At L and First Streets, the ‘round the clock, ‘round the year offerings of coffee and donuts has made it one of the cherished, cultural icons of Livermore. The fact that the donuts are served-up with robust helping of mid-century Googie-style architecture makes them even sweeter.
“Googie” is typically defined as unexpected shapes of buildings, exaggerated rooflines, plus unexpected building colors and construction materials. Googie was popularized during the Atomic Age following World War II and was often used in the design of gas stations, coffee shops and motels.
Resort areas such as Palm Springs, became concentrated pockets of this new, ebullient style of architecture.
However the Donut Wheel didn’t always look this way because the original building was constructed before the War in 1941, by Purity Market. This grocery store chain offered the new style of shopping with self-service aisles, and a cashier at the check-out stand.
In response to the nascent suburban lifestyle and the use of cars, a private, off-street parking lot was included for their patrons. Purity Market used the same architectural plans they had used for several other stores; the curved roofline and visible arch on street façade could be seen in their Lodi and Palo Alto stores.
After World War II, Livermore’s prosperity was, in large part, due to the establishment of the Radiation Laboratories which resulted in more people, homes, and businesses. Larger grocery stores, such as the Safeway on First and M Street (now ) were built to meet the demand and the older, smaller grocery building had to find new uses.
In 1958, the Purity Market was redesigned by Hans Schiller (1917-1998) and was modernized into its current Googie form. The distinctive zig-zag roofline and aluminum-sash wall of windows were added. High on the façade on First Street, distinctive aqua-colored glass tiles were installed with the eaves and arch painted to match.
I have always delighted in the architecture of this building, as well as patronized the Donut Wheel and the Laundromat. I decided to do a painting of the building in the late afternoon, when the sun is illuminating the west side of the building and the zig-zag eave casts its characteristic shadow. I also worked in December when all of the leaves had fallen from the street trees, so the building wasn’t obscured. Sitting at the corner, right at the curb, it is easier to see the “butterfly” roof line. This style is created when the typical high peak of a roof is inverted to create a V shape, suggesting the wings of a butterfly.
I titled my painting “Han Schiller’s Purity Market”, not only because he had transformed the Purity Market into the Googie landmark we see today, but also to call attention to Schiller’s story. Hans Schiller (1917-1998) was a German architect who was assistant to another German architect, Erich Mendelsohn (1887-1953). In the face of growing anti-Semitism and the rise of Nazi power, the two Jewish architects left Germany in 1933. Schiller went to Palestine and then in 1941 he came to California where he established an architectural practice in Marin County. Meanwhile, Mendelsohn eventually came to San Francisco and taught at UC Berkeley.
Given the strong connections between Schiller, Mendelsohn, the University in Berkeley, and the Labs in Livermore, I wonder how Hans Schiller secured the remodeling job of this outdated grocery store in Livermore?
For more information and examples about Googie architecture: