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Sixties@60

O R A N G E   C I V I C   C E N T E R   +   W E L T O N   B E C K E T 

Civic Center Conceptual Rendering, 1961 | Courtesy of the Local History Collection

Orange Public Library & History Center, Orange, CA

Plaza Park in Orange, California, c.1889 | Courtesy of the Local History Collection

Orange Public Library & History Center, Orange, CA

Orange City Hall, 1921 | Courtesy of the Local History Collection

Orange Public Library & History Center, Orange, CA

On April 16, 1888, the City of Orange held its frst council meeting. Just ten days after its incorporation, and with no offcial meeting place, the “Board of Trustees” met in the offces of the Santa Ana Valley Irrigation Company located on North Glassell Street. At the time, city staff included just two offcers; a City Clerk and Treasurer. The city would have to wait until 1921 to have an offcial City Hall, following decades of renting space in various buildings downtown. For the frst time since the city was founded, most of the city’s services were housed under one roof. The Mediterranean Revival style building’s location directly across the street from the city library, established the civic heart of the city.


In the ensuing decades, the city experienced eras of both growth and wan. The lean years between the Great Depression and the close of World War II were, however, eclipsed by unprecedented growth that occurred in the post-war years. Between 1955 and 1959, the city processed 28 residential developments with more than 2,400 homes being built. The pace rapidly accelerated with over 250 tracts approved and 5,000 homes being built between 1960 and 1964. A mere 30 years old, it was evident that the existing City Hall building could no longer accommodate the growing city. Properties adjacent to city hall were acquired as an expansion of the civic center was soon becoming inevitable.

Orange City Hall being razed in Orange, California, 1962. Courtesy of the Local History Collection

Orange Public Library & History Center, Orange, CA

Orange Civic Center, 2023

Courtesy of OLA

In 1959, the city contracted with Welton Becket and Associates to prepare a 20-year projection plan to study the future needs of city government, services and staff. Becket’s frm was later selected to prepare an initial study for a new civic center complex to consider anticipated space requirements, parking needs, and building types. In 1962, the city council formally awarded the city hall project to the frm. Completed in 1963, the Orange Civic Center stands as a testament to Becket’s modernist architectural style and his ability to create functional yet visually striking civic structures.

Orange Civic Center, 2023

Courtesy of OLA

Orange Civic Center Dedication Program, Site Plan, 1963.

Courtesy of the Local History Collection | Orange Public Library & History Center, Orange, CA

The Orange Civic Center design refects the clean lines and geometric forms typical of mid-century modern architecture. It is a prime example of Becket’s approach to blending modernist principles with the needs of a functional government facility. The building’s exterior features a sleek and minimalistic aesthetic, while the interior spaces are designed for effciency and accessibility. The design of the Orange Civic Center emphasizes transparency and community engagement, aligning with Becket’s vision of architecture as a medium for fostering connections between people and their surroundings.

Welton Becket / Dorothy Chandler Pavilion | Courtesy of Architectuul

https://architectuul.com/architect/welton-becket / CC BY-SA

Capitol Records Building, 1964 | Courtesy of Wilford Peloquin

https://flickr.com/photos/193055396@N08/51189012442 / CC-BY-2.0

Welton Becket (1902-1969) was a prominent mid-century architect whose infuential work left a lasting mark on the architectural landscape of the 20th century. Becket was known for his modernist designs, which combined  
functionality, innovation, and a keen understanding of the urban environment.

 

One of Becket’s most iconic contributions was in the realm of corporate architecture. His frm, Welton Becket and Associates, designed numerous landmark offce buildings including the Capitol Records Building in Los Angeles, with its distinctive circular design.


Becket’s architectural vision extended beyond commercial projects. He made signifcant contributions to the design of sports and entertainment venues, including the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, Pan-Pacifc Auditorium, Cinerama Dome and the Los Angeles Memorial Sports Arena. These structures not only served their functional purposes but also became cultural touchstones of their time, blending modernist principles with the needs of a rapidly evolving society.

 

Becket’s legacy continues to infuence architects and urban planners to this day. 
His work exemplifed the mid-century modern ethos, and his ability to shape the 
physical environment while accommodating the demands of a changing world 
remains an enduring testament to his talent and vision.

LAX Theme Building, 2017 | Courtesy of Greg Wass

https://flic.kr/p/2m5LjzL / CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

Pan-Pacific Auditorium, 1972-1977

Courtesy of Library of Congress / Wikimedia Commons

ttps://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Pan- pacific_Auditorium_entrance_(3).tif

Architect and historian Alan Hess is author of twenty-one books on Modern architecture; his subjects include John Lautner, Oscar Niemeyer, Frank Lloyd Wright, the Ranch House, Las Vegas, and Palm Springs. He is a Commissioner on the California State Historical Resources Commission, and serves on the boards of Preserve Orange County and Palm Springs Modernism Week.

 

Hess has received grants from the Graham Foundation for Advanced Studies in the Fine Arts and the Clarence Stein Foundation. Awards for his work conserving Modern architecture include the Honor Award from the National Trust for Historic Preservation, Docomomo/ US’s Award of Excellence, and the President’s Award from the Los Angeles Conservancy.

Kelly Comras is a Fellow of the American Society of Landscape Architects and she is also a member of the State Bar of California. Her practice focuses on research and publication in the feld of cultural landscape. She is a founding member of The Cultural Landscape Foundation’s Stewardship Council, and  has served as President of the California Garden & Landscape History Society. Her book about Ruth Shellhorn, a signifcant mid-century landscape architect, was released in 2016. Comras lectures at such institutions as Harvard Graduate School of Design, the Society of Architectural Historians, and others.
 

She has won numerous awards for her work including a recent California  
Preservation Foundation award for her contribution to the Historic  American Landscape Survey for the Virginia Robinson Gardens in Beverly Hills.

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