Pereira & Luckman – General Dynamics

General Dynamics Ramps
Julius Shulman photograph – General Dynamics Building 2 – San Diego

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Architects  William Pereira & Charles Luckman designed this sensational floating spiral staircase for General Dynamics/ Convair’s Kearny Mesa, California facility. Pereira & Luckman developed many noted structures in Southern California including the Theme Building at Los Angeles International Airport, CBS Television City, and Marineland of the Pacific.

The General Dynamics Astronautics facility in Kearny Mesa, California opened on 12 July 1958. General Dynamics (GD) was the prime contractor for the Atlas missile, the first Intercontinental Ballistic Missile (ICBM) deployed by the United States, Atlas also served to launch the four manned orbital missions of Project Mercury. During the 1950s and 1960s, aerospace firms were expanding rapidly due to the Cold War and the accompanying influx of funds to develop new aircraft and missiles. GD at Kearny Mesa served as headquarters for the development and manufacture of Atlas.

This winding ramp was located in the lobby area of Building 2 linking flanking administrative and research buildings.  Notice the reflecting pool at the base of the ramp, this led to a larger pool outside the building and cleverly served as a fire water reservoir. So why was this incredible ramp in the lobby of an aerospace contractor?  In part, to impress visitors, both government and other contractors. Who wouldn’t stop for a moment in amazement when first seeing this aluminum ramp hanging on rods? The Kearny Mesa campus and its impressive lobby area were also the embodiment of the future and Space-Age architecture and how better to attract brilliant young engineers to GD than depicting what they envisioned Southern California to be?

General Dynamics hosted a fifth-anniversary celebration of their Kearny Mesa facility in July 1963. As Atlas had just launched the final mission of Project Mercury, GD had asked scientists, astronauts, and politicians what space exploration would be in 2063.  This is significant in that GD published the predications in 2063 A.D– only 201 copies were printed. Most were distributed to public and university libraries, and one was placed in a time capsule on the grounds of the Kearny Mesa facility to be opened on 13 July 2063.  Unlike the GD time capsule at Cape Canaveral, the location and fate of the Kearny Mesa time capsule is uncertain.  And this ties back to the glorious floating ramp – it was demolished in 1997. With the decline in defense spending following the close of the Cold War, General Dynamics sold its astronautics division to Martin-Marietta (now Lockheed-Martin). GD Kearny Mesa was closed, the property repurposed, and the buildings demolished. And the time capsule? It was either destroyed when Building 2 was demolished or is beneath a parking lot.

Blue Sky Metropolis provides an extensive examination of the larger aerospace industry in California and General Dynamics in San Diego.

If you have images, documents, or ephemera of the Pereira & Luckman spiral ramp at the former General Dynamics Astronautics Kearny Mesa facility, exteriors of the building, or the time capsule ceremony, please consider sharing them with the ChronoPoints project.

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