Building Modern California



The Cold War years of the late 1940s through the late 1960s were an absolute boom time for much of California, due to large amounts of Federal spending in aerospace, high technology, and other such industries. This section looks at the role of this defense spending in California, as well as the counter culture movement of the Beats in San Francisco of the 1950s, and the spread of suburban living, particularly in Southern California.


Titles are set in ITC Blair, which—although a more contemporary typeface—was designed based on turn of the century samples that were popular during the post-war period. Accompanying Spanish was set in Neutraface Slab, serving as an elegant and slender companion to Blair's sturdier characters.

The section begins with a montage of Baby Boomer pictures submitted by members of the community. Two custom built 'televisions' house digital displays that run clips of President Eisenhower, nuclear tests in the Pacific, and vintage sitcoms and commercials on a steady loop. Visitors can also turn the dial to "change channels." It was particularly fun to recreate the famous "Indian Head" test pattern graphic which appears as an interstitial between clips.

House Industries' Las Vegas Fabulous debuted at the tail end of the World War II section, WELCOME HOME, and throughout BUILDING MODERN CALIFORNIA it is integrated with ITC Blair.

THE MILITARY INDUSTRIAL COMPLEX features one of the most elaborate thematic environments in the entire gallery. Countless pieces of ephemera designs, vintage photographs, charts and graphs, and maps pepper a massive bulletin board in a set of an engineer's office at an aerospace firm. All were based on actual historical samples.

Exhibit text is embedded in charts, maps, and memos. The "While You Were Out" memos are sent back and forth between various team members. The messages are defense statistics and relevant quotes.

There are a few spots in the gallery that feature hidden tributes to members of the curatorial, preparator, and design teams. The blueprint reproduction behind some of the material is actually a floorplan of the History Gallery, and lists the creative leaders on the project. Typewriter fonts used are accurate to the period. 

© Matthew Millman

Representing the tension between mainstream society and its discontents, OUTSIDERS FIND A HOME, the story of Bay Area counterculture, sits directly opposite the aeronautical engineering office set.

EMPTY PROMISES looks at racist development practices, particularly in Southern California, and contrasts this with the relative prosperity of the white suburbs. Hand painted protest signs were based on period samples and the letterforms of House Industries' Sign Painter Collection