William Pereira’s Oscar-winning giant squid

William Pereira was an architect with a hugely successful business responsible for the oppressively bland appearance of much of 1960s corporate Los Angeles. His firm was responsible for the master plan at LAX, and delivered the under-scaled, retro-futurism of the so-called Theme Building in the centre of the parking area there. They produced a number of alienating mega-stores for the Robinsons Department store across Southern California (the one in Pasadena is now a Target), and much of the business section of Newport Beach. They had a surprisingly large influence on the institutional look of the art world as it was coming into being in that period – from the overall plan and many buildings at UCI, to the original Dickson Art Center at UCLA, to the Otis campus at MacArthur Park, to, most famously, the complex of buildings designed to house the newly formed LACMA in 1965. This design was so corporate-bland that the then chief curator at the museum, James Elliott, described the new LACMA as “the first tract house museum.” And of course Ed Ruscha famously painted it on fire.

Before all this success Pereira enjoyed a brief career in the movies. He had arrived in Los Angeles from Chicago in the late 30s, and before landing a teaching job in the School of Architecture at USC in 1949, he worked as an art director and production designer for a number of films, including “This Gun for Hire,” Alan Ladd’s first feature, the 1944 “Jane Eyre,” and a 1945 noir, “Johnny Angel.” In 1942 he won the first Academy Award for production design for his work on Cecil B. DeMille’s “Reap the Wild Wind,” that master of cinematic spectacle’s watery riposte to “Gone with the Wind,” a full color epic starring Paulette Godard, Ray Milland, a young John Wayne and nine other stars. This titanic underwater battle between Milland, Wayne and a giant squid is the climax of the film, and the work for which Pereira got his Oscar.