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Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Sacramento Googie

20071209 Northgate Orbit
Northgate Orbit Station

Googie is a term, derived from the name of a Los Angeles coffee shop, selected by Alan Hess to describe a style of building developed in the 1950s that is exaggeratedly modern--a style that fits a 1950s conception of space age design. The style on The Jetsons is very Googie.

This style is of the commercial vernacular, meaning that it is not a design movement within academia based on an intellectual philosophy and then executed by academically trained architects. Instead, it was developed by builders in response to the needs of the client. In this case, the need was primarily to catch the eye of the families speeding by in cars. It developed out of the post-war car culture and the shift of urban populations to the suburbs, and its birthplace and area of greatest development is the car capital of the planet, Los Angeles.

And the climate of Los Angeles plays a role in Googie design as well. Year-round mild temperatures freed the builder to use vast expanses of glass, as structures seem to float in the air.

Sacramento must have had its share of Googie design--most everything you can find in Los Angeles you can find in Sacramento on a smaller scale. But much of it would have been gone before I moved to the area and started exploring it. I see the listings in old city directories for Sambo's and Sam's Big Tops and diners/coffee shops with intriguing names I've never come across before, but most of the buildings are long gone

Here are the few I have gotten around to photographing and researching:

20070317 Country Club Lanes

Country Club Lanes

2600 Watt Ave.
Status: extant

This is easily the most substantial Googie structure in Sacramento, and worthy of attention from Googie fans across the nation. The bowling alley opened in 1959, but there is a lot more in this structure than just the lanes, and much of it was not open until 1960.

20090128 Country Club Lanes

Still in the hands of a private ownership group, the place has kept up with the times, and is regularly named best bowling alley in Sacramento Magazine's best of Sacramento roundup. One thing that hasn't changed is an old drinking fountain near the back entrance that looks right out of a 1950s school, and out of place with the glow-in-the-dark carpet and all the thin panel monitors.


Northgate Orbit

2240 Northgate Blvd.
Status: standing vacant

In recent years this old Orbit Station has been a car dealership, and it is available for lease for that purpose now.

20050827 Sacramento Orbit
Orbit Station
4716 Auburn Blvd.
Circa 1970-1971
Status: extant

Yes, I was surprised by the late date on this one, but it doesn't show up in the Sacramento Suburban directories until 1971. I even checked the cross street, Myrtle Ave., in case the address had changed. This is the best known and most often photographed Orbit building in Sacramento. The gas station usually has some of the lowest prices in the area too, which makes it easy for me to support them.

20090127 Orangevale Orbit
Orangevale Orbit
8994 Greenback Lane
Circa ??
Status: extant

This one lies too far away from the city center for me to find listings for it in old directories, hence I am unable to date it. In addition to these three, there were Orbit Stations at:

1340 Del Paso Blvd.
1834 El Camino
4101 Manzanita Ave.
4948 San Juan Ave.

plus one station listed as Orbit Seaside Service at 3920 Fruitridge Rd. I don't know whether they had the same Googie buildings or not.

20051009 Former Lyon's
Lyon's Restaurant
Circa 1966-1967
Satus: demolished March of 2007

This was one of my two favorite buildings in Sacramento (the other one has also been demolished), and so I ate at the Lyon's frequently, even though I didn't think much of the food. I assumed it had been something else originally, as I had never seen another Lyon's like this one, but no, it opened originally as a Lyon's that was open 24 hours and was quite the happening place late at night in the late 1960s (according to a friend at work). I've since seen another building similar to this in Hayward that currently houses a Chinese restaurant, but was originally a Lyon's.

When the long-closed Montgomery Ward next to the restaurant was renovated and changed into a Wal-Mart, this building got a new paint job, and a couple of months later it closed. Eventually it was demolished to allow for extra parking for the Wal-Mart. I'm sure Satan got a good chuckle out of that one.

20070327 Sam's Big Top
Sam's Big Top
2721 El Camino
Circa 1966-1967
Status: in use as Country Waffles

In the Sam Gordon Center. Sam Gordon had a restaurant empire, with Sam's Ranch Wagon, Sam's Hof Braus, and Sam's Big Tops, plus Sam's Town. He also had an ongoing business relationship with Denny's: he sold them the Sam's Hof Brau concept. He sold them Sam's Town, and then bought it back. And presumably he sold them this Sam's Big Top, as it was a Denny's by 1970. It was then for more than 20 years Walt's before becoming Country Waffles. The interior contains only hints of its original identity, like the hot pink tile back splash behind the counter.

20070424 Sambo's Pancakes
Sambo's Pancakes
Circa 1963-1965
Status: in use as restaurant El Patron

There were several Sambo's in the Sacramento area at one time, but as far as I know, this one is the only Sambo's building remaining. When it was a typical Mexican restaurant for the area (an inexpensive place run by Mexicans) it looked more like a Sambo's on the outside, and probably the inside too. But it was extensively remodeled before reopening as El Patron, a higher priced Mexican restaurant that is not very authentic.

20080616 Eggie's
The Coffee Hut
Circa: 1966-1968
Status: in use as Eggie's Restaurant

The Coffee Hut didn't last long, but it wasn't the building's fault. Eggie's has done just fine as a coffee shop under the boomerang roof the last 30 years.

20081108 Pancake Circus
Al & Myrle's Platter
2101 Broadway
Circa 1963-1964
Status: in use as Pancake Circus

The Pancake Circus is such a beloved Sacramento institution that I imagine most people can't imagine that it was every anything else, but it didn't become Pancake Circus until 1970 or 1971. It's only open for breakfast and lunch now, but still does a very strong business.

20070430 Early '60s Safeway
Circa 1960-1963
Status: in use as Tognotti's (auto parts)

This is much like the marina style Safeways in the Bay Area, but the curl up of the roof line at both sides is an added bit of flair I haven't seen elsewhere. There's another old marina Safeway in town that has not been treated sympathetically over the years.

20071225 Suzie Burger
Phillips 66
2920 P St.
Circa 1971-1973
Status: modified for use as Suzie Burger

When the chain link fence went up around this old service station, I figured it was done for. But instead it just got a renovation, and seems to be doing good business as Suzie Burger.

Phillips 66
Circa 1967-1968
Status: standing

This place seems to alternate frequently between being vacant and having some sort of auto-related business in it. Hmmm, I thought I had a photo of this place, but I can't locate one. I'll have to run out and correct that.

20080309 Land Park Ski & Sports
Woody's Smorgasburger
Circa 1963-1965
Status: in use as Land Park Ski & Sports

Wow! What a roof. There's a match for this building in Berkeley, which also used to be a Woody's Smorgasburger. I'd love to see some photos of the interior back in the day.

20090411 Sacramento Zoo Entrance
Sacramento Zoo
3930 W. Land Park Dr.
Status: still in use

The Sacramento Zoo first opened in 1927, but I would guess that the entrance dates from 1950s or 1960s.


chris said...

The "flared" Marina gull wings, I've seen them in photos of several other Marina Safeway locations, including two in Winnipeg (one which recently closed on Ellice Avenue and another on Main Street that is still operating) but rarely out here. The library in Red Bluff is also in a similar ex-Safeway marina structure...

From what I recall, the Fulton Avenue Safeway became Tognotti's ca. 1976.

chris said...

There's also one more ex-Phillips 66 in this area with the butterfly wings, up in North Highlands on Watt Avenue south of Antelope Road.

Troop 1309 said...

There used to be a gas station on College Oak and Auburn Blvd with the butterfly wing design. Another building on the corner of Garfield and Auburn Blvd also had the wings, but in a smaller scale.

Troop 1309 said...

I listed the wrong intersection. The gas station is at Orange Grove and Auburn Blvd.

Quaid said...

does anyone remember the old restaurant that was near the corner of Stockton blvd and fruitridge road.

It was there in the seventies qnd it was in front of the old fruitridge drive in.

I thought it was called pillars restaurant and it had a set of huge arching pillars as a roof bent inward, like a ribbed lampshade with big windows all around.

There was a backroom bar in the back of the place also.

I can't find it online anywhere and one remember it ?

It was soo googie, I loved it...

jannx said...

Hi Tom, what Chris said (29:01) is accurate there is also a "gull wing" Safeway on South Granville's west side in Vancouver. It is clearly visible on the drive into the city centre from the airport. I'm sure a search of 'gull wing' Safeway Vancouver will bring something up.

Matter of fact I just did the search. Here's a shot on Flickr.. the link is and here in Coquitlam a Vancouver suburb

Felicity said...

There's a former Lyons in Daly City (corner of John Daly Boulevard and Poncetta Drive) of the type shown here. At least, the building was still there -- now called the Boulevard Cafe -- when the googie streetview camera went by.

Quaid said...

Oh I found out some additional information, some people I talked to remember the restaurant and they think it was called 'el grado' or 'el derado' or some name with a bullfighter.

I'm getting closer, so does that ring a bell for anyone else ?

Anonymous said...

I just learned what the Marina style is. There is one in the Denver metro area that is now a thrift store. Guess it was pretty widespread. I was a student at American River College, so I saw the Auburn Blvd. Orbit Station quite often. I'm coming to Sacramento for my 40 year high school reunion in a few days, so this site gives me lots of ideas and nostalgia. Thanks.

Gretchen said...

Thank you for documenting these structures, Tom, in a most excellent post!

The Sacramento Zoo entrance was designed by Grant D. Caywood and associated. You may read more about him here: He designed many MCM buildings and homes in the Sacramento region, including his own amazing home in the South Land Park Hills neighborhood:

John Simmons said...

To: Quaid, & Tom,
The Del Prado used to sit on the northeast corner. It was a steak house and became more of a coffee shop. Try copying this path and its the second picture.

Quaid said...

Hey thanks Tom someone else directed me to that picture as well and I'm sorry to say that isnt what I remember.

This was on the south east corner where a McDonalds is now but what i remember was on the northwest not northeast corner of the fruitridge stockton blvd intersection.

It was right next to fruitridge drive in and some tile store and they tore down the drive in and the resturant in 78 I think it was to put a mini mall in.

the building had a bar in the back and a circular design in the front with big plate glass windows and a large pillered roof curned inward like one of those old record players or a tuba

we used to call it pillers but I dont think it was it's real name but it always spoke to me of being on of the great forgotten googie landmarks of sacramento.

It also had a large chandaler inside and a walkway from the bar to the resturant

I wish i could remember the name but thank you very much, i hope this jars someones memory

Gretchen said...

I'm going to have to recant that the Zoo structures were built by Grant Caywood -- after doing more research I discovered from a 5.10.61 Sac Union article that it was designed by Rickey & Brooks.

Quaid said...

Hey guys I did a video on youtube (I'm Curas1 there) called

Searching for Del Prado

this is in sacramento at the corner of fruitridge and stockton blvd.

People probably already figured out i'm from sacramento but try not to mention it in comments there please, you never know.

but please do comment here, it's why I made the video and what I really want.

To be honest I just wnt to find a picture of this building as a screensaver but I can't find it.

The one where the mc donalds is looks diffrent, this was a tall bullhorn like roof.

anyway enjoy the video

Anne said...

My parents were married in Sacramento in 1961 and had their reception at Epperson's Del Prado Restaurant. I've been putting together a slide show for the 50th wedding anniversary, and found this blog while searching for the address of the restaurant. We have some old photos from 1961 of the outside and interior.

Quaid said...

Hey thats great anne, do you have a vlog or a way to see these pictures online ?

I take my scanner for granite I forget sometimes how hard it is if you cant get in a digital format.

I been looking for this for a long time :)

Anonymous said...

I just found this blog. I too was looking to finds the pillars restaurant by the Fruitridge drive in. I thought it was called 8 Pillars. Not sure , but I do remember it.

John Simmons said...

Does anyone have pictures of the Marina Inn that was on the West Sacramento side of the river near the Tower Bridge? It would have been about where the Ziggurat building (old Money Store) is now.

Anonymous said...

There was a restaurant and Coffee Shop combo at Fruitridge and Stockton. I worked there in 1982 as a prep cook. The Coffee Shop was named 8 Pillars Coffee shop and at that time may have been open 24 hours. The restaurant portion was Johnson's Del Prado Steakhouse. They had amazing food, and had been around since at least the early 50's. The last time I was in Sacramento, they were both long-gone. I wish I still had pics.