Googie architecture was the aesthetics of choice for delis and other public architecture as coffee shops, and motels that would sweep the highways of America in the middle of the last century, what Wong called futuristic “Jetson kind of aesthetic”. 1
Some of Fong’s most famous projects, all of them in LA, are the Holiday Bowl on Crenshaw Boulevard, the first Norms Restaurant, Johnie’s Coffee Shop, and the still kicking Pann’s Restaurant at 6710 La Tijera Boulevard.
Helen Liu Fong was born in Los Angeles, USA in January 1927, and grew up in the Chinese district of Los Angeles. A childhood marked by the effort it meant for a migrant family to live in the United States, having a family laundry business and learning their native language, also. In a cultural context where Chinese-American girls, and girls in particular, were expected to be mothers and housewives. However, the pragmatism and self-improvement efforts of her immigrant parents allowed her to overcome norms of her culture and gender and she attended the University of California (UCLA) in 1943 and, agter two years, transferred to the University of Berkeley, where Fong graduated with a degree in urbanism and architecture, from the Berkeley School of Architecture, in 1949.
At that time it was not easy for a woman, much less for a Chinese-American, to work as an architect, she started her working life as secretary in the office of the Chinese-American architect Eugene Choy, recognized for works such as the Chinese Association in Chinatown and the Carthay Bank.
In 1951, she was hired as a junior draftsman by the firm of Louis Armet and Eldon Davis, a young architecture office that developed desings of Googie aesthetic. An environment in which Fong would have the opportunity to show her worth, not only as an architect, but also for her leadership in directing human groups, demonstrating a great capacity to materialize new ideas in daring formal structures that would accompany the new urban landscape that was building southern California.
The Googie style used risky morphologies, striking color palettes, crossed decorative elements, concepts of penetration between the forms, use of advertising panels with neon lights, as well as the inclusion of plastic in different textures and colors, marking an aesthetic that had as a focal point southern California, after Los Angeles and finally to the entire United States.
The spectacular nature of this new architecture entered quickly the media and many architects and architects became specialists in projecting these postwar commercial spaces for the new middle classes. A propitious scenario that had John Lautner and Wayne Douglas McAllister as pioneers, Eugene Choy, Louis Armet and Eldon Davis and where the figure of an American woman of Chinese origin, little known in the architectural broadcast media, had a predominant role, Helen Liu Fong.2
Alan Hess,3 historian and architect, describes this moment as the flood of the middle class in California, where in the 1950s, people had coffee shops, gas stations, hotels, and other Googie-style programs as an urban setting.
The term "Googie" was coined pejoratively by Professor Douglas Haskell in 1952, when he identified the characteristic features in the building that gave the style its name: a cafe called Googies in West Hollywood, designed by the architect John Lautner and built in 1949.
A context in which Fong had the opportunity to reflect strange and unusual, daring and uninhibited proposals in projects such as Clock Restaurant in Westchester, California or Norm's restaurant in 1955. Later published in the "Breaking Ground" catalog, highlighting "the iconic form and the emphasis on signage in the form of vertical pennants with neon lights, which enclosed the letters of the founder Norm Roybark".
Fong designed proposals in places outside California, as Indianapolis, Toronto, Dearborn and Buffalo. New projects, where every little detail was designed by she, from the booths to the stools, chairs and counters, lighting accessories, choice material and elements from different times and cultures depending on the client order. As the case with Crenshaw Boulevard, popularly visited by Japanese and African-American women, where Fong would include a three-dimensional map of Japan embroidered in gold and japnaese woodwork, honoring the origin of owner.
Fong has been primarily credited with her work on the interiors, although she was probably much more involved in other aspects of the company and also did housing projects beyond commercial architecture. In fact, in 1964 she was appointed an associate in the firm of Armet and Davis, where she spent her entire career until her retirement in the late 1970s.
The Googie architecture distributed throughout the American geography has the legacy of Helen Liu Fong, which lived until 2005. His career was full of triumphs that have not been sufficiently publicized or recognized.
1. Googie architecture arises in a city that, neglected the historic centers and caused the conversion of the periphery into a laboratory for architectural experimentation, influenced by the technological innovations of the time, airplanes, space launches, artistic avant-gardes, and even later translated into programs of television as "The Jetsons", known origin of the Googie architecture, also called as "Populuxe or Doo Wop", as a new different way of thinking about the leisure project at intermediate scales.
2. Ruby Nájera, E. (2020). Preserving Los Angeles’s Googie: an analisis of a comercial style, change, and preservation. Thesis of the Master of Science in Historic Conservation. Available in:
3. Alan Hess. "Googie: Fifties Coffee Shop Architecture". San Francisco: Chronicle Books, 1986.
- Asim, F. and Shree, V. (2018). A Century of Futurist Architecture: from Theory to Reality. Journal of Civil Engineering and Environmental Technology, Volume 5, pp. 338-343. Available in:
- Banham, R (2009). Los Angeles: The Architecture of Four Ecologies. University of California Press. Available in:
- Elliot, M. Example of fifties architecture. Wynberg Library. Available in:
- Ruby Nájera, E. (2020). Preserving Los Angeles’s Googie: an analysis of a commercial style, change, and preservation. Thesis of the Master of Science in Historic Conservation. Available in:
- Steven Y. Wong. "Breaking Ground: Chinese American Architects in Los Angeles (1945-1980)\ January 19 - June 3, 2012". Catalogue. LA: Chinese American Museum, 2012.
- Vagrant (2019). "Helen Liu Fong is the visionary Googie architect you've never heard of" in Vagrant Press. Available in: https://vagrantpress.dev/helen-liu-fong-is-the-visionary-googie-architect-youve-never-heard-of-news