Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Googie gone for good, but Caribbean culture conserved

"Googie" architecture — that sleek, streamlined silverstreak style of neonic eyepop associated with the space-age spirit of the '50s and '60s — does indeed feel like an extraterrestrial alien in colonially correct Boston. Brick walls, granite blocks, wood clapboards, slate gables, French mansard roofs, Greek temple fronts and Italianate porticoes simply don't click with the character of this architecture-as-advertising, where acrobatic geometrics, circusy silliness, eye-catching iconography, gargantuan neon script or backlit block lettering captivate the driver-by with an in-your-face enticement to stop. Shop. Eat. Drink. Play. Buy. Here. Now.

Yet, by comparison, Googie's out-of-this-worldliness does make it appear out-of-the-ordinary. And as it evolves through time from an eyefeast of the now to an eyesore of the past to an icon of its era, this commercial/retail quasi-kitsch of the Las Vegas/Route 66 breed has a way of growing on us.

Especially when its days are numbered.

Such is the case for Hi-Lo Foods in Boston's Jamaica Plain neighborhood. This rare relic of the postwar period of sensationalist signage tacked onto a simple store structure — a "decorated shed," in architect Robert Venturi's words — is soon to be replaced with the generically wholesome Whole Foods Market, which also means outsville for the Caribbean grocery offerings unique to the community.

Learning from Las Vegas

Hi-Lo seems to have picked up pointers from the hard-not-to-spot sign that still entices motorists into The Strip in spirit and style as well as signification and orientation. The frame-backed space-star is there, as are the block letters on white, their encapsulation into individual shapes, and the use of chevrons for dramatic emphasis.

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