well as water imagery above. The building is owned by the City of Pasadena and has been used since its construction for pumping and occasional treatment of groundwater.  It was designed by Aubrey St. Clair.

14.  Denny’s Restaurant, 2627 E Colorado Boulevard (LINK)
This Googie Style restaurant building was a prototype design by significant architects Armet & Davis.  Primary building materials are Glass, stucco and stone and the design is dominated by a pitched roof with an articulated edge, punctuated by a freestanding pylon sign.

15.  Swiss Lodge, 2800 E Colorado Boulevard (LINK)
This building is a two-story U-shaped structure in a “Story Book Swiss” style, executed in stucco with colorful wooden trim. The office building is sheltered by an A-frame roof with a modified mansard roof covering most of the Colorado Boulevard structure. Decorative wooden brackets support the orange painted, outward sloping mansard.

16.  Christian Science Reading Room, 2801 E Colorado Boulevard (LINK)
The western-most building on the Third Church of Christ Scientist campus is the former Reading Room, a one-story structure of glass, fieldstone and brick. The flat roof extends out over the body of the building, shading the exterior walls. A fieldstone planter on the southeastern side accommodates plants and bushes.

17.  Astro Motel, 2818 E Colorado Boulevard (LINK)
This is a two-story L-shaped stucco structure in “Space-Age” design. Four outward thrusting, side-by-side gables edge the roof on the Colorado Boulevard side of the office structure. A carport extends to the east on the second floor level and is angled like an airplane wing in upward flight. The mid-way support for this carport is another wing in vertical position. A wide bank of small, pale sky blue, mosaic tiles across the second floor front of the office building forms the background for the Astro Motel sign.

18.  Stuart Company Plant & Office Building, 3360 E Foothill Boulevard (LINK)
This building is designed in the New Formalism style and is a steel and concrete building with an arcade consisting of a patterned concrete wall with a flat roof above, supported by round steel columns. The building is set behind a linear reflecting pool with a flat bridge providing access to the main entry.

19.  St. Luke’s Hospital, 2632 E Washington Boulevard (LINK)
This four-story hospital was designed in the Art Deco style. The most prominent feature of the building is the projecting central pavilion, accentuated by the stepped form of a domed tower, seven-stories in height. The primary elevation has a central entrance flanked by two, turquoise terra-cotta planters with chevron and wave pattern details. The building has a number of cast concrete bas-relief panels that depict scenes from the life of Christ as well as various saints.

Mid-Century Modern Non-Residential Buildings Driving Tour Map