L.A.’s Minority Architects

The theme restaurant and control tower at Los ...
The theme restaurant and control tower at Los Angeles International Airport (LAX). (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

‘Breaking Ground’ at Chinese American Museum Shows That Not All L.A. Architects Are Old, White Dudes.
Wendy Gilmartin
LA Weekly
February 13, 2012

Los Angeles Revisited: 20th Century L.A. Architects: Chinese American Architects – Paul R. Williams – Pedro E. Guerrero – 2013 Pacific Standard Time Presents.
Elizabeth Uyeda
LA Revisited
May 8, 2013

Despite the inevitable hoots of derision from architectural purists, California is a haven of outstanding architecture. Lost among the strip malls and tract houses are countless examples of everything from subtle brilliance to outlandish provocation, not to mention pure gems of American history.

Los Angeles is no exception, with grand masters like Richard Neutra, Ray Kappe, Victor Gruen, Frank Gehry, George Wyman, and their like dotting the landscape with masterpieces and curiosities. What is too often forgotten, though, is that Los Angeles was also the garden for an early crop of America’s finest non-Anglo architects.

I was fortunate to grow up in a house designed by Paul Williams, who aside from being admitted as the first African-American architect to the American Institute of Architects in 1923, was the co-designer of the LAX Theme building, the first AME Church, the L.A. County Courthouse, the County’s Hahn Hall of Administration, and over a dozen buildings listed on the National Register of Historic Places. That the height of his career preceded the Civil Rights movement is, I believe, testament to both Williams as a man and to California as his base.

Gilmartin and Uyeda also highlight four outstanding Los Angeles-based Chinese-American architects who were Williams’ contemporaries and who left their mark on the city and on mid-century American architecture. Gin Wong co-designed the LAX Theme building with Paul Williams. Gilbert Leong and Eugene Choy built a profitable niche designing homes and workplaces for Los Angeles’ increasingly prosperous Chinese-American population. And Helen Liu Fong was at the core of architects in the Googie movement, a 1950s update of the Streamline Moderne of the 1930s that, though once passe, has become a core part of the Southern California design language. (If you are looking for the quintessential Googie look, think of the original Tomorrowland at Disneyland, or Ship’s Coffee Shop.)

If there is one lesson to be taken from all of these greats, it is this: architecture in Los Angeles has been – and remains –  about testing limits, be they aesthetic, ethnic, or seismic. For those reasons, expect the parade of thought-provoking design to continue, and expect it to come from the most unexpected places.

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Author: David Wolf

An adviser to corporations and organizations on strategy, communications, and public affairs, David Wolf has been working and living in Beijing since 1995, and now divides his time between China and California. He also serves as a policy and industry analyst focused on innovative and creative industries, a futurist, and an amateur historian.

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