My LA to Z: Syd Mead

It’s no surprise that the conceptual designer for Blade Runner and Star Trek has a thing for funky architecture, listing uniquely designed buildings as some of his favorite places in the city


Photograph courtesy of Syd Mead

Syd Mead has been predicting the future since the 1960s when the Art Center grad completed his first dramatic paintings of hovercraft and snow-walkers for U.S. Steel. Since then he has created conceptual designs for theme parks, video games, and films. He lives in Pasadena, a short hike from his alma mater.


The Encounter Restaurant & Bar

The theme restaurant at LAX is great. Unfortunately, there’s scaffolding over all four arches. Disney supervised the interior design redo a couple of years ago so that when the bartender pours from the cobra head it makes a sound like whoo-oo-oo. I like that interior. It’s sort of zoomy and a very sophisticated cartoon style with a little space-age zist. Zist? It’s a change of zest but I like zist better.

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Millennium Biltmore Hotel, Los Angeles

That bar with the vaulted ceiling and the gilded plaster in The Biltmore Hotel downtown is a fantastic place to have a martini. You go in and have your drink and at Christmas time they build a castle or replicas of buildings in L.A. Of course I’ve made a couple of pastry castles and mine are better. In the old lobby they have this staircase that’s like Evita coming out to meet her masses, and a second-story entrance where you come down. In the background you want to hear French horns and lots of applause.

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Forest Lawn Museum

Forest Lawn in Glendale has a great museum. The buildings themselves are gorgeous and the grounds are immaculate. It’s like a castle, it’s class. The death business must be very profitable. They had a couple of pieces of my art in a show recently about fantasy in movies and design. They have an enormous painting of the crucifixion, and it’s a huge thing, a spectacle. You can hear the story of how it was painted for a World’s Fair and got lost in customs for decades, and there is timed spotlighting as the story unfolds. It’s a real show.

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The Derby

There’s a restaurant in Arcadia called The Derby out near the racetrack. You know, Seabiscuit and all that. The kitchen is absolutely superb, wonderful amuse-bouche. The Derby is sort of a roadhouse with big booths and all eclectic with horse racing memorabilia and saddles and low lighting and lots of horse pictures. An elegant roadhouse.

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Wattles Mansion and Gardens

We used to live in Hollywood and we’d go over to the Wattles Mansion and Gardens and have an Easter picnic. The garden used to go all the way up to Mulholland. They have all these palm trees and it was biblical, like Samson was going to come out. They’ve restored the house and part of the grounds are fenced in for a people’s park where neighbors plant things.

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When it’s raining in Old Town Pasadena, you can park you car at Russell’s without getting wet, and can watch the people getting wet. It’s an unpretentious little place but they chill the salad forks, and nobody does that anymore. They have a full bar and meatloaf sandwiches.  I like the meatloaf.  I know you’re supposed to have pinot or red with it, but I like chardonnay.



Art Center’s Hillside Campus

Art Center College of Design is a Craig Ellwood building and a modern architecture structure. The whole building is a beam built in three sections like a bridge over the arroyo they created there. The building was originally designed for an arroyo someplace else, but Art Center bought the plans, so to make it work they had to dig that out. They have a car show we go to every year and they always have a student show in the lobby.

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Art Center’s South Campus

The new South Campus of Art Center is in a building that was the only supersonic wind tunnel west of the Mississippi. They bought it and rehabbed it for an exhibit space and classrooms, and primarily to have huge gatherings. I was only there once before, when I was involved with the F22 Supersonic Fighter. I did the promotional campaign illustrations for that and went to the secret rollout years ago when they revealed the airplane. It was shrouded with a big canvas bag so you couldn’t see it.

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Cindy’s Restaurant

We have a genuine diner in Eagle Rock—Cindy’s.  It is turquoise and orange. How much more of a diner can you get? They use it for shoots because it’s the quintessential diner. They serve comfort food and when we take our ‘50s cars there we park right in front of the window so nobody puts their paws on ‘em.



Petersen Automotive Museum

I’ve had a one-man presentation at the Petersen Automotive Museum to celebrate Art Center and the 60th anniversary of Transportation Design. I really like the dioramas and the way the cars are displayed. The bevy of cars is always changing and they’re all spectacular—either restored or not. We saw the round door Rolls Royce built in Belgium. It has to be 22 feet long. It’s black and shiny and unbelievable. The museum mixes the historic vector of auto history with dioramas, and it’s really well done.

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Castle Green

Castle Green is what’s left of a big hotel from back when the trains used to come through Pasadena. Now it’s condos and an architectural treasure. You can take a tour every year and see how people decorate their units and the ground floor has been restored. The rooms in the tower are wonderful and round. It’s a challenge to decorate because furniture isn’t round.

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Hollywood Boulevard Movie Palaces

We had a tour of the El Capitan when they first restored it, and it’s beautiful. Craig Hodgetts did the Egyptian and that is amazing. It has that forecourt and now that’s back. I invent all this weird stuff and science fiction for movies and stuff and honestly I haven’t seen a lot of it.



The Arroyo Seco Grill

I’ve painted nature but I don’t like to get out into it very much. I look down on it from the bridge when I drive across the Arroyo Seco. The Rose Bowl is essentially a flood plain where the arroyo drains from the San Gabriel Mountains. The Arroyo Seco Grill on the golf course is on the bottom of the arroyo and it’s a classic cafe with a putt putt golf range. Roger discovered it by accident on a hike. I hike three times a week on the treadmill at the gym listening to opera or whatever my iPod shuffle sends to my ear.

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The Chemosphere House

I’ve never been to the Chemosphere house, but I love it. We have a Lautner nearby. Our house is a post and beam by Buff & Hensman. It’s very comfortable and very modular. It’s not kooky or bizarre for it’s own sake.

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 Images courtesy of (in order): (1) Flickr/monkeytime, (2), (3) Flickr/AlanLight,
 (5), (6) Flickr/FrankG., (7), (8), (9) Flickr/PaulGachot, (10) Flickr/technotheory, (11), (12) Flickr/omaromar,
(13) Flickr/DJfrantic, (14) Flickr/podknox