History of Art Deco

Art Deco is a stylistic trend, dating from the early 1920’s to about 1940, that applies not only to architecture, but also to art objects, jewelry, furniture, and interior design. Following World War I, the ushering in of the Jazz age, combined with other influences such as machine-age technology, futuristic/cubist art (Pablo Picasso), and geometric architecture (Frank Lloyd Wright), saw the the artistic style of the day turn toward the future. Avant-garde designers, primarily in Europe,  looked toward a more modern style, contrasting from the classic revival styles of the turn of the century. The past, however, was not completely shunned; Art Deco commonly draws on historic motifs such as Gothic, Egyptian, Assyrian, African, Mayan and even Japanese.

“The style began to evolve shortly after 1900 as a reaction to Art Nouveau, gathered speed with an infusion from the avant-garde art movements of Cubism and Futurism, drew renewed inspiration from ancient and primitive art, was purified and streamlined by the ideas of the functionalists and sought a return to traditional values during the political and economic turmoil of the 1930s.”

-Eva Weber

The result of such influences, distinctly manifested at the 1925 Paris L’Exposition Internationale des Arts Decoratifs et Industriels Modernes, was the transition to a unique style, cutting edge at the time, that employs the use of lines, geometric shapes, smooth surfaces, streamlined functionality, and smoother facade decoration.

Contrary to the horizontal, traditional styles of antiquity-revival architecture, the new trends, referred at the time simply as “Moderne,” emphasized vertical movement. The use of set-backs and towers (which were a creative solution to zoning and height regulations of the time) gave Art Deco buildings the illusion of increased height and a fresh, modern image.

Additionally, the optimism and economic strength at the time allowed for the use of lavish materials (poly-chrome terra cotta), ornate decorations, and stunning metal and glass work. This would taper off, becoming more restrained in the 1930’s as economic stability faltered.

In the United States, particularly in Los Angeles, the prosperity of the 1920’s lead to booming urban expansion and population growth; the influx of American immigrants to Los Angeles between 1920 and 1940 was the largest internal migration in the history of the United States. Subsequently, Los Angeles was a perfect canvas for the prevailing style of the time, which explains why we have so many fine examples of Art Deco.