February 18th: architect Paul Revere Williams’ birthday
Each year, on February 18th – his birthday – Los Angeles commemorates the career of one of America’s greatest architects, Paul Revere Williams (1894-1988).
If you want to understand the against-all-odds confidence the Boomers inherited from those who paved the way, spend some time getting to know this remarkable man at The Paul Revere Williams Project.
His versatility and range were prodigious, from gorgeous historic-revival homes for Hollywood’s elite – he was known as the “architect to the stars” – to hotels, churches, department stores, country clubs, office buildings and affordable housing.
One of his most famous collaborations is the Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) Theme Building (1961). The LAX commissioners wanted an iconic symbol of modernity for America’s first custom-built jet airport. With Williams on the design team they they got all that and more.
Fifty five years on, the building remains a classic example of what is known as Googie style. It still captures the upbeat essence of the world in which Boomers grew up; optimistic, adaptable and confident in a better future through technology.
Googie: The design language of Boomer-World
Googie style began with a humble Los Angeles coffee shop – yes, named Googie’s – in 1949. Combining playful, even goofy, space age motifs with mid-century modern, it quickly became a metaphor for the exciting, prosperous new era dawning in post-WWII America.
Googie soon evolved from buildings – diners, gas stations, hotels – to influence the design of furnishings, home appliances and even automotive styling. Detroit further capitalized on architectural modernism in its advertising, lending flair and a sense of innovation as each model year arrived.
Our moms and dads had never had it so good. Exuberance was in vogue. Chrome, daring new colors, shapes and materials gave them permission to indulge in a level of flamboyance they could never have imagined in their own Depression-era childhoods.
We, their adorable little Boomer darlings, were the recipients of all this largesse. The theme of the world into which we were born was upward mobility, and Googie was its design language.
Little did our parents know that we would take Googie for granted and eventually come to see it as dated, even a little embarrassing. We were young men and women in a hurry.
In the 1970s we embraced import cars, dumped pastels for avocado and earth tones and careened through brash clothing styles that the word “exaggerated” cannot even begin to describe. Through the ’80s and ’90s we settled down, morphed into domesticated yuppies and adopted the HR department-approved, muted palette of Euro-cool … any color you want, as long as it’s in the gray-scale range.
As we Boomers raised our own little darlings, the Millennials (turncoats!), it was our turn to suffer eye-rolls for our so last week ways. Karma time.
No wonder our parents – their grandparents – have such satisfied smiles these days.
Well, what goes around, comes around. Including mid-century design. A revival is underway, largely due to Boomer die-hards who kept the faith and avant garde Millennials who are discovering that classic motifs still work well in the 21st century.
Adaptability: the constant in changing Boomer lives
Thanks to the Googie subtext of our youth, the constant theme in Boomer lives has always been confidence in a big, bright, beautiful tomorrow – we embraced change. We still do.
So, it’s ironic that, as we leave the 18-49 demographic, the reason mainstream advertisers give for no longer targeting American consumers is that our buying behavior is now frozen in time, like the tail fins on a ’56 Chevy Bel Air.
Leaving irony aside, it’s also dumb. Born 1940-1966, the 94 million strong Boomer-Plus Generation now includes Gen Xers over fifty, with more arriving each year. That makes us the 15th most populous nation on the planet. And, as the owners of over 70% of US household assets, we’re the world’s third largest economy.
Best of all, we’re open for business to brands smart enough to ask. Politely.
Paul Williams would have smiled at the notion creative thinking stops at age fifty; he was 67 in the year the LAX Theme Building opened.