McAllister was one of the leading designers of American roadside architecture in the 1940s and 1950s, his lively and visually rich contributions to the genre providing populist inspiration to Postmodernist architects and designers such as Robert Venturi, author of Learning from Las Vegas (1973). Born in San Diego, California, he left high school early to take up architecture with the American Building Co. Although he had no formal architectural training he was commissioned to design the Agua Caliente resort hotel and Tijuana Casino in Mexico at the age of 20. Built in the Spanish Colonial Revival style, McAllister absorbed some influence from Art Deco through the muralist Anthony Heinsbergen, who was working at Agua Caliente and who had visited the Paris Exposition des Arts Décoratifs et Industriels in 1925. McAllister went on to design many buildings that catered for the increasingly automobile‐oriented culture of California in the interwar years with a number of 24‐hour drive‐ins and restaurants, such as the Cinegrill supper club in Hollywood. In addition to a number of restaurants for the Kentucky Fried Chicken and Pig ‘n’ Whistle chains he also designed for Bob's Big Boy. One of his most celebrated contributions for the latter was the drive‐in diner in Riverside Drive, Los Angeles, in 1949. With its glass, neon lighting, mosaics, and terrazzo tiling and contrasting flat surfaces, it is often seen as transitional between 1940s Moderne and 1950s Californian Coffee Shop style. The third Bob's Big Boy to be built, it had characteristic attention‐seeking graphic pink and white neon signage applied to a slab‐like tower rising up above the main body of the glass‐fronted restaurant. One of comparatively few McAllister buildings to survive, it was made a California State Point of Historical Interest in 1993. Also with a striking tower, integrated with the main building, was the Sands club (1952) on the Las Vegas Strip. The 56 foot (17m) high tower, complete with neon signage including a 35 foot high capital ‘S’, was a striking symbol that could be easily seen from passing automobiles. Other Las Vegas buildings by McAllister included the theme hotel El Rancho (1941). He gave up his prolific architectural practice in the late 1950s.
Subjects: Industrial and Commercial Art.