Colorful inflatable pillows dangle from the ceiling. Plastic chairs jut out from high on the walls. Delicate porcelain adorns a family dining table, while a children’s room recalls days long gone.
All of the pieces in the Frank Bros. collection that are on display at the University Art Museum are designed to evoke memories of early days of Long Beach, when the mid-century modern style was emerging as the go-to style for designers and home furnishers. The Frank Bros. furniture store, with its 200-foot display window, was located on Long Beach Boulevard from 1938-82.
University Art Museum director Kimberli Meyer, a fan of mid-century modernism, is excited to have the Frank Bros: The Store that Modernized Modern exhibition on campus. The exhibition, which opened Jan. 28 and runs to April 9, presents a visual timeline of the Frank Bros.’ story as well as the store’s large-scale interior environments, drawn largely from the family’s personal collection and the archive at the Getty Research Institute.
“The most interesting part about this is the Frank Brothers’ role in bringing design into people’s everyday life,” Meyer said. “That’s what modernism was aspiring to and sometimes it was successful and sometimes it was not.
“But I think you can say it was most successful on the consumer level because it made it possible for people who might not be able to hire an architect to have that touch of modernism in their house, to actually buy something in the store and have it in their home and have that aesthetic relationship to modern design.”
Frank Bros. appealed to all walks of life, from the Hollywood set to teachers, secretaries and homemakers. The store offered high style at low cost, furniture that was edgy, yet functional and fun. It mixed colors and textures and unusual design, such as armless sofas and inflatable chairs.
“There certainly were people who were interested in it, but you had to have, or tended, to be more adventurous in [your] thinking,” Meyer said. “Those who had this sort of personal philosophy, they wanted to break free of a certain kind of tradition and move into a more open terrain with modernism.”
Meyer said Long Beach’s aerospace industry in the 1950s and ‘60s influenced the way many area residents viewed living spaces.
“At the time, the aircraft industry was much more robust and there were a lot of materials and ideas that were coming out of that and influencing design,” she said. “That’s what I love about it. There’s probably a lot of people in this region that have something that they grew up with from Frank Bros. and have a lot of stories.”