Today's dominant fast-food franchises spend millions to persuade us that they do it all for us, that we can have it our way. White Tower, the pioneering hamburger chain founded in 1926, never felt the need for this kind of advertising; it depended on its instantly recognizable building to say it all. Those gleaming white ("clean"), well-lighted ("always open"), streamlined ("fast and efficient"), human-scaled ("friendly") structures were three-dimensional billboards for their franchise, capped by an actual white tower often redundantly labeled, in bold graphics, "White Tower." This was branding before the age of branding.
The photographs in this classic book not only trace the evolution of a restaurant chain, they record an iconography of a part of the American built environment that no longer exists. In an approach very much in the spirit of Learning from Las Vegas, by Venturi, Scott Brown, and Izenour, architects Paul Hirshorn and Steven Izenour have selected photographs taken in a variety of styles—from the stark and deadpan to family album-like snapshots. In an affectionately written introductory essay, Hirshorn and Izenour describe the identifiable and idiosyncratic commercial architectural style of the 1930s and 1940s and document the development of the White Tower buildings and their stylistic variations. Their conversations with former White Tower employees—including Charles Johnson, White Tower's architect for over forty years—are the source of many telling quotations and entertaining captions that set their analysis of the buildings within a broader story of corporate culture, mass marketing, and the rise of franchising in the twentieth century.
About the Authors
Paul Hirshorn has been Head of the Department of Architecture at Drexel University since 1986, and a member of the faculty since 1974. He had previously worked for the Philadelphia firms of Venturi & Rauch and Ueland & Junker.
Steven Izenour (1940-2001) was coauthor of Learning from Las Vegas (MIT Press, 1977) and a principal in the Philadelphia firm Venturi, Scott Brown and Associates, Inc (VSBA). His most noted projects at VSBA include Philadelphia's Basco showroom, the George D. Widener Memorial Treehouse at the Philadelphia Zoo, the Camden Children's Garden, and the house he designed for his parents in Stony Creek, Connecticut.
"The authors like these buildings, and they like them without illusions. They understand how inventive the architects of White Towers were in molding the imagery of a tiny white castle into a variety of different shapes and forms, and we end up realizing what a pleasing body of work this collection of buildings is—best of all in the late thirties, when every White Tower was an earnest little gem of Art Moderne.", Paul Goldberger, The New York Times
"White Towers provides a stylish and nostalgic view of the beginnings of the fast-food industry.... From its beginnings in the 1920s to the present day, White Towers treats this pop emblem of American iconography in a justifiably serious yet amusing manner."—New York Times Book Review
"A paean to nickel burgers and the men who sold them. The two authors, both at one time associated with Robert Venturi, have taken a single element out of the urban strip treated in Learning from Las Vegas—the hamburger joint—and analyzed its permutations.... White Towers combines provocative thinking about corporate use of architectural symbolism with a series of startlingly beautiful photographs." —The Nation
"Hirshhorn and Izenour's slender, modest sized format book, first published in 1979... is a glorious celebration of architecture, design iconography and proxemics all beautifully depicted in black and white photographs."—New York-Pennsylvania Collector
"In 1970 Paul Hirschorn and Steven Izenour, young architects in the office of Venturi and Rauch, sensed 'roadside awareness ... in the air.' As they traveled ... they noticed the 'gleaming little white buildings' of the White Tower eateries and began to photograph them. Their interest grew serious when a chance conversation at a Camden, New Jersey, White Tower counter led them to Charles J. Johnson, the chain's principal architect. Given access to the firm's records and photographic archives, the two decided to collaborate on a serious study of the design of the White Tower. What emerged is a fascinating case study of a commercial building type.", Helen Lefkowitz Horowitz, Landscape