Through the years, while obsessively leafing through auction catalogs of 20th century design, I have often come across wrought-iron furniture pieces that I liked that were described as being from “Pacifica Designs”, or “Pacific Ironworks”, or “Pacific Iron”, or some other variation. Luther Conover and Milo Baughman are two designers who were sometimes associated with these descriptions.
I had heard that there was a San Francisco Bay Area store back in the fifties that may have had this name and wanted to find out more. So, when I got the time, I did some research – including old-fashioned “book-learning” with old copies of Interiors magazine, etc. – and now I think I have a much better idea of the origins of these terms.
It turns out that back in the day there were two different endeavors that were going on, and I believe that over time the two got mixed up and the names were confused.
The first was the furniture manufacturer Pacific Iron Products based in South Pasadena, and then Los Angeles. They made some classic post-war wrought-iron California furniture. Judging from mentions in Interiors magazine they existed from at least as early as the late 1940’s. Milo Baughman did indeed design some seating and tables for Pacific Iron, for example:
chair designed by milo baughman for the pacific iron "california" line - from interiors, january 1950
However, to me the more extensive and influential piece of the puzzle is the California-based Pacifica marketing campaign of home furnishings that began in 1952. This marketing program was orchestrated by furniture retailer and impresario Harry Jackson, one of the owners of Jacksons furniture stores in the Bay Area and Sacramento, with the help of Henry Humphrey, the editor at the time of the home living magazine House and Garden.
Mr. Jackson had traveled to Japan, China and other Asian countries before and after World War II, and was inspired by the designs he saw during his travels. For the Pacifica campaign he brought together and presented existing furniture and textiles that he felt served his theme of casual modern furniture with an Asian influence. These pieces came from dozens of manufacturers (including Pacific Iron, which must have contributed to the confusion of their company name with the Pacifica campaign), most of whom were based in California. He also approached designers and manufacturers and encouraged them to create new designs that would work within the Pacifica idea.
may 1952 arts & architecture ad for modern color, inc. as part of the pacifica campaign - dorothy schindele, designer
The April 1952 issue of House and Garden devoted its cover and a 36-page spread to Pacifica designs.
Naturally, other furniture companies were encouraged to get on the bandwagon and rope in existing lines of furniture into the hot new craze for Pacific Rim-inspired design – witness this ad from the same issue of House and Garden that had the Pacifica feature:
ad for wrought iron furniture by potter art iron studios - house and garden, april 1952
Hmm… yeah, not really!
Incidentally, to my knowledge there were no pieces of mid-century furniture or other designs that were manufactured under the “Pacifica” name.
In June of 1952 arts & architecture magazine devoted a nice three-page spread to the Pacifica marketing campaign:
june 1952 arts & architecture - pacifica article excerpt - note designs by luther conover and muriel coleman
wrought iron and wicker tray table by luther conover - june 1952 arts & architecture
Here is a list of some of the manufacturers and designers who had work promoted under the Pacifica marketing campaign:
Manufacturers: Sherman Bertram, Glenn of California, California Contemporary, Modern Color Inc., Pacific Iron, Luther Conover, Grossman-Moody Ltd., Brown-Saltman, Kneedler-Fauchere, See-Mar of California, Van Keppel-Green, Waldron Associates, Calif-Asia Rattan Company and more
Designers: Milo Baughman, Dorothy Schindele, Luther Conover, Peter Rooke-Ley, John Keal, Harry Lawenda, Muriel Coleman and more