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Photographer leaves chronicle of iconic Googie coffee shops

Jack Laxer, who captured Midcentury Modern architecture, dies at 91

Architectural photographer Jack Laxer died Tuesday at the age of 91 in Culver City, Calif., leaving a vast chronicle of Googie coffee shops and travel images.

Laxer was a master of three-dimensional stereo photography and applied it to a number of Midcentury Modern restaurants in Southern California, including the still existing Norms and Pann’s as well as long-gone brands such as Carolina Pines, Penguin and Wich Stand.

Many were designed by the Googie-specialist architectural firm of Armét & Davis, now known as Armet Davis Newlove Architects.

Some of the architectural gems are getting new lives again as restaurants. Mel’s Drive-In, for example, is expected to re-open the remodeled Penguin coffee shop this year in Santa Monica, Calif., with the flightless bird on the sign outside.

“After spending the last 25 years entombed beneath a dull drop ceiling and the beigest of beige drywall, Santa Monica’s vintage 1959 Penguin coffee shop is being restored to its Googie glory,” Mel’s said on its website as the company celebrates its 70th year.

Mel’s is updating the Googie-style building on Lincoln Boulevard. “The original Penguin featured high ceilings, huge windows and sparkling terrazzo floors,” which will be included in the remodeled restaurant, the company said, along with modern options such as “a juice bar, craft beers on tap and phone charging stations at every table.”

Photographer Laxer was on the first vanguard of Googie. He was born on March 25, 1927, in Brooklyn, N.Y., and later moved to California, where he specialized in 3-D stereo photography and capturing architectural images.

“As a small child when we lived in Venice [Calif.], I remember he had a darkroom in the garage,” recalled Laxer’s daughter Ellen Chris. “There was a light outside, and we knew we couldn’t go in there when he was developing film.”

Chris recalls the family later going to galleries and lectures by her father in his later years.

The Los Angeles Conservancy, a preservation group, honored Laxer with its Modern Master award in 2009. He also taught a “Modernism in 3-D” course at the Getty Museum.

Laxer is survived by his wife of 63 years, Jeanette; two daughters, Ellen Chris and Lori Laxer; a granddaughter and two great grandchildren.

Here are some of his photographs that capture the heyday of Googie coffee shop architecture.

The name Googie originated in 1949, as the automobile made suburban coffee shops a destination. Architect John Lautner designed the Hollywood coffee shop Googies, which featured the signature Space Age design and neon signage, and later gave the architectural style a moniker.

All photos by Jack Laxer

Contact Ron Ruggless at [email protected] 

Follow him on Twitter: @RonRuggless

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