Back to The Future

In the late 1950s, architects and restaurateurs in Southern California were ushering breakfast into the space age.

By Karen Shimizu

Published on September 9, 2008

**Los Angeles, California

In the late 1950s, as America's nascent space program was on the verge of sending man beyond the stratosphere, architects and restaurateurs in Southern California were already ushering breakfast into the space age. Landing like mother ships along commercial thoroughfares were ultramodern eateries characterized by swooping, parabolic roofs, huge signage, and bottomless cups of coffee. Often referred to as googie coffee shops—after the name of an extravagantly designed breakfast joint on Los Angeles's Sunset Boulevard—these atomic-age icons marked a radical departure from the small, dowdy greasy spoons of yore. Restaurants like those belonging to the Ship's chain offered patrons a spacious dining room defined by Naugahyde booths and shimmering Formica. At Ship's, an open kitchen put the cooks on display, and the furniture reflected an attention to convenience and efficiency: cantilevered counter stools allowed the staff to sweep the floor without tangling with seat posts, and toasters at every table ensured that toast would never get cold traveling from kitchen to diner.

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