The Journal of San Diego History
Summer 1985, Volume 31, Number 3
Thomas Scharf, Managing Editor

Book Review

Pueblo Deco: The Art Deco Architecture of the Southwest. By Marcus Whiffen and Carla Breeze. Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 1984. Bibliography. Illustrations. Index. 125 pages. $19.95. 

Reviewed by Patricia Schaelchlin, local historian and author. Her latest publication is The Little Clubhouse On Steamship Wharf: The San Diego Rowing Club 1888-1983. (1984)

The Art Deco style of architecture reached America after the 1925 Paris Exposition des Arts Decoratifs et Industriels Modernes. The purpose of this international exposition was to encourage a modern style of architecture to replace the Spanish Colonial. The resultant Art Deco style eschewed the ornateness of the Spanish Colonial, choosing instead clean geometric lines and abstract decoration, most notably the zig-zag design. Art Deco did not enjoy a long usage in America for it was sandwiched between two World Wars and suffered the United States depression.

The American Art Deco (first called “Modernistic”) was not accepted as a true representation of the European style. Each area of the United States regionally adapted the style. In the Southwest, specifically Arizona, New Mexico and Western Texas, the style used the native Pueblo and Navajo motifs for decorative detailing. This resulted in a unique “Pueblo Deco” architecture. It was an art form that reflected the cultural and historical inspirations of the area.

The authors of Pueblo Deco, Marcus Whiffen and Carla Breeze, have recorded this architecture in their 1984 book. It is divided into three sections: an Introduction which traces the pre-1925 architectural influence and the birth and adaptation of Art Deco in America; selective examples of the Art Deco style in the southwest; and fifty-two colored photographs.

Pueblo Deco is a well designed book using good quality paper. The text is tight, well foot-noted and carefully arranged. Each of the twenty-seven examples has detailed construction and historical data. Most of the examples have the original architectural drawings. The photographs by Carla Breeze must be considered art for they have striking clarity and exquisite color.

Only in the southwest are colors so vibrant, and the photographer has most exceptionally captured this. I would have liked the colored photos at each example. In lieu of this, however, the authors have side-noted the page of each picture.

I have one serious criticism-one that is my pet peeve. I dislike having to turn a book to see a picture and prefer all of them to be placed horizontally even at the expense of reduction in size. Some of the sentences were overly long. Aside from these small criticisms, the book is good. The authors wisely kept to the subject of their book: the southwest adaptation of Art Deco.

San Diego never approached a regional style of Art Deco although good examples remain showing the influence of this style. Closest to the southwest interpretation is the Maya-inspired Federal Building in Balboa Park which also shows Indian art motifs. Nearby is the more recognizable Art Deco Ford Building. Both were built for the 1935 California Pacific International Exposition. Other examples, such as the Tower Bowl on Broadway, the State Theater on El Cajon Boulevard and The Tower on University Avenue are among the many that prove San Diego was aware of the Art Deco architectural evolution of the 1930’s.

The authors of Pueblo Deco are to be commended for recording the southwest examples of the almost always ignored Art Deco period. The style was not great-perhaps because it never had a chance to grow into greatness. It was, however, influential in its time frame and deserves its place in architectural history. This book helps to further both interest and education of the Art Deco period and will be an asset in any architectural library.