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A Driving Tour of Fullerton’s Mid-Century Modern Buildings

More often than not, cityscapes are dominated by a contrasting variety of architectural styles. As a photographer, I’ve always been interested in looking at the different types of buildings around Fullerton. When I was researching historic buildings on the Fullerton Heritage website, I came across a driving tour of Fullerton’s mid-century modern buildings, sponsored by the Fullerton Public Library and Fullerton Heritage.

Cal State Fullerton Visual Arts Building.

Back in 2009, the Fullerton Museum Center had an exhibit called “Forever Fullerton: Julius Shulman,” which featured some of the photographs taken on Julius Shulman’s many visits to Fullerton. Shulman was one of the leading architectural photographers of the 20th century. He made several visits to the City of Fullerton to photograph businesses, schools, and homes, documenting new modernist buildings, which, at that time, were just being constructed.  Several of these buildings are now highlighted on the driving tour.

After printing out the driving tour pamphlet, I looked at photographs of the Forever Houses, located south of Valencia, between Richman and Euclid. I learned that in 1954, developer Joseph Eichler convinced his two major architects, A. Quincy Jones and Frederick E. Emmons, to appear on the “House that Home Built” segment of the NBC Home television show that came on daily after the Today Show from 1954 to 1957. On the TV show, according to the pamphlet, “Jones and Emmons offered to create house plans for any developer that could come up with $200.” The plans were designs that Jones and Emmons had created earlier for Eichler. The local building firm of Pardee-Phillip took up the challenge and constructed over one hundred Eichler homes for what was called the Fullerton Grove development.

Shulman photographed the Forever Houses in phases as they were constructed, shooting both interior and exterior views. The photographs promoted not only the houses, but also a new modernist lifestyle for California homeowners. Advertised as the “Forever House” model, the aluminum, glass, steel, and masonry dwellings sold from $12, 950 to $19, 500 for the deluxe model, requiring a $1,250 to $2,000 down payment (with little or no down payment for veterans). The architects offered seven floor plans for the three and four bedroom homes that featured featured floor-to-ceiling fireplaces and glass walls, along with color-coordinated kitchens and bathrooms, birch cabinets, sliding glass doors, and an electronic weather control system. Eichler homes were noted for their simple, plain facades, few windows, flat roofs and carpets situated front and center.

Nicholas Junior High School

My first destination on the driving tour was Nicholas Junior High School, located at 1101 W. Olive Avenue. I went to Parks Junior High, but back in sixth grade, when I was part of the band, I would go to Nicholas for concerts. In high school, I remember earning community service hours at Nicholas by cleaning windows. This junior high school has some interesting architecture and history. According to the driving tour pamphlet, by the 1950’s, “Fullerton was growing and there was a need for additional schools. Many of the city’s elementary and secondary schools were built or expanded during both the Fifties and Sixties when education funding was plentiful. School builders and architects hired Julius Shulman to photograph their newly constructed buildings in the hope that the pictures would lead to new projects.” Nicholas Junior High began its first year in 1956 with 350 seventh graders, 360 eighth graders, and 26 teachers, and by 1960, all classrooms were fully occupied by 1,118 junior high school students. The school was named for Pierre Nicolas, a French emigrant who owned an extensive ranch and citrus orchard on the corner of Chapman and Euclid. In fact, Euclid was originally named Nicolas Avenue.

Moving along, I drove over to the building that used to be the Hunt Library. I remember going to the Hunt Branch Library when I was little with my mom and dad. We used to attend the Bed-Time Bears classes at the Hunt Branch, where I met a good friend. I also remember first using the Internet on the computers at the Hunt Library. Constructed of aluminum, steel and glass, the 10, 500 square foot building was built in 1962 with funds donated by the Hunt Foods and Industries Foundation. The Library was designed by prolific architect William L. Pereira, who had just completed the Santa Fe Springs Public Library. Pereira designed many buildings in Orange County, including the Langston Library at UC Irvine, Bullock’s Fashion Square in Santa Ana (now MainPlace), the Laguna Playhouse, and Golden West College. Industrialist Norton Simon, President of Hunt Foods and Industries at the time the gift was made, was a noted art collector, and he had hoped to build a museum in Fullerton to house his collection. For awhile, there was a continuous display of Simon’s paintings and sculptures at the Library.

Hunt Branch Library.

Next, I drove by Fern Drive Elementary School, which I’d visited last fall when I wrote about the All the Arts Children’s Museum and Creativity Center. Tucked into a residential neighborhood, the school is noted for its small scale and sloping roofs. Reading the pamphlet, I learned that Fern Drive Elementary was constructed in 1954, but additional buildings were added to the school grounds in 1955, 1957 and 1964. The school was named for Fern Estelle Corcoran Cadman, the daughter and husband of the men who developed the Golden Hills area.

Fern Drive Elementary School.

Nearby was Golden Hill Elementary, which I attended from kindergarten to sixth grade. On this driving tour, I discovered that Golden Hill was constructed in 1950 for a cost of $217, 388 on open land once popularly known as the “polo field.” The masonry, glass, and aluminum school was constructed by Allison-Honer Company and designed by the noted architectural firm of Marsh, Smith, and Powell, the same design team that had just completed Valencia Park Elementary School. After founding their firm in 1927, Norman F. Marsh, David Smith, and Herbert J. Powell went on to design over 500 Southern California school projects, as well as churches, post offices, and commercial buildings. The architects initially designed very traditional buildings, but after World War II moved into more modern styles. To find this school, go north on Euclid from Malvern, turn right on Fern Drive, and then take a quick right on to Barris Drive.

Golden Hill Elementary School.

After stopping by home to get a quick drink, I continued my tour by visiting the Opus Bank on 200 West Commonwealth. With its reflective surfaces, it was rather hard to photograph without getting my own reflection in it. Started in 1927 as Fullerton Building and Loan, the Bank had a number of name and location changes before becoming the Fullerton Community Bank in 1998. This reinforced concrete building, with red brick facing and aluminum and glass exterior, opened with almost 12,000 square-feet of floor space and was designed by architect Melvin A. Rojke.

Opus Bank.

Last on the list of driving tour locations was the Cal State Fullerton Visual Arts Building. My dad and mom both remember this building from when they attended CSUF back in the Eighties. Designed by architect Thornton M. Abell of Los Angeles, the CSUF Art Building/Center opened in 1970 as the 7th permanent structure on campus. When the $1.9 million building opened, the complex consisted of four connecting buildings with semi-enclosed atriums, an interior courtyard and water and garden features. Abell is best known for his Case Study House No. 7 in San Gabriel (1948). The Case Study House program (1945-1966), concentrated in the LA area, oversaw the design of 36 innovative, prototype homes that could be easily and affordably constructed during the postwar building boom. The Visual Arts Building is visible from State College Blvd., but the water features, sculpture and open spaces make this a fantastic facility to wander through. CSUF parking is free on weekends. Two additional buildings were added to the complex in the 1980’s.

Cal State Fullerton Visual Arts Building.

To find the driving tour for yourself and see a map leading to the locations I’ve talked about, please visit the following link: https://www.fullertonheritage.org/Tours/Mid-Century_Modern.pdf. I’ve filmed and photographed these locations, while also including archived photographs from the Fullerton Public Library’s Local History Room. To see my video, visit http://www.fullertonobserver.com and click the tab labeled “Local.” Underneath that tab, click on “Emerson Little YouTube Channel,” which will take you directly to my page.

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