Mod! 1965 Denny’s, Ontario


I never paid much attention to the Denny’s off the Fourth Street exit of the 10 Freeway in Ontario, but it’s worth a look as it’s one of the oldest surviving examples in the Inland Valley.

Built in 1965, this 1409 E. Fourth St. restaurant is relatively unaltered architecturally, according to the Ontario Planning Department. It’s got an angled roof with a zig-zag profile, large plate glass windows and stone veneer columns (over concrete brick). Architects were Colwell and Ray of Orange.

“The design is a Denny’s prototype building that was created in the mid-1950s as part of the Googie movement. The Denny’s prototype design was built for several years in many California locations (mostly freeway adjacent),” according to Planning Director Scott Murphy.

No permit for the freeway pole sign could be found, but the signage has been updated.

There are squat palms by the entry, a feature that strikes me as midcentury. The interior has been updated quite a bit. But the ceiling, like the roof, angles steeply, the lamps hanging on long cords from the ceiling add style and the windows offer natural light and a modest view.

This Denny’s is certainly freeway close. You can walk out onto a little lawn that abuts the off-ramp, which is just feet away from the edge. It’s rare to be that close to a freeway, unless you happen to reside in the song “Freefallin’,” where there’s a freeway runnin’ through the yard.

I can’t recommend the food, not being a Denny’s fan, but it was worth a single visit to admire the place.

There are former Denny’s of the same or older vintage in Montclair (now a sushi bar across from Shakey’s) and Pomona (now a birrieria restaurant at Holt and Indian Hill), for the record.

Denny’s began as Danny’s Donuts in 1953 in Lakewood, became Danny’s Coffee Shop in 1956, switched to Denny’s Coffee Shop in 1959 to avoid confusion with the Coffee Dan’s chain, shortened its name to Denny’s in 1961 and began franchising in 1963, according to its Wikipedia entry.





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Mod! 1960s chairs back at Pomona library


There’s a stylish addition to the Pomona Public Library: 1960s chairs.

“These are the original chairs here for the opening in 1965,” said Muriel Spill, the library manager.

The saucer-like chairs were put in storage in the mid-1980s due to wear and tear on the original cloth.

In recent months, staffers have offered ideas to improve the library at little cost. Circulation desk employee Martha Ramos suggested bringing back the chairs. A retired upholsterer who is a frequent library patron, Pedro Martinez, was approached and agreed to donate his time. Wasn’t that nice of him?

And so the chrome wire chairs, some 20 of them, are newly covered in padded vinyl, in different colors, and are spread throughout the building. They’re certainly in keeping with the library’s modernist look, designed by architect Welton Becket (Capitol Records tower, the Music Center, Cinerama Dome, Parker Center, etc.).

“People are using them,” Spill said. “You should see little kids curl up in them. It’s cute.”

Library staffers had been told for years that the chairs were by Charles and Ray Eames, but some digging at yours truly’s request turned up the real designer: Harry Bertoia. Bertoia did help with the development of Eames chairs but then went to work for Knoll. According to its website: “His iconic wire furniture collection, introduced in 1952, is recognized worldwide as one of the great achievements of 20th century furniture design.”

The library’s Allan Lagumbay turned up two original purchase orders to Knoll from Welton Becket for 22 “large diamond chairs” and 42 “small diamond chairs,” at a total price of $5,344.50. (The chairs, in aquamarine, dark olive, olive and green/blue, ranged from $70.20 to $125.13 each.) Knoll today advertises the chairs for $723 for child size to $1,997 for adult.


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Mod! Mountain Avenue Car Wash


The latest in my occasional series of midcentury modern architecture posts (see earlier examples here) spotlights Mountain Avenue Car Wash at 820 N. Mountain Ave., Ontario.

I have passed this car wash many times but was never so struck by it as one recent sunny afternoon when I had parked directly across the street. I walked out to the curb to take photos, admiring the turquoise paint and the (it looks like) 14 blades jutting skyward. You see those at a lot of car washes from that era. It’s an attention-getter and may reflect jet-age optimism.

This dandy was built in 1961 as California Car Wash before later lowering its sights to become merely Mountain Avenue Car Wash. Thanks to Ontario’s Planning Department for looking up that detail.

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Mod! Westmont Estates


Westmont Estates is a 1950s subdivision in west Pomona south of Mission Boulevard and west of the 71 Freeway. The tract made the short list of Pomona Valley midcentury landmarks in Alan Hess’ book “Googie Redux.”

Attributing much of Westmont to architect Arthur Lawrence Millier, Hess wrote: “Millier, a local architect, designed these contemporary ranch houses and lived in one himself. Like other contemporary subdivisions, this one served employees of the nearby aerospace plant.” He was referring to General Dynamics.

Westmont was the subject of a 2005 column in my “Pomona A to Z” series.

Above is the home at 1827 W. 9th St., a typical example of the neighborhood’s modest ranch-style homes.

Below is Westmont United Methodist Church at 1781 W. 9th St. It was an overcast day, sorry, but you get the idea of the church’s neat architecture.


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Mod! Tate Motors

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Tate Cadillac, at Holt and Reservoir in Pomona, was built in 1957. Architects were Arthur Lawrence Millier and Ted Criley Jr. “The glass rotunda on the corner displayed new cars,” writes Alan Hess in “Googie Redux,” where Tate Motors was one of 10 notable Pomona Valley midcentury landmarks listed.

More expansively, Charles Phoenix writes in his “Cruising the Pomona Valley 1930 Thru 1970”:

“Round and ‘floating’ just above the ground, this futuristic two-story floor to ceiling glass showroom was the ultimate space age Cadillac and Pontiac display case. Ultramodern in shape and style, the high fashion look was completed by a towering sign, state-of-the-art service department and a sidewalk garden of clustered exotics planted in a bed of gravel. Inside, four flying saucer-like hanging fixtures each 12 feet across provided dramatic lighting and added to the out-of-this-world look. In 1985, the agency moved to Claremont.”

After years of disuse and broken windows, an outlet store, Santa Fe Outlets, replaced the glass and moved in circa 2006. They’ve kept the building up well. A video commercial shows some of the vast array of merchandise. No cars, though.

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Mod! Minit Man Car Wash

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I’ve long admired this car wash at 1200 E. Holt Ave. in Pomona. That sign! As you can see, it’s bigger than even the red pickup truck. When you’re driving under the sign, it looks like a giant yellow tennis court overhead. The name is Minit Man. The vertical pylons, a common car wash touch in the 1960s-70s, add a futuristic touch. Have you ever washed your car there? I haven’t — I go to the do-it-yourself places — but maybe I should.

Charles Phoenix’s “Cruising the Pomona Valley 1930 Thru 1970” dates the car wash to 1960 and writes: “Decorated and identified with giant spikes, spires and flags, the wash and wax drive-thrus of the ’50s and ’60s celebrated the ritual of auto beautification and the constant parade of cars in sky-high style.”

This car wash is one of 10 notable midcentury Pomona Valley landmarks listed in the back of Alan Hess’ “Googie Redux,” the impetus for this series of blog posts.

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Mod! McDonald’s

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Red and white tile, slanted roof, arched sign…looks kind of familiar. Opened in September 1954, this stand at 1057 E. Mission Blvd. in Pomona was one of the earliest McDonald’s, back when they were still franchised by brothers Richard and Maurice McDonald of San Bernardino.

The architect of the early franchises was Stanley Meston of Fontana. Pomona’s operated as a McDonald’s until 1968, when the tops of the arches were removed. In recent years it’s been AMA Donuts. As Alan Hess characterizes the building in his book “Googie Redux”: “remodeled but still a recognizable example of the classic design.”

The first McDonald’s opened in 1948 in San Bernardino, after their 1940 carhop stand was converted into a drive-up. After that, McDonald’s No. 1, subsequent restaurants were opened in this order in 1953 and 1954, according to Hess’ book: 2) Phoenix, Ariz., 3) Downey, 4) North Hollywood, 5) Alhambra, 6) Sacramento, 7) Azusa and 8) Pomona.

Some sources reverse Azusa and Pomona; both opened in September 1954. My information from a decade ago, which I believe came from pop culture scholar Chris Nichols, is that Pomona’s opened Sept. 1. Unless Azusa’s opened the same day, it’s likely Pomona’s is No. 7, not 8. Whichever, it’s still old, and unlike Azusa’s, it’s still standing.

Downey’s is the oldest surviving example and operates as a McDonald’s. Pomona’s is the second-oldest. Third-oldest is at 1900 S. Central Ave. in L.A. and can be seen from the Blue Line just south of downtown; it’s a Mexican restaurant and looks less like a McDonald’s now after alterations a year or two ago.

Thus, Pomona’s building may be the best-preserved original McDonald’s other than Downey’s. Perhaps someday, Pomona’s will get the Downey treatment.

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Mod! Chino Post Office

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Chino’s Post Office, 5375 Walnut Ave., is a grabber. I like the decorative pillars, which link horizontally toward the top. Very mod. The facade sign that reads “United States Post Office, Chino California 91710” is cool too.

The facility opened in 1970. It says so right on this plaque by the entrance. I took a peek at the interior and it was drab, although the air conditioning was vigorous.

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Mod! American Recovery Center, Pomona

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Originally this was the Brasilia Bradyo Hotel, opened in 1962, named after Brazil’s capital city and nodding toward Oscar Niemeyer’s designs for same, according to Charles Phoenix’s “Cruising the Pomona Valley.” Dig the glass entry, which looks two stories high, and wavy roof treatment.

The Brasilia’s original motto: “The most spacious and complete luxury hotel in the valley.”

After 1965 the Brasilia became the Pomona Valley Inn. Now it’s a drug rehab center. (The most spacious and complete?) The address is 2180 W. Valley Blvd., just west of the 71 Freeway. The building also rated a mention in Alan Hess’ “Googie Redux.”

The promotional sketch in Phoenix’s book shows a large courtyard with a pool and patio surrounded on four sides by buildings. No doubt it’s all been altered quite a bit. Still, someday I’d love to see the interior — as a visitor, not as a client.

brasilia* A July 16, 1962 Progress-Bulletin article touts the amenities of the hotel, at that point nearing completion, at a cost of $1.5 million: “Besides 100 hotel rooms, the Brazilia (sic) will contain conference rooms, a beauty shop, a steam bath, a travel agency, a putting green and men’s and women’s ready to wear shops. Its banquet room will seat 350.” Click on the thumbnail below to read the full story. Thanks to the Pomona Public Library for the find.



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Googie’s Coffee Shop, Sunset and Crescent Heights, LA, 1952, via Getty Research Institute; photograph by Julius Shulman.

My recent reading of the book “Googie Redux: Ultramodern Roadside Architecture” by Alan Hess has prompted a new category for this blog, with this its first entry: Mod!

First off, what’s Googie? It’s the name for a type of midcentury commercial architecture with a futuristic touch, generally employed for coffee shops, fast-food stands, car washes, bowling alleys, hotels and the like, concentrated in Southern California and popular from about 1949 (when a Sunset Boulevard coffee shop named Googie’s opened; see above) until the 1960s. These days it’s become more respected and revered.

As the Wikipedia entry describes Googie:

“Features of Googie include upswept roofs, curvaceous, geometric shapes, and bold use of glasssteel and neon. Googie was also characterized by Space Age designs symbolic of motion, such as boomerangsflying saucersatoms and parabolas, and free-form designs such as ‘soft’ parallelograms and an artist’s palette motif. These stylistic conventions represented American society’s fascination with Space Age themes and marketing emphasis on futuristic designs.”

Hess’ 2004 chronicle of the form takes an expansive, popular view of what qualifies as Googie, much in the way that almost any building from the 1930s is called Art Deco even if it’s Streamline Moderne or something else. And in the back, he lists Googie examples throughout SoCal — including 10 in Pomona and environs (some of which have since been demolished).

I’m going to use the category name Mod! to allow even more flexibility. Now and then I’ll present photos here of the local survivors from Hess’ roll cal of greatness, as well as other swingin’ examples. Feel free to nominate a favorite. The first in this irregular series will pop up here Tuesday.

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