New Walgreens on Lincoln fails to fill architectural potential

When the scaffolding comes off a new building in an important corridor of a city, it is only fair to have a modicum of excitement for the shiny and new. The new Walgreens that opened last Friday at the corner of Pico Blvd. and Lincoln Blvd. falls below even the lowest bar of excitement.

The oversized drugstore is a stucco block of yawns covering 4,000 square feet and stands kitty corner to Santa Monica High School.

The building is of little architectural interest and barely qualifies as modernist.

The color palate is neutral in the blandest way, the integration of any material other than stucco is minimal. Its only redeeming quality is that the exterior walls along Lincoln Blvd. are angular.

I understand that the company is trying to portray an image of cleanliness and health, but it does not excuse a lack of architectural forethought.

What is important is the opportunity lost to make a contribution to the architectural conversation in Santa Monica and to say that something as simple as a drug store or a supermarket , which, lets be honest, most chain drugstores are but small scale supermarkets, cannot speak architecturally is patently false.

As markets were once the center of all society the Grand Bazzar of Istanbul was and still is, one of the defining pieces of Ottoman architecture that is infinitely detailed and, still, incredibly populated. The Bazzar, which is well over 550 years old, still crams together over 26,000 merchants as well as 250,000 shoppers. For reference dear reader, simply consult "The Bazaars Of Istanbul" by Isabel Bocking or view the opening scene of the last James Bond film, the exquisitely-executed "Skyfall" which opens with a chase sequence through the Bazaar itself.

To see this principal in the modern context, one must look to Westwood’s Ralphs Market building. One of the prime examples of the Janss built Mediterranean style, which opened in 1929, was one of the neighborhood’s first buildings and, as the name suggests, originally housed a Ralph’s market. It’s cylindrical rotunda, limestone façade, pediment entrance and arcaded wings earned the praise of a Los Angeles Times writer as, “one of the most beautiful exclusive grocery marts in the West.” Today, though it no longer houses its namesake market, the Ralphs building stands on the National Register of Historic Places.

The idea of architecturally significant markets was not left in a time long ago.

The supermarkets of Ronald Cleveland helped define one of the few truly original paragraphs that Los Angeles added to the architectural conversation. In the course of designing over one hundred supermarkets across the country, ushered in the googie age of architecture. This irreverent product of space age aesthetic and modern ideas of living space and neighborhoods, defined the, large parking lot, even larger supermarket meme of suburbia.

Sadly, the Cleveland markets, as is much of googie architecture, are nearly extinct. Once a symbol of the car culture and post-WWII opulence of America, now only a handful of googie supermarkets survive and one of the last in tact examples of a Cleveland market in California, the Superior Market at Figueroa St. and W. Avenue 45, has been slated to be remodeled into a faux-craftsman building.

Perhaps someone in this town will find something greater than faux-appreciation for the city’s architectural contribution from the 60’s.

Even in the architecturally lazy corporate culture today, one retail chain is at least making an attempt at architectural significance.

If the proposed renderings for the Pavilions at the corner of Santa Monica Blvd. and Barrington Ave. come to fruition, the space will be transformed form a dirty, empty lot to a cool steel and glass cross between art deco design and modernist simplicity.

To blame the boring design of the Walgreens on the small parcel size is laughable.

The developers could have looked to the 1931 sketches of J.R. Davidson’s Driv-In-Curb Market, featured in Sam Lubell, Geg Goldin and Thom Mayne’s seminal work “Never Built Los Angeles.” The design is pure art deco brilliance and is not only Hollywood beautiful, Davidson was a set designer for Cecil B. DeMille, but innately practical. By brining the merchandise space all the way to the street, a store could maximize its retail space, encourage foot traffic and alternative transport and create natural air conditioning.

It also turns buying even the simplest items into great theatre. Imagine being stuck shotgun in a car during rush our traffic along Lincoln. Then daring to run to the Walgreens and buy a snack for the road before the car crosses Pico. A veritable Michael Bay movie scene in real life. Sadly, you are denied even the opportunity to daydream of it.

This Walgreens fails to deliver an antidote to boring street aesthetic.