By John Thomas, Co-Author of Long Beach Art Deco
The term "Art Deco" designates a popular style during the 1920s and 30s, but was not actually coined until the late 1960s.
The 1925 Paris Exposition International des Arts Decoratifs et Industriels Modernes launched the new decorative elements in architecture. The discovery of King Tut's Tomb in 1922 also opened the door for the use of bold colors, chevrons and zig-zags. The Art Deco style immediately appealed to designers in America in the "roaring 20s."
Today we see it as a symbol of decadence and extravagance, qualities their generation embraced. Architecture, jewelry, the movie industry and fashion were all heavily influenced by the "new" style.
Because of the unique factors that shaped the history of Long Beach, the city has many commercial buildings from the 1920s and 1930s.
The Zigzag Moderne was the style that grew out of the 1925 Paris Exposition and it can still be seen in buildings in downtown Long Beach. Large or small, many of the buildings have decorative towers and setbacks, ornamented with motifs and reliefs of the period.
Another factor that shaped Long Beach architecture was the 1933 earthquake. The Streamline Moderne of the 30s featured sleekly simplified lines and nautical styling influenced by steamships.
Many buildings in our city once had Streamlined Moderne façades added to their brick walls after the earthquake. In many cases, only the front of the building crumbled when the earthquake hit, leaving the sides and rear intact and the façade ripe for "modernization."