The Blog Sidebar contains links to Filming Location posts. These include:
- Eight "Breaking Bad" filming location posts;
- Three additional posts regarding "Breaking Bad" related subjects;
- Seven "Better Call Saul" filming location posts;
- Two additional posts regarding "Better Call Saul" related subjects;
- One post regarding "El Camino: A Breaking Bad Movie";
- Three links to OldeSaultie's Google maps of "Breaking Bad" and "Better Call Saul" filming location sites. These are the best filming location maps on the Web! The KML files available at these addresses are particularly useful for importing locations into GPS-equipped devices.
Let me know if you have any problems or questions (E-Mail address: firstname.lastname@example.org).
To avoid unnecessary friction, I have redacted the addresses of all single-family homes in these books. (These addresses are still available in these blog posts, however.)
The pictures in the print edition are black-and-white, in order to keep costs down. Pictures in the Kindle edition are in color.
"A Guidebook To 'Breaking Bad' Filming Locations: Albuquerque as Physical Setting and Indispensable Character"
The Fifth Edition (Publication date November 3, 2018; 375 pages) of the book, updated through Season 4 of "Better Call Saul," is now available and can be ordered at these links:
“‘Breaking Bad’ Signs and Symbols: Reading Meaning into Sets, Props, and Filming Locations”
The First Edition (Publication date November 3, 2018; 290 pages) of this book can be ordered at these links:
This book delves into some of the symbolism in AMC's hit television series "Breaking Bad." Toxic modernity is symbolized by architectural elements derived from Chicago. Indeed, Albuquerque is used as a kind of stand-in for the City of Chicago. Like many cities in America’s Great Plains and Mountain West, Albuquerque obtained much of its architecture directly from the Windy City via the AT&SF railroad and Highway 66.
The creative team is interested in telling stories about the legacies and corruptions of modernity, particularly Chicago’s “Century of Progress” (1833-1932). In particular, Chicago-derived daylighting innovations (the practice of passive window design to help illuminate the interiors of large buildings) are featured: Glass Block Windows, Luxfer Prismatic Tile Windows, and Plate Glass Windows. Once the backgrounds of scenes are encoded with meaning, a variety of stories can be told there.
A series of tables are presented - for example: Parallel Beams in the Ceiling; Twinned Features; Five-Pointed Stars; Octagons; Monkeys; Horses; Cats; Moth Orchids; and Skulls.
Certain symbols advance the plot: Native-American symbols; Foreshadowing symbols like Pueblo Deco arches; Danger symbols like bells, stagger symbols, and desk lamps; plus Earth Art.
Featured stories as told in television-scene backgrounds include: The Legacy of El Chapo; Tributes to Alfred Hitchcock’s “North by Northwest”; The Badger Comes To Entrap; The Five Apparitions of Our Lady of Guadalupe; The legacy of London's Crystal Palace; and Homages to Patrick McGoohan's “The Prisoner.”
Here's an update to a video I first made in February 2017 regarding the uses of architecture and symbolism in "Breaking Bad" and "Better Call Saul."
Albuquerque's architecture itself is telling plot-supporting stories and influencing the filming-location-selection process. It is possible to “read” the background of scenes and catch subtle revelations, even years in advance of the plot. Puzzling location-selection decisions can finally be understood.
One such story is a cautionary tale about the excesses and corruptions of modern life, as refracted through the history of the City of Chicago, particularly its “Century of Progress.” In their different ways, both Walter White and Saul Goodman are perfect children of Chicago’s “Century of Progress.” As it happens, Albuquerque received many of its architectural features straight from Chicago, so the city can serve as an effective showcase of Chicago’s influence on America and the world.
Another story concerns window technology. The television shows recapitulate the recent history of how glass windows were modified to introduce more sunlight into the recesses of large buildings, and reciprocally, once electrical lighting technology improved, how large buildings became beacons and lanterns in the night. The City of Chicago had an out-sized role in this process. Private worlds were rendered less private, turning even inner life into a kind of theatrical performance, with all the attendant temptations and dangers. Among these widespread window innovations in Albuquerque, and useful as Chicago callbacks, are Glass Block Windows and Luxfer Prismatic Tile Windows. Even plate glass windows have their place.
The creative teams also use Albuquerque’s Pueblo Deco architecture, particularly archways and ceilings, as foreshadowing elements. Traditional church architecture, such as clerestory windows, are also used, as are other Christian symbols.
Understanding the crystalline labyrinth of Vince Gilligan’s Albuquerque deepens one’s appreciation for the real city: the Aged Sapphire of the Southwest!
Streamline Moderne and Jimmy McGill
The Circular Journey of “Slippin’ Jimmy”
Marc P. Valdez
February 9, 2017 (Updated several times - the last time on June 7, 2017)
Introduction and Overview
Apart from their main story lines, the creative teams of "Breaking Bad" and "Better Call Saul" use their sets, plus the architecture of the City of Albuquerque, to tell a cautionary tale about the excesses and corruptions of modern life, as refracted through the history of the City of Chicago. They tell this tale, in part, by recapitulating the history of how glass windows introduced sunlight into the recesses of large, modern buildings in the 19th and 20th Centuries, and reciprocally, how large, modern buildings became beacons and lanterns in the night.
Many glass-window innovations were first introduced in greenhouses, ships, and auxiliary structures associated with modernity and transportation. The City of Chicago had an out-sized role in rendering private worlds less private and turning inner life into a theatrical performance, with all the attendant temptations, successes, and dangers.
More-global innovations of the 20th Century in glass technology that came to Chicago via Europe, the UK, and New York City include:
- Fresnel Lenses in lighthouses;
- Vault (or Pavement) Glass; and,
- Plate Glass Windows.
Glass innovations in which Chicago played an unusually-large role include:
- Luxfer Prismatic Windows, particularly in transoms; and,
- Glass Block Windows, as incorporated in Streamline Moderne architecture.
Even when Chicago was not the primary source of an innovation (e.g., Plate Glass Windows), fierce advocates of the innovation (e.g., International-style architect Ludwig Mies van der Rohe) made their homes there. Chicago glimmered like a modern beacon, not just over the Midwest but the entire world!
As it happens, Albuquerque received many of these innovations straight from Chicago. The railroad reached Albuquerque from Chicago in 1880, and the modern evolution of the American Southwest city came under the direct tutelage of the distant city. The design of many buildings in Albuquerque today reflect Chicago's influence.
The assault of modern architecture on the American Southwest also led to the creation of new, syncretic forms of architecture. Pueblo Revival and Pueblo Deco styles are examples of such architectural forms.
The creative team of "Breaking Bad" embraced two features of Pueblo Deco style, in particular, to tell their story:
- Tin Ceilings, and;
- Pueblo Deco Arches.
The creative teams of "Breaking Bad" and "Better Call Saul" also embraced older uses of glass technology, when appropriate, including:
- Clerestory Windows.
Due to Albuquerque developing later and on a smaller scale than Chicago, certain modern glass-window innovations are rarely-present in Albuquerque and are thus given short shrift in "Breaking Bad" and "Better Call Saul", including:
- Vault (or Pavement) Glass; and,
Due to Albuquerque being far from the sea, certain modern glass-window innovations are absent in Albuquerque and thus in "Breaking Bad" and "Better Call Saul", such as:
- Fresnel Lenses in lighthouses.
Certain architects whom one might expect to be present in a retelling of the story of modern architecture, such as Frank Lloyd Wright, are absent because they didn't work in Albuquerque.
All these omissions are accidents of history rather than intent. If "Breaking Bad" had been set in Phoenix, Seattle, or anywhere else, the series would have used architecture in a markedly-different way.
There is a genealogy of significant buildings that are important in innovative uses of glass technology and Streamline Moderne, that help give "Breaking Bad" and "Better Call Saul" their look. These include:
- London's Crystal Palace;
- Milan's Galleria;
- San Francisco's Tower of Jewels (1915);
- Maison de Verre (1928);
- Barbizon Plaza Hotel (1930);
- Towne House Apartments (1930);
- Owens-Illinois Research House (1932); and,
- Owens-Illinois Glass Block Building at the Chicago Exposition (1933).
Glass Block Windows are an architectural hallmark of Streamline Moderne (sometimes called Art Moderne, part of the International Style), and popularized in the 1930s. Streamline Moderne is sometimes regarded as the last phase of Art Deco.
The name Art Deco comes from Paris’ 1925 “Exposition Internationale des Arts Décoratifs et Industriels Modernes”.
Art Deco has proven to be a very popular style around the world, and particularly so in the United States.
Streamline Moderne celebrates Industrial Design: “a machine aesthetic focused on mass production and functional efficiency.” Streamline Moderne can apply to automobiles and locomotives, and to commercial products like radios, as well as to architecture. Streamline Moderne architecture contains a number of signature features:
- Aerodynamic and nautical streamlining - occasional circular portholes, oculi, and round windows; and,
- Ships railings.
- Color references to the sea like blue and violet, and a variety of pastels;
- Rounded corners;
- Prominent eyebrows and parapets.
- A horizontal emphasis (as opposed to Art Deco’s vertical emphasis);
- Smooth, white stucco finishes;
- Glass Block Windows and mirrored panels – rays and vectors;
- Concentrated in neighborhoods built in the 1930’s – e.g. Miami’s South Beach;
- Commercial or apartment buildings with flat roofs, rounded edges, curved canopies, and asymmetrical facades; single-family residences less common;
- Ribbon band of windows with metal frames, metal double-hung or casement windows, and corner windows; and,
- Aluminum, chrome, and stainless steel used for door and window trim, railings, and balusters.
President-Class Locomotive and a Studebaker Automobile exemplify Streamline Moderne. Aerodynamic streamlining can apply not just to buildings, but to automobiles, locomotives, and even to commercial products like radios.
Cartesian Grids in Dropped Ceilings, Glass Block Walls, and Panes of Glass
Until mass production capabilities improved in the 1930s, Glass Block Windows were quite uncommon. (See this dissertation as well.) Glass Block Windows admit light but their cloudiness defeats clarity.
Glass Block Windows can be laid to go around corners, and they are usually laid in the manner of a Cartesian grid – i.e. the blocks are not offset from row to row, as cinder block or adobe would be. There are many examples of displays with repeating geometrical motifs in “Breaking Bad” and “Better Call Saul”, and often present as Cartesian grids.
Some of these displays include:
- Railyard windows (“Breaking Bad”, Season 4, episode 5, ‘Shotgun’);
- Philadelphia police-car divider (“Better Call Saul”, Season 1, episode 6, ‘Five-O’);
- Bingo cards (“Better Call Saul”, Season 1, episode 7, ‘Bingo’);
- Rifle target (“Better Call Saul”, Season 2, episode 10, ‘Klick’).
Several other examples:
Staycation wood-block wall (“Breaking Bad”, Season 5b, episode 12, ‘Rabid Dog’).
Cartesian grids represent the familiar, knowable, rational world. In the modern world, glass window panes are frequently arrayed in rectangular Cartesian grids, but at many different aspect ratios of length to width. This lack of a uniform standard shows a kind of free-wheeling, devil-may-care attitude at odds with Cartesian rationality.
Modern Glass Blocks are usually available with cubic faces, with 1:1 aspect ratios, and used as Cartesian grids. There is certainly less flexibility there. It is easy enough to create Glass Blocks with 2:1 aspect ratios, and to stagger them just as traditional bricks have been staggered for centuries in standard masonry. Indeed, there is a picture of a wall in the 1932 Owens-Illinois Research House showing just how easily 1:1 and 2:1 aspect ratio blocks can be incorporated together into a uniform Glass Block wall (Fagan). Nevertheless, today, 1:1 aspect-ratio blocks in a Cartesian grid are preferred.
But with modern commercial ceilings, possessing dropped-ceiling panels, 1:1 and 2:1 aspect-ratio panels are standard (in the United States, 2-by-2 and 2-by-4 foot panels). "Breaking Bad" and "Better Call Saul" frequently use points-of-view near the floor, so views of ceilings are common throughout. Dropped ceiling panels are used as hiding places: Walt's second cell phone ("Breaking Bad," Seasons 1 and 2); Jimmy's coin collection ("Better Call Saul," Season 3, episode 8, 'Slip').
Once again, instead of exposing support structures and making the world a more-understandable, more-rational, and thus healthier place, per the intention of the architects, modern architecture serves to conceal. Behind the mask of modern rationality, chaos looms.
Cartesian Grids as Props
Cartesian grids appear many times, but less often as props. When a Cartesian grid is flashed as a prop, it is always in the context of a question, and it generally means “help me understand” or “please clarify”. Examples include:
Letter grid used to communicate with Hector Salamanca (“Breaking Bad”, Season 4, episode 10, “Face Off”).
Mike's crossword puzzle (“Better Call Saul”, Season 1, episode 10, ‘Marco’, and Season 3, episode 1, 'Mabel').
Also, the "Word Search" puzzle - a Cartesian grid used as a prop in the context of a question, "Hey, you take care of that matter?" (“Better Call Saul”, Season 3, episode 2, ‘Witness’). Then, over on the right, "Rapollo". Here is discussion about a 'Wall of Light'. Rapollo is a perfect name! Apollo is the label of space-age plausible deniability, the disguise they built into the Word Search.
Walls and Dungeons
Walls serve multiple purposes in “Breaking Bad” and “Better Call Saul”. Walls create spaces and make them easier to control.
For example, when Chuck uses metallized Mylar sheets to cover his walls and windows, he is creating a Faraday Cage to attenuate ambient electromagnetic fields and better control his electromagnetic hypersensitivity. Metal meshes make good Faraday Cages too.
Nevertheless, Chuck is also creating an approximation to an ideal conceptual model in Physics: the Perfectly-Reflecting Cavity form of a Perfectly-Absorbing Black Body. In other words, Chuck is trying to create impermeable walls and perfect his hermetic isolation from modernity. It's a way of exercising control, at the expense of making himself very vulnerable to the accidents of isolation.
Glass Block Windows and Walls may potentially isolate Jimmy McGill too. They appear, first on one side, then two, and by Season 3, on three sides of Jimmy. In time, he might find himself completely surrounded.
Attorneys are particularly adept at building figurative walls. To assist their clients, attorneys create useful narratives by isolating facts and testimony in manageable, impermeable “information silos”. Building walls is what Chuck and Jimmy are trained to do.
Nevertheless, wall-building, carried too far, results in dangerous isolation – in extreme, to dungeon-like isolation.
Michel Foucault has written about dungeons in the context of the Panopticon. Quoting Foucault:
The panoptic mechanism arranges spatial unities that make it possible to see constantly and to recognize immediately. In short, it reverses the principle of the dungeon; or rather of its three functions - to enclose, to deprive of light and to hide - it preserves only the first and eliminates the other two. Full lighting and the eye of a supervisor capture better than darkness, which ultimately protected. Visibility is a trap.
There is an excellent discussion regarding Foucault’s fascination with prisons in the 1993 documentary entitled "Michel Foucault: Beyond Good and Evil". Michel Foucault, who was from Poitiers, France, was inspired by the tragic example of Blanche Monnier, the woman known as “Séquestrée Poitiers”:
In the film, they describe a short story by Hervé Guibert which recounts the true story of Blanche Monnier, The Séquestrée Poitiers, who was imprisoned naked in a filthy room by her mother for [much of her life]. In the documentary, the narrator says that when authorities found her they found this inscription on the wall:“To create beauty not out of love or liberty but solitude forever you must live and die in a dungeon.”
Chuck McGill is nearly living in a dungeon already. In his own affable way, Jimmy McGill may eventually inhabit a dungeon of his own creation too.
Jimmy's Four Identities
Jimmy McGill has four identities in the course of “Breaking Bad” and “Better Call Saul”:
- Jimmy McGill, a small-time Chicago con artist known for his slip-and-fall shakedown, hence the nickname "Slippin' Jimmy" (“Better Call Saul”, Season 1, episode 1, ‘Uno’);
- Bailed out of jail and given a fresh start in Albuquerque, Jimmy McGill strives to emulate his successful brother Chuck (“Better Call Saul”, Season 1, episode 3, ‘Nacho’);
- Jimmy reinvents himself as breathtakingly-corrupt lawyer, Saul Goodman (episode not shown as of this writing); and,
- After "Breaking Bad", fugitive Saul assumes the identity of Gene, mild-mannered manager of an Omaha Cinnabon eatery (“Better Call Saul”, Season 1, episode 1, ‘Uno’).
Uses for Glass Block Windows in “Better Call Saul” and “Breaking Bad”
Despite Jimmy’s changing identity, certain things remain the same over the years, such as ever-present Glass Block Windows. There are four kinds of uses for Glass Block Windows in “Better Call Saul” and “Breaking Bad”:
Chicago Alley - Marco and Jimmy perfect their Rolex scam in a Chicago alley - the Glass Block Window is part of a parking structure: (“Better Call Saul”, Season 1, episode 4, ‘Hero’).
Chuck lies to Jimmy about their dying mother’s last words in the lobby of a Chicago hospital (“Better Call Saul”, Season 1, episode 5, ‘Alpine Shepherd Boy’).
Glass Block Windows are present in the alley Jimmy runs down (“Better Call Saul,” Season 1, episode 3, ‘Nacho’).
When Roland Jaycocks opens his door for Jimmy, a Glass Block Window is visible across the street (“Better Call Saul,” Season 1, episode 5, ‘Alpine Shepherd Boy’). "Oh, you're huge, Chandler!"
St. Mary's School playground, where Jimmy snows the teachers about the Piña Colada song (“Better Call Saul,” Season 2, episode 9, ‘Nailed’).
“Slippin' Jimmy” runs past a Glass Block Window to observe Chuck suffer his own slip-and-fall (“Better Call Saul”, Season 2, episode 9, ‘Nailed’).
The area on both sides of Lakeview Rd. SW, in the vicinity of 1851 Lakeview Rd. SW, where Mike parks to observe Los Pollos Hermanos, are notably important ("Better Call Saul", Season 3, episode 2, 'Witness').
The house on the north side, and the garage on the south side, both feature Streamline Moderne Glass Blocks.
Howard parks in front of the Charles Lembke house, a Streamline Moderne house a few doors away from Chuck's place ("Better Call Saul", Season 3, episode 2, 'Witness').
Personal Space - offices or living quarters
Jimmy's nail salon office (“Better Call Saul”, Season 1, episode 1, ‘Uno’).
I was struck by the similarities in composition between the overhead image of Jimmy McGill's Nail Salon office (“Better Call Saul”, Season 1, episode 1, ‘Uno’) and Surrealist painter Salvador Dali’s 1954 work, “Corpus Hypercubus”.
Dali was convinced that the separate worlds of science and religion can coexist. I attended a talk where Vince Gilligan described himself as a seeker after truth, and expressed similar thoughts. [Ref.: “In Conversation with Vince Gilligan”, University of California, Davis, Mondavi Center, December 10, 2015.]
Jimmy McGill’s and Kim Wexler's new law office (“Better Call Saul”, Season 2, episode 8, ‘Fifi’). The former DiNicola Insurance Agency building on Montaño Road in Albuquerque dates to about 2000 (based on 1996 and 2002 Google Earth imagery), and is now a Realty One office.
Jimmy McGill’s and Kim Wexler's new law office (“Better Call Saul”, Season 2, episode 8, ‘Fifi’). Beautiful Glass Block Windows and a copper ceiling.
Just overwhelmed by the glass block! ("Better Call Saul", Season 3, episode 3, 'Sunk Costs'). We've seen glass block on one side of Jimmy, then on two sides (Chicago hospital lobby), and now on three sides. There will come a time when Jimmy is completely surrounded by glass block.
A plan-view image (as seen from above) of the Diamonds Apartments (where Gene in Omaha ostensibly lives) can appear as diamonds.
A plan-view image (as seen from above) of the Diamonds Apartments can also appear as Glass Block Windows, depending on how the image is rotated. It’s possible diamonds are equivalent to Glass Block Windows.
Any kind of Chicago connection
Most Chicago connections refer to significant scandals with a Chicago angle over the last forty years, but the connections can be older, or refer to minor or trivial matters.
The dark alley behind Lindy’s Diner at 5th and Central Ave. SW in Albuquerque (representing Philadelphia’s McClure’s bar) possesses Glass Block Windows (“Better Call Saul”, Season 1, episode 6, ‘Five-O’).
‘Lucky Lindy’ made it across the Atlantic in 1927, but had extremely-bad luck on two occasions when flying from St. Louis to Chicago, and was twice forced to bail out of his plane.
The Veterinarian that Mike consults for occasional protection-racket jobs makes money on the side, in a clinic that features Glass Block Windows (“Better Call Saul”, Season 2, episode 3, ‘Amarillo’).
The Chicago connection here reflects that veterinary focus. Abbott Laboratories of Lake Bluff, IL, is located in the northern suburbs of Chicago, and makes the product ‘Ensure’, used to keep Walt’s weight up in his New Hampshire exile (“Breaking Bad”, Season 5b, episode 15, ‘Granite State’). Abbott has long been a false-advertising lawsuit target for ‘Ensure’.
In the past, Abbott Labs focused on anesthesia & painkillers. Abbott Labs helped fuel the underground amphetamine scene in the 60s.
Abbott Labs has been a perennial PETA target for its treatment of beagles and other animals. Abbott recently sold its animal care division to Zoetis and bought St. Jude & Alere, refashioning its portfolio out of animals and into human cardiovascular care and diagnostic devices.
In the vacuum left behind after Abbott Labs’ departure from animal care comes the Veterinarian. With his protection rackets, The Veterinarian can protect you against pain – for a price.
Various allusions to Glass Block Windows
In addition, there are various allusions to Glass Block Windows throughout the show. For example:
The folds in the Mylar Space Blankets used to make Chuck’s Faraday Cage allude to Glass Block Windows (“Better Call Saul”, Season 2, episode 10, ‘Klick’).
The fluorescent lights in the office that Jimmy first proposes to share with Kim resemble Glass Block Windows when seen from a shallow angle (“Better Call Saul”, Season 1, episode 7, ‘Bingo’).
The Chicago bar, Jimmy and Marco’s second home, features windows with a repeating, 3-4-5 Pythagorean-Triple pattern (“Better Call Saul”, Season 2, episode 10, ‘Marco’). This window is reminiscent of Vault (or Pavement) Glass - in this case, a pressed-lens design - presented as a window. The bartender at the filming location stated that "Better Call Saul" installed the window for the scene. The window is not present at the actual filming location.
Glass Block Windows and Chicago's "Century of Progress" Exposition
At first, it wasn’t clear to me what Glass Block Windows signified in Vince Gilligan’s work, but then I happened across a post in a Facebook group discussing Albuquerque’s Kelvinator House (also known as the Raabe House, located at 324 Hermosa Dr. SE, and built in 1938), the first residence in Albuquerque to feature Glass Block Windows.
The architect, William Burk, Jr., was inspired by the 13 futuristic model houses at the 1933–34 Chicago World’s Fair “Century of Progress International Exposition”.
Chicago’s “Century of Progress” Exposition was Ground Zero for the spread of the Streamline Moderne style in America and the rest of the world. For example, America’s first modern building constructed from Glass Blocks, the Owens-Illinois Glass Block Building, was built for the Chicago Exposition. [Ref: “Building a Century of Progress: The Architecture of Chicago's 1933-34 World's Fair”, Schrenk, Lisa D., University of Minnesota Press, Minneapolis, 2007, pp. 141-4.]
Albuquerque was hardly alone in following the architecture of the Chicago Exposition: many other cities around the country followed suit. Fairs and exhibitions quickly followed Chicago’s lead, such as Dallas’ Centennial Exhibition of 1936; the New York World’s Fair of 1939-40; and the San Francisco Golden Gate International Exposition of 1939. Regarding the Chicago Fair:
One of the 1933 fair’s most popular exhibits featured thirteen futuristic houses clustered together on the shores of Lake Michigan. Those houses, built from innovative construction materials and with several examples clearly paying homage to the European “International Style” or the colloquial “Streamline Moderne,” turned out to be crowd pleasers. Few fairgoers actually contemplated living in homes like George Fred Keck’s Glass House, a three-story, glass-clad, polygonal tower suspended from a central pole that clearly owed a lot to Le Corbusier’s idea of the house as a “machine for living,” but most attendees marveled at the technology displayed within and without. Keck’s house controlled its own climate via central systems and sealed windows. It included not only a garage for the car but a hanger for the family plane. Keck’s design, which the fair billed as the “House of Tomorrow,” made the June 1933 cover of Popular Mechanics. The idea of an “automatic” house that heated and cooled itself, rotated to face the sun, and opened its own venetian blinds caught the fancy of fairgoers. It likewise influenced architects throughout the United States in the subsequent years before World War II. Bits and pieces of the fair’s dramatic architecture showed up on the cultural periphery, even in places like New Mexico, a location that many Americans thought was not even part of the United States, and even in Albuquerque, its largest city but one that contained only about 30,000 inhabitants in the mid-1930s. One of those architects, William Burk, Jr., a local practitioner in Albuquerque, demonstrated this far-flung influence and the way it transformed residential architecture in the United States. He brought the design elements of both the International Style and the more mass-market-oriented Streamline Moderne style together in the house he built on Hermosa Drive SE in the late 1930s, in the city’s Granada Hills district, the subject of this case study.
Thus, Glass Block Windows, as used in “Breaking Bad” and “Better Call Saul”, generally symbolize a connection to Chicago. Nevertheless, Vince Gilligan’s real target may be the “Century of Progress”, about which he seems to feel great doubts and reservations.
In 1933, forty years had passed since Chicago’s World Columbian Exposition of 1893. After the tyranny of the Al Capone years and the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre of 1929, Chicago needed a makeover, and Chicago’s centennial in 1933 offered the perfect opportunity.
Chicago’s “Century of Progress International Exposition” celebrated Chicago’s past century, and the century to come. Technological innovation was the theme, with the motto: “Science Finds, Industry Applies, Man Conforms“.
There was heavy corporate influence among the sponsors (nearly two dozen corporate-sponsored pavilions vs. nine for the Chicago’s 1893 “World’s Columbian Exhibition”).
Advertising played an important role. Political and business leaders promoted consumerism and cooperation between science, business, and government in order to bootstrap America out of the Great Depression. FDR, among others, appealed to extend the fair, originally planned for just 1933, for another year.
With his optimism, faith in technology, glib superficiality, and corporate consumerism, Jimmy McGill is the perfect child of Chicago’s “Century of Progress”.
In “Better Call Saul” there is a direct reference to Chicago’s “Century of Progress” Exposition. The Chicago Waterfront as seen in the ‘Chicago’ montage is filmed from the Adler Planetarium on Northerly Island, home of the “Century of Progress” Exposition (“Better Call Saul”, Season 1, episode 10, ‘Marco’).
Vince Gilligan places Jimmy McGill in the classiest tradition of Chicago burlesque. (Of strippers, one can say that there is often less there than first appears.)
For example, Chicagoan Bob Fosse’s film “All That Jazz” is celebrated in the ‘It’s Showtime Folks!’ musical-tribute montage (“Better Call Saul”, Season 1, episode 2, ‘Mijo’). [Ref.: “Fosse”, Sam Wasson, an Eamon Dolan book, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, p. 29, 2013.]
In turn, Bob Fosse choreographed many tributes to Sally Rand’s “Fan Dance”. Just like ‘Little Egypt’ before her had become THE star of Chicago’s 1893 World Columbian Exposition (and in the process introduced America to belly-dance), Sally Rand became THE star of the 1933-34 “Century of Progress” Exposition. [Ref.: “The 1933 Chicago World's Fair: A Century of Progress”, Ganz, Cheryl R., University of Illinois Press, Urbana, 2012.]
Art Deco’s Southwestern Legacy
Streamline Moderne is only one descendant form of Art Deco – Art Deco applied to the world of Industrial Design. In the American Southwest, there is a sister descendant form – Pueblo Deco, an architectural form combining Art Deco with the Pueblo Revival style. The KiMo Theater in Albuquerque is the best realization of the Pueblo Deco style.
Whenever Art Deco or its descendant styles appear as a backdrop or set, Vince Gilligan and team are signaling that they are dealing with the world of false appearances. Pueblo Deco archways, in particular, are associated with tragedy.
Pueblo Deco architecture features stucco, plaster, or plastic abstractions of Pueblo Revival post-and-lintel archways. Pueblo Deco archways are present, for example, at the public entrances into the Albuquerque Sunport.
We are familiar how “Breaking Bad” used black-and-white teasers at the beginning of Season 2 episodes to foreshadow the aircraft tragedy at the end of Season 2, but what hasn’t been clear till now is how views of the Airport terminal itself (“Breaking Bad”, Season 2, episode 9, ‘Four Days Out’), with its Pueblo Deco archways, also foreshadow the aircraft tragedy.
Note the Pueblo Deco pattern of the girders of the parking shelters on the fourth level of the parking lot at the Sunport (“Breaking Bad”, Season 5a, episode 7, ‘Say My Name’).
Mike receives word that the cops are coming for him (“Breaking Bad”, Season 5a, episode 7, ‘Say My Name’). In the background is the house where Marie had the confrontation with the real estate woman (“Breaking Bad,” Season 4, episode 3, ‘Open House’).
Gracing the edges of the front-door canopy entry are small, filigree Pueblo Deco arches, foreshadowing Mike's demise.
Detail of the edges of the front-door canopy entry. When Mike receives the phone call that the police are coming for him, to me, this view seems to scream 'look at the house in the background!' Why?
I had to blow up a photo in my collection before I realized the front door's canopy has filigree Pueblo Deco arches, which they use to foreshadow tragedy. They are small, but they are there, and they had to have them in the scene.
The stucco imitation of Pueblo post-and-lintel style archways in Gale’s Apartment (“Breaking Bad”, Season 3, episode 13, ‘Full Measure’) and Jesse and Jane’s Duplex (“Breaking Bad”, Season 2, episode 5, ‘Breakage’) is Pueblo Deco style. (The interior of Gale’s Apartment may even be the same place as Jesse and Jane's duplex.) Pueblo Deco archways in Gale’s apartment foreshadow tragedy.
The intriguing Pueblo Deco archways inside Jesse and Jane’s duplex signal that their romance will be a tragic one. [Ref.: Thanks to my friend, Architect Karl Schindwolf, for identifying the Pueblo Deco style of the archways in Jesse and Jane’s duplex.]
The Pueblo Deco archways inside Jesse and Jane’s duplex signal that their romance will be a tragic one.
The Pueblo Deco archways inside Jesse and Jane’s duplex signal that their romance will be a tragic one.
In contrast, the Cottage Style of Andrea’s new home (known as the Toulouse House) signals that there is enduring potential there.
Albuquerque’s Nob Hill neighborhood, with its Streamline Moderne commercial architecture, may have inspired Vince Gilligan. Nob Hill was founded in 1916, with 90% of its buildings completed by 1942. Many commercial buildings in Nob Hill feature Streamline Moderne styling, including Glass Block Windows.
Vince Gilligan lived in these condos in Nob Hill while filming “Breaking Bad” (which also served as Walt's single apartment in Seasons 3 and 4).
Barrymore's Antiques, across the street from the condos where Vince Gilligan lived demonstrate Vince Gilligan need not have gone far for inspiration.
Alternatively, slang usage of the term “Art Deco” may have inspired Vince Gilligan. The adjective “Art Deco” refers to sharp outlines, bold colors, and synthetic materials. “Art Deco” is nearly-synonymous with “High-Maintenance” - used in a sentence: “that Jimmy McGill is so Art Deco.”
There are also various nuances to the term “Art Deco” (from Lana Del Rey’s 2015 song “Art Deco”):
- Callow, adolescent rootlessness - “You want in but you just can't win”;
- Inexplicable appetite – “You want more (why?)”;
- Dramatic display - “You're not mean, you just want to be seen”;
- Sociable - “A little party never hurt no one, that's why it's alright”;
- Careless - “Put your life out on the line; You're crazy all the time”.
Glass Block Windows in “Breaking Bad”
It’s important to look back at “Breaking Bad” and see how Glass Block Windows were used there. Glass Block Windows appear right from the start in “Breaking Bad”.
I've always been puzzled why Walt's and Jesse's partnership in "Breaking Bad" essentially starts on Lockerbie Dr. in Rio Rancho, which is quite far from the city center. Why there, of all places?
I'm thinking the answer is because Lockerbie Dr. has one of the densest clusters of glass block windows in the entire Albuquerque area. I count at least 11 homes with glass block windows on the 2-block-long drive. And since Jesse literally falls out of the second-floor window, Vince may be saying Jesse is an overripe fruit of the flawed progressive education system pioneered by Chicago's John Dewey (“Breaking Bad”, Season 1, episode 1, ‘Pilot’).
The DEA arrives at the meth-lab bust riding their vehicle’s running boards much like 1920s Chicago gangsters (“Breaking Bad”, Season 1, episode 1, ‘Pilot’).
Walt threatens Tuco in his headquarters with explosive fulminated mercury in the episode ‘Crazy Handful of Nothin’’, which refers to the 1967 film “Cool Hand Luke” - "Oh Luke, you wild, beautiful thing. You crazy handful of nothin'" - which is warmly-celebrated in reviews written by Chicago Sun-Times’ Roger Ebert.
The set dressing in Tuco's Office reveals interesting connections. There's a slot machine (Las Vegas) sitting next to the glass block window (Chicago), suggesting the Chicago Outfit and its many interests in Vegas. In the corner sits a baseball bat (a favorite tool of Mob boss Tony 'Batters' Accardo).
Then, who does Tuco represent? Perhaps well-known Vegas enforcer Tony (the Ant) Spilotro? (Tony Spilotro's character was played by Joe Pesci, aka Nicky Santoro, in Martin Scorsese's 1995 film "Casino".) The Wikipedia article indicates Tony the Ant was a favorite of Sam Giancana, and had worked out a path passing through people's back yards so he could visit Giancana undetected. So, is Vince suggesting the law functions like the Mafia when Howard does the same ("Better Call Saul", Season 3, episode 2, 'Witness')?
Beneke Fabricators has a strong Chicago connection. Beneke Fabricators may be named after Beneke Corporation, the toilet seat manufacturer founded in Chicago in 1893. Beneke Corporation carries two completely separate channels of distribution for their product (e.g., their downscale ‘Tuffy’ line and their upscale Magnolia line).
More importantly, Vince Gilligan is referring to the 2001 failure of Chicago’s Big 5 accounting firm Arthur Andersen, due to document-shredding and massive accounting fraud in the Enron scandal. (Skyler White is also involved in accounting fraud.)
Arthur Andersen’s failure highlighted the rampant greed and tax avoidance that degraded accounting standards nationwide in the 1980s and 90s.
Arthur Andersen split into acrimonious parts in an effort to develop separate channels of distribution, analogous to Beneke Corporation’s successful strategy for selling toilet seats, but with a more-complicated product, Arthur Andersen ultimately failed.
Fragments of Arthur Andersen still operate from Chicago’s “Q” Center under the management of 4 LLCs named Omega Management I through IV. Vince Gilligan operates from Albuquerque’s “Q” Studios and has an interest in ‘Omega Man’, ‘Doomsday Device’, and ‘End of History’ themes.
There are interesting octagonal patterns in the Glass Block Windows at Beneke Fabricators. Octagonal symbolism is present in several places in "Breaking Bad". In Christianity, the octagon symbolizes the New Covenant. The importance of the number eight is truly ancient, found in both Judaism and Buddhism:
"For Jews 8 was the number which symbolized salvation, rebirth and regeneration ... But for early Christians 8 was the number which symbolized the resurrection of Jesus Christ and the formation of the New Covenant. ... It is for this reason that Christian churches built during the Byzantine period were 8-sided structures."
Saul Goodman’s Office is a Streamline Moderne marvel, featuring an octagonal wall and nautically-themed portholes. Even the plastic Ionian columns are a good fit.
The octagonal design here may be a tribute to Richards House (Watertown, WI), the 19th-Century American Utopian inspiration for George Keck’s popular, dodecagonal “House of Tomorrow” at the Chicago “Century of Progress” Exposition. [Ref.: “Building a Century of Progress: The Architecture of Chicago's 1933-34 World's Fair”, Schrenk, Lisa D., University of Minnesota Press, Minneapolis, 2007, pp. 162-3.]
Saul Goodman’s Office features an Art Deco sconce, probably of Northern California origin.
As with “Better Call Saul”, Glass Block Windows in “Breaking Bad” signify a Chicago connection. For example, the façade of RAKS Hardware Store in Los Lunas, NM, where Walt invites a meth cook competitor to “stay out of my territory”, contains Glass Block Windows (“Breaking Bad”, Season 2, episode 10, ‘Over’).
I have been long been mystified why Vince Gilligan would choose that store for filming rather than the Rio Bravo RAKS store previously-used in Season 1 of “Breaking Bad”, which is closer to “Q” Studios, but the presence of the Glass Block Windows would explain that choice. These Glass Block Windows may refer to Chicago’s True Value Hardware Cooperative’s persistent accounting problems of the 1990s and 2000s.
The office for Gus' Industrial Laundry has Glass Block Windows. Industrial Laundries have a long history in Chicago.
The windows at the laundry are fairly-small and come to prominence only once, briefly, when Walt is wheeled into the laundry in a laundry cart (“Breaking Bad,” Season 4, episode 11, ‘Crawl Space’).
I suspect the show creators here are honoring the legend of El Chapo Guzmán, head of the Sinaloa Cartel, the most-powerful drug lord in history, and currently living in a U.S. prison. In 2001, El Chapo escaped from Puente Grande prison in Mexico, allegedly in a laundry cart. And the Sinaloa Cartel has many, tight links, and I've heard a near-monopoly on drug distribution in Chicago.
Who here reads Stephen King? I'm wondering if his "Night Shift" might be an unrecognized source of "Breaking Bad" storylines. I'm thinking "Gray Matter" and "I Am the Doorway", and possibly "The Mangler" might be direct antecedents for story lines in "Breaking Bad".
The Glass Block Windows in the Car Wash reception area. There are Glass Block Windows present in the A1A Car Wash reception area, but since no Chicago connection was desired here, their presence was ignored, either by filming them at a shallow incidence angle or through other means to mask them.
Glass Block Windows present in the Car Wash reception area are deliberately effaced in this scene (“Breaking Bad”, Season 5b, episode 11, ‘Confessions’).
Nevertheless, the Car Wash Office, which is first seen in Season 4, has Glass Block Windows (“Breaking Bad”, Season 4, episode 2, ‘Thirty-Eight Snub’). The actual Car Wash doesn’t have an office like the one filmed – it’s a studio construction – and thus the creative team had full latitude to design an office to taste.
Here, Vince Gilligan may be honoring actor Marius Stan, who played Car Wash owner Bogdan Wolynetz. In 2010, Stan accepted a position at Argonne National Laboratory and moved from Los Alamos to the Printers Row neighborhood of downtown Chicago.
The only time Glass Block Windows are visible in the hospital in “Breaking Bad” is during Brock’s poisoning crisis (“Breaking Bad”, Season 4, episode 12, ‘End Times’).
“Big Joe’s Polka Show” is playing on Casa Tranquila’s TV (“Breaking Bad”, Season 4, episodes 8 & 10, ‘Hermanos’ and ‘Face Off’) when Gus, and then Walt, come to visit Hector Salamanca (although the particular band playing, Fritz's Polka Band from Verona, New York, has a faster, more Slovenian-style of polka rather than a Chicago-style polka). In ‘Face Off’, there is an additional hint of an Upper Midwest connection - the Bingo Caller has an Upper Midwest accent. Is there a polka connection between Casa Tranquila and Chicago? There is one simple link:
“An important venue for live performances of polka music was Club 505 at 13505 S. Brainard Ave. in the Hegewisch neighborhood on the Southeast side of Chicago.“
Central New Mexico's telephone area code is 505. (Apparently when Vince Gilligan calls up anyone in New Mexico, in the back of his head, he’s thinking polka.)
A Glass Block Window is briefly visible across the street from Hank and Marie's house, when tensions are high and guards have been dispatched to prevent an assassination (“Breaking Bad”, Season 4, episode 12, ‘End Times’). The Chicago reference here is unclear.
Two Glass Block Windows are seen on Central Avenue at the end of the episode when Walt first fails to assassinate Gus (“Breaking Bad”, Season 4, episode 12, ‘End Times’): • Posh Nightclub; and, • Albuquerque Alibi, the city’s alternative newspaper’s office.
I’m not aware of any link between Posh Nightclub and Chicago (although there are suggestive geometric patterns within the club and the upstairs lounge has a tin ceiling), but the Albuquerque Alibi changed its name from NuCity due to a naming conflict with Chicago’s Newcity alternative newspaper.
New identities and temporary refuge are granted at the Vacuum Cleaner store (“Breaking Bad”, Season 5b, episode 15, ‘Granite State’).
There is a Chicago connection here. In order to rescue Eve Kendall (Eva Marie Saint), Roger Thornhill (Cary Grant) reluctantly accepts the identity of George Kaplan at Chicago’s Midway Airport in Alfred Hitchcock’s film “North by Northwest”. The association with vacuum cleaners may be Breaking Bad’s second Alec Guinness reference, for his role as a British spy working undercover as a vacuum-cleaner-parts salesman in the movie “Our Man in Cuba”. (The first Alec Guinness reference was “Bridge Over the River Kwai”, playing on the television at Casa Tranquila; “Breaking Bad”, Season 4, episode 11, ‘Crawl Space’).
Cinema buffs have noticed in “North by Northwest” that Cary Grant is mostly-shown on the left-hand side of the screen, in order to favor his (better) right profile.
Similarly, while at the Vacuum Cleaner Store, Walt is shown roughly 70% of the time on the left-hand side of the screen (planning his revenge against Jack and showing his better side). (According to the store's owner, the Basement was staged in the shop's garage.)
Walt moves to the right-hand side of the screen when raging or seething (thus exposing his uglier side).
Chicago connections can be obvious, or obscure. Early in “Breaking Bad”, The DEA first assumes the ‘Badger’ role, an old Chicago gangster slang term for one who compromises loyalties and entraps others (“Breaking Bad”, Season 2, episode 8, ‘Better Call Saul’).
Later in the same episode, Badger assumes the Badger role. As Jesse warns Badger that he’s sitting on the wrong bench during a complicated double-entrapment scheme, the camera is placed some distance from the action, in order to flatten out the view and keep the background in focus, thereby keeping Glass Block Windows on a building in the background in focus. (That building has since been razed and replaced.)
Later in “Breaking Bad”, Mike Ehrmantraut assumes the Badger role. Mike tries to sway Jesse’s loyalty away from Walt to Gus. Glass Block Windows are intermittently visible at Garcia’s Café during these scenes (“Breaking Bad”, Season 4, episode 4, ‘Bullet Points’, and episode 5, ‘Shotgun’).
In “Better Call Saul”, Badger Mike entraps Tuco by provoking him to violence, under the gaze of the Glass Block Windows at El Michoacano Restaurant (“Better Call Saul”, Season 2, episode 4, ‘Gloves Off’).
No Glass Block Windows Present
It’s also important to note when Glass Block Windows are absent, when they might otherwise be found. No Glass Block Windows appear where there is no Chicago connection or strong personal commitment. For example, Davis and Main’s office (“Better Call Saul”, Season 2, episode 1, ‘Switch’).
Glass Block Windows are absent. Hinkle Video Game Arcade (“Breaking Bad”, Season 3, episode 13, ‘Full Measure’).
There are indications in the Combo Corner scenes (“Breaking Bad”, Season 2, episode 11, ‘Mandala’ and Season 3, episode 11, ‘Abiquiu’) that Vince Gilligan is tempted to use the distant BPL Plasma building in the background with its gorgeous Glass Block Windows.
Particularly in ‘Mandala’, the camera focuses on time-wasting action in the foreground in order to keep the background building in view as long as possible. Unfortunately, there are no dramatic reasons to have a Chicago connection in these scenes, so he has to let the opportunities pass.
It’s important to note that since Chicago has had such an outsized impact on American history, it’s possible to associate Chicago with almost anything - a “Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon” situation – so there are no assurances that any of these inferences are correct. Nevertheless, when Glass Block Windows appear, at least one plausible Chicago connection can usually be made. It's not clear why some tragedies merit a Pueblo Deco archway, and others don't. The picture here remains incomplete.
Other Notable Building Features Relating to Chicago
I've focused on Glass Block Windows as being the quintessential Chicago influence on the "Breaking Bad" and "Better Call Saul" aesthetic in Albuquerque, but there are other Chicago influences too. Luxfer prismatic tile windows were developed in Chicago and used in Chicago's newly-developing skyscrapers at the dawn of the 20th Century (e.g. Louis Sullivan's Gage Building).
The names Luxfer and Lucifer have the same Latin roots (light-bearer). Commercial strip and transom windows composed of Luxfer Prismatic Tile Windows are used several times in “Breaking Bad” and “Better Call Saul”. These include:
The green windows at the Family First Clothing Store are a Pueblo Deco design. The Family First Clothing Store, now the Holocaust & Intolerance Museum of New Mexico, is the former Wright’s Trading Post, and dates to 1937 (“Breaking Bad”, Season 1, episode 1, ‘Pilot’).
Outside the church with its self-help group, the Annapurna Chai House provides a backdrop of Luxfer Prismatic Tile Windows (“Breaking Bad”, Season 3, episode 11, ‘Abiquiu’);
Jimmy and the Skateboard Twins plan an ambush in front of a street-corner café and across the street from the Albuquerque Community Foundation, formerly Champion Grocery Store, which dates to 1904 (“Better Call Saul”, Season 1, episode 1, ‘Uno’).
Commercial strip windows with Luxfer Prismatic Tile Windows at the Albuquerque Community Foundation (formerly Champion Grocery Store).
The building housing Lindy’s Diner at 5th and Central Ave. SW in Albuquerque (representing Philadelphia’s McClure’s bar) possesses both Luxfer Prismatic Glass Windows and Glass Block Windows (“Better Call Saul”, Season 1, episode 6, ‘Five-O’).
Luxfer Prismatic Tile Windows may be associated with false fronts and pretenses. It’s hard to tell in the encounter in Family First Clothing Store who is bluffing most, Walt or the bullies. Jesse, Badger, and Skinny Pete discuss subverting their self-help group by selling meth surreptitiously. Jimmy and the Skateboard Twins attempt to ambush Mrs. Kettleman by staging an accident in order to lay a claim on the Kettleman’s ill-gotten wealth. Mike Ehrmantraut feigns drunkenness in order to catch his policeman foes unawares.
Notable uses of plate glass
Then there is modern plate glass, whose use in expansive curtain walls was heavily-promoted by the Godfather of the International Style, Ludwig Mies van der Rohe. The Chicago skyline owes a heavy debt to Mies.
In "Breaking Bad" and "Better Call Saul", plate glass is used as a background for numerous purposes, including drug sales, conspiracies, the DEA - even questionable uses, like bathrooms. The architectural subtext of "Breaking Bad" and "Better Call Saul" blames Chicago for all the ills of modern life. It seems unfair to put the entire burden on Chicago - New York isn't entirely blameless - but Vince Gilligan's animus is clear.
Since use of plate glass did not originate in Chicago, the influence of Chicago is less specific than for Glass Blocks and Luxfer prismatic windows. In general, plate glass signifies modernity, and something's not quite right - something's amiss:
- Human Body Classroom (“Breaking Bad”, Season 1, episode 3, ‘Bag's in the River');
- Combo sells drugs at a restaurant (“Breaking Bad”, Season 1, episode 4, 'Cancer Man');
- DEA building (Simms Building - “Breaking Bad”, Season 1, episode 4, 'Cancer Man');
- Bus stop shelter (“Breaking Bad”, Season 2, episode 3, ‘Bit by a Dead Bee');
- Tri-H Convenience Market (“Breaking Bad”, Season 2, episode 4, ‘Down');
- Aquariums (“Breaking Bad”, Season 2, episode 5, ‘Breakage’);
- Wash Tub laundry (“Breaking Bad”, Season 2, episode 5, ‘Breakage’);
- Rail yards (“Breaking Bad”, Season 4, episode 5, ‘Shotgun’);
- Hospital corridor (“Breaking Bad”, Season 4, episode 13, 'Face Off');
- Lydia's house (built in 2005 - “Breaking Bad”, Season 5a, episode 2, 'Madrigal');
- Lydia's workplace (“Breaking Bad”, Season 5a, episode 4, Fifty One');
- The Grove Restaurant (“Breaking Bad”, Season 5a, episode 8, 'Gliding Over All');
- Kettleman's house back facade (“Better Call Saul”, Season 1, episode 7, ‘Bingo’);
- Jimmy's Aspirational Office (“Better Call Saul”, Season 1, episode 7, ‘Bingo’);
- Stacy's old home (“Better Call Saul”, Season 2, episode 3, ‘Amarillo’);
- HHM conference room (e.g., “Better Call Saul”, Season 2, episode 5, ‘Rebecca');
- HHM Doc Review (“Better Call Saul”, Season 2, episode 5, ‘Rebecca');
- Women's restroom at HHM (“Better Call Saul”, Season 2, episode 5, ‘Rebecca');
- Schweikart and Copley (“Better Call Saul”, Season 2, episode 7, ‘Inflatable');
- Stacy's new home (“Better Call Saul”, Season 2, episode 7, ‘Inflatable'); and,
- NM State Banking Board lobby (Carpenter's Union building - “Better Call Saul,” Season 2, episode 9, ‘Nailed’).
Tin ceilings Nice tin ceiling at Louie's Bar ("Breaking Bad", Season 4, episode 2, 'Thirty-Eight Snub').
Tin Ceilings signal punishment - usually a face-to-face fight. The tin ceilings in “Breaking Bad” and “Better Call Saul” span a variety of ages and styles (e.g., Louie’s Bar; Family First Clothing Store), and were an Old West favorite. In Albuquerque, tin ceilings are closely-associated with Pueblo Deco architecture. The ‘Family First Clothing Store’ is Pueblo Deco style, but since it has no Pueblo Deco archway, the confrontation with the insolent teen never becomes a tragedy. The tin ceiling and pretty windows are likely the most sought-out characteristic of this site.
View of the tin ceiling at Jesse and Jane's just before Mike slaps Jesse. The tin ceiling is rarely shown at Jesse and Jane’s duplex. One such time is just before Mike strikes Jesse in the face.
There is a tin ceiling in the scene when Mike puts a bundle of cash on a toy truck in order to startle the Kettlemans (“Better Call Saul”, Season 1, episode 7, ‘Bingo’). Oh, oh! Someone is going to be pounded, and hard! But who? “Better Call Saul” has a gentler vibe than "Breaking Bad". The angry Kettlemans blamed their kids for raiding their money stash, but instead of slapping their kids repeatedly, they merely sent them upstairs to bed.
Albuquerque architecture features few clerestory windows outside of churches, but in "Better Call Saul" episode 'Slip' we had a very-pretty example, with the Triangle Grocery in Cedar Crest, on the eastern flank of the Sandia Mountains (17 miles from Chuck's house). The context here is healing (I like how Chuck rolls his eyes at his mention of 'orange oranges.')
Another good example of clerestory windows comes from 'Crawl Space' in "Breaking Bad" - the Mexican field hospital. The message conveyed here by the architecture is "Gus is healing."
The Mexican field hospital, 'six miles from Texas,' is housed within the Schwartzmann Slaughterhouse, severely-damaged in an explosion in 1966, and abandoned in the 1980s.
A third example ("Breaking Bad," Season 4, episode 13, 'Face Off'). The window-lined hospital corridor in "Breaking Bad" is itself a clerestory. Here, the architecture conveys the message "Brock is healing."
Obscured clerestory windows may be present at:
- Rail yards (“Breaking Bad”, Season 4, episode 5, ‘Shotgun’).
Selective Uses Only
It can't be overemphasized enough just how influential Chicago has been on Albuquerque's development. The AT&SF railroad that first reached the city in 1880 ran directly to Chicago. And Chicago has impacted every single thing that happened from the Appalachians to the Pacific coast, to this day. So, yes, some unintentional use is possible. But I don't think so. The creative team makes choices. I'm often puzzled at their quixotic tastes.
For example, academic architects in Albuquerque are very fond of a small but unimpressive-looking building just outside Lydia's office window in 'Madrigal' called the Encino Crescent. "Breaking Bad" totally ignores it, even though it would have been remarkably-easy to include. So, they don't seem interested in all modern architecture, just certain aspects of it. Probably just those with a tight Chicago connection. There are many interesting-looking buildings in Albuquerque that they drive right past every day, and completely ignore.
I don't know if Vince digs this stuff up personally, but someone on their staff does. Maybe it's Peter Gould! I've noticed they are aware of obscure Albuquerque history too. Someone goes to local bookstores, buys obscure books, and reads them.
Symbolism (see Special Topics post for more information)
“Grace has a grand laughter in it.” - Marilynne Robinson. Grace - “The love and mercy given to us by God because God desires us to have it, not because of anything we have done to earn it” - as represented by the Christian Octagon, is combined with Streamline Moderne and Pueblo Deco several times in “Breaking Bad”. For example, the Glass Block Windows in Beneke Fabricators contain octagonal forms.
While the DEA interview Skyler, the octagonal penthouse of the Albuquerque Federal Bldg. & United States Courthouse, 421 Gold Ave. SW, is visible out the window ("Breaking Bad", Season 5b, episode 15, 'Granite State'). Perhaps Skyler is under the protection of divine grace.
When Hank tries to persuade Skyler to turn state's evidence, much of the restaurant is lit with sunburst lamps with octagonal symmetry ("Breaking Bad", Season 5b, episode 10, 'Buried').
Jesse too is protected by divine grace ("Breaking Bad", Season 5b, episode 10, 'Buried'). When Jesse casts his money away and retreats onto park playground equipment, he is found on a spinning octagon, with (what appears to be) a jungle gym nearby in the very-specific crystalline form of a Snub Cuboctahedron. (I'm sure the creative team loved the name!)
Legacy of the Sixties and Seventies
I dearly hope coming seasons of “Better Call Saul” delve more into Jimmy McGill’s childhood and teenage years, in order to see how Vince Gilligan deals with the legacy of the Sixties and Seventies.
In the scene focusing on Jimmy McGill’s impressionable youth (“Better Call Saul”, Season 1, episode 7, ‘Inflatable’), young Jimmy McGill is shown perusing a Playboy Magazine. Young Jimmy is doing more than looking at the magazine centerfold. Jimmy is taking inspiration from the example of Omaha-born Hugh Hefner, who found success in Chicago. As Hefner said, “You create the persona that you want to have.”
Years later, displaced to Albuquerque, Jimmy McGill strives to follow Hugh Hefner’s example as he creates the role of Saul Goodman.
Young Jimmy would have eagerly embraced some of the early, Cartesian-grid-based video games of the 70s, such as: “Breakout” (1976); and,
I note the album cover for The Who’s “Tommy” is the antithesis – almost like a photo negative - of a Glass Block Wall. The grid glows rather than the windows, and the windows are clear rather than cloudy.
Tommy is the story of a traumatized boy transcending his limitations:
(From ‘Amazing Journey’) Ten years old With thoughts as bold As thought can be Loving life and becoming wise In simplicity.
When Mrs. Walker smashes the mirror, Tommy is cured – Jimmy McGill would simply buy another. Tommy is about transcendence; Jimmy is not. Jimmy is the Anti-Tommy.
This guy needs to be on "Better Call Saul" ASAP! (From "Buckshot: The Movie").
A Comprehensive Critique of the “Century of Progress”
Vince Gilligan may intend a comprehensive critique of the “Century of Progress”. Catholic thinkers have been debating whether Progress and Original Sin can be reconciled for more than a century, and as a thinking Catholic, Vince Gilligan may be influenced by these arguments.
Pierre Teilhard de Chardin was the most optimistic Catholic philosopher with regards to the value of Progress, no doubt because he was also a paleontologist and geologist.
Teilhard (1881-1955) aimed at a metaphysic of evolution, holding that humanity was converging towards a final unity that he called the Omega Point. What does Vince Gilligan believe about the Omega Point?
Meanwhile Marco, The Omega Man (Mel Rodriguez from the television show “The Last Man on Earth”), is busy with small-time gambling and spinning new cons in a Chicago bar.
Chicago Bars are a world unto themselves. Regarding small-time gambling in his family’s Chicago Bar, (which was slated for removal by progress), Charles D'Ambrosio has written:
“As long as you could fall further you distinguished yourself from the fallen. … Gambling offered a refuge from the outside world, its advances, its mysterious evolution. No one believed the bar would end, not because we didn't believe in progress but instead, more precisely, because our kind of gambling, the wish of it, was an attempt to salvage the past. We weren't so much hoping to change the future as we were trying to amend history. We wanted the past completely restored and made livable. We believed that was the only kind of winning that counted.”[Ref.: Charles D'Ambrosio’s essay entitled "Brick Wall" is from the Fall 2000 issue of "Nest", and is reproduced in the November, 2001 issue of Harper's Magazine, pp. 27-32.]
The inoperative switch at Davis and Main (“Better Call Saul”, Season 2, episode 1, ‘Switch’) may refer to the Omega 13, a device with an unknown function in the 1999 movie Star-Trek tribute movie “Galaxy Quest”. Ship’s crew are hesitant to turn on the Omega 13 device, since they don’t know for certain what it does. When the Omega 13 device is finally used as a last resort, it sends the spaceship back in time 13 seconds. As a television trope, the Omega 13 operates as a Chekhov Gun.
In contrast, the switch at Davis and Main is presented as an idle curiosity rather than as a last resort. A sign warns not to turn off the switch – the exact opposite of the Omega 13 device. Presumably the switch does the opposite of the Omega 13, and sends the law firm into the future by eighteen seconds (the amount of time Jimmy has the switch turned off).
As a television trope, the switch operates as a Reverse Chekhov Gun. Eighteen seconds would have transpired anyway, so the switch is useless in every respect. The Omega Point has no point and Progress itself is an illusion.
Vince Gilligan demonstrates a disdain for Progress in a number of ways. As previously noted, “Streamline Moderne is a machine aesthetic focused on mass production and functional efficiency”. For example, nothing is better geared to the needs of business and more functionally efficient than an education delivered via Internet. Yet, is an Internet education of value?
By focusing Chuck’s disdain on Jimmy’s law degree from the fictional University of American Samoa, Vince Gilligan seems to say no (“Better Call Saul”, Season 1, episode 8, ‘Rico’ and episode 9, ‘Pimento’). We are approaching the end of Chicago’s Second “Century of Progress”. Glass Block Windows signify the tension between the promise of the “Century of Progress” and the past Jimmy McGill can't escape.
Streamline Moderne implies travel – people in motion. Jimmy McGill is in constant motion, yet appears to be going in circles. No matter how much progress Jimmy McGill makes in his life, he’ll remain ‘Slippin' Jimmy’, forever.
As St. Augustine states in commentary on Psalm 140 - “The wicked walk in a circle”:
“He who goeth in a straight line, beginneth from some point, endeth at some point: he who goeth in a circle, never endeth. That is the toil of the wicked, which is set forth yet more plainly in another Psalm, The wicked walk in a circle. But ‘the head of their going about’ is pride, for pride is the beginning of every sin.”
In closing, here is a picture of “Shark Car”, by Sid Kurz & Seattle’s Lodi Camp, from the 2016 Burning Man celebration. “Shark Car” has a long history at Burning Man, first appearing in 2002, and returning every year with a different finish. In 2016, “Shark Car” returned with a shiny Airstream aluminum finish. I looked at this picture and thought, 'There's Saul Goodman's ride.'