Los Angeles's Programmatic Architecture
Back in the nineteen twenties, as the automobile more and more became the default way to get around Los Angeles, buildings and structures in the area became more unique, often resembling the merchandise or services they hawked. Giant sized versions of things were the most popular of these structures as the Pup Cafe in the shape of a giant dog sprung up in 1928 and the Brown Derby, a giant hat, opened in 1926. Called programmatic or mimetic architecture, these giant versions of things were a new form of advertising, specifically geared towards bringing in the car driving motorist as they arrived in town.
Their heyday was certainly from the twenties to the thirties, but several still occasionally popped up post World War II. Most now have been torn down, replaced by less interesting structures.
Here's a list of notable Los Angeles Roadside Architecture, many of which are now long gone. Most were built from that by gone era of the twenties and thirties, although there are a few more modern ones appearing. Ones in italics and underlined are still standing in some form or another:
- Airplane Cafe - restaurant in the shape of a plane on Ventura Boulevard built in 1927
- Barkie's Sandwich Shops - a chain of sandwich shops that had a large dog as the front of the building.
- Betsy Ann - ice cream and candy shop in the shape of a woman with a hat, hoop skirt, and holding a fan. Was on Foothill Drive and opened in 1928 or 1938, started by Betsy Ann Helsel.
- Big Donut Drive In - built in the fifties, there were ten donut shops in the chain, each having a giant sized donut on its roof. Five still remain today.
- Binoculars - built from 1989 to 1991, this pair of giant binoculars was built by Claes Oldenburg and Coosje van Bruggen. It is located in Venice.
- Bono's Orange Stand - opened in 1936, now closed but still standing, this historic route 66 orange stand in Fontana served up orange juice to motorists.
- Brown Derby - Vine Street, Hollywood - restaurant in the shape of a hat (1926 - 1980). The hat, without the brim now stands on the rooftop of the mall that was built on its previous location.
- Bulldog Cafe - similar to the below Pup Cafe, the Bulldog Cafe was built in 1928 and lived on 1153 West Washington Blvd. This restaurant appears in the Rocketeer movie; a small scale version of the building was created for the movie. Until late 2014 the Peterson Automotive Museum (which is also an example of Programmatic Architecture itself, as the front of the museum is designed to look like the grill of car) also had a smaller scale replica of the Bulldog Cafe inside. But during a recent renovation, it was decided that the cafe would be demolished. Luckily, the replica cafe was saved, and is now sitting on the patio of the Idle Hour Cafe (see below), slated to reopen in 2015.
- The Burger That Ate LA - burger stand in the shape of a giant burger that sat on Melrose Avenue. It opened in 1989 and only lasted until 1994. During that time though it popped up in cameos in both the Melrose Place and Beverly Hills 90210 TV series. Bar stools were shaped like pickle wedges and a giant tomato slice hung from the ceiling. It first became an Acapulco Chicken Cafe, retaining the burger shape ironically. And is now a Starbucks.
- Cafe Jack - Asian fusion restaurant in Koreatown that is in the shape of an ocean liner and has Titanic memorabilia. Opened in 2007. Could be named after Jack Shin, the owner, or it could be named after Jack Dawson, the character Leonardo DiCaprio played in the movie. Located at: 508 S Western Ave, Los Angeles, CA 90020.
- California Piano Supply Company - later the Big Red Piano, this was a piano showroom at 2251 Venice Blvd and Western built around 1930
- The Chili Bowl - a chili place in the shape of a chili bowl, built in 1931. There were at least six of these built in a chain (although I've heard that as many as 23 were possibly built. Four still stand although not as Chili Bowls anymore. For example, one former Chili Bowl may now be a Kim Chuy Restaurant and is located at 501 W Valley Blvd, Alhambra. Another one is located at 2230 E. Florence Avenue, Huntington Park and is now a nightclub called Guadalajara de Noche. A third is a car dealership in Glendale called Valley Dealer Exchange. At 12244 West Pico Boulevard, a Chili Bowl was a Mr. Cecil's Ribs joint but is now most recently a Japanese restaurant. Yet another use to exist at 801 N. La Brea Avenue. The owner of the Chili Bowls, Arthur Whizin, also used a variety of marketing tactics to attract customers, including a Chili Bowl airplane (which he would raffle off rides in to customers) and a Chili Bowl speedboat (often seen crossing the Catalina Channel with showgirls taking a ride).
- Clifton's Pacific Seas - originally located on 618 South Olive Street, this location was renovated in 1939 into a tree story tall South Pacific restaurant, the outside featuring waterfalls, jungle, geysers, cliffs, and lots of tropical plants. The restaurant was one of several Clifton's Cafeterias, but was certainly unique for its theme. There was also a rain hut in the restaurant where it rained every twenty minutes. The restaurant sadly closed in 1960, and the location is now a parking lot. It is still survived by one of its sister properties, Clifton's Brookdale, at 648 South Broadway. Clifton's Brookdale is modeled off of the Santa Cruz mountains and probably named after the Brookdale Lodge. Like the aforementioned Lodge, Clifton's Brookdale also has stream running through the dining room, plus a twenty foot waterfall.
- Coca Cola Bottling Headquarters (1936 - Present) - this large headquarters is built to resemble an ocean liner. Three giant coke bottles are nearby.
- Coffee Cup Cafe - 8901 Pico Boulevard, cafe with a giant coffee cup on top built sometime in the twenties
- The Cornucopia Ice Cream Stand - located at 1934 San Fernando Blvd, was in the shape of a huge upside-down ice cream cone. Built in the twenties.
- The Cream Can - built in 1928, looks like it sold milk products.
- The Darkroom - built back in the thirties, this store has a camera as the front of the establishment. Located at 5370 Wilshire Boulevard, it is still there, although has been a series of restaurants for many years. Multiple Disney Parks have a version of the structure.
- Dive - a more recent example, from 1994 to 1999, Century City played host to Dive!, Steven Spielberg's restaurant shaped like a giant yellow submarine which served, what else, sandwiches! The restaurant additionally had four working periscopes, torpedo shaped bar seats, and every half hour "Dived!" to the sounds of sirens and the glare of red lights flashing while video screens throughout the restaurant showed bubbles rising.
- Donut Hole - drive thru donut shop, still in operation today. Located at 15300 E. Amar Road, La Puente
- The Dugout - a sandwich stand with a crashed airplane on the roof surrounded by sandbags located at 6157 E Whittier Boulevard in Montebello. Although the Dugout is long gone, near Fresno, there still is a gas station with a fighter plane crashed ontop of the gas pump island.
- Fleetwood Square - Built in 1986 on Ventura Boulevard in Tarzana, Fleetwood Square is a building in the shape of the front of a Fleetwood Cadillac. It was painted pink as a Pink Cadillac for a long time, but has been repainted white.
- The Freezer - an ice cream shop that was made to look like an ice cream churn complete with hand crank. This was actually a chain of stores with locations at 3641 W. Pico Boulevard, 7435 Sunset, 1124 Vine, 3801 W Washington, and 402 S Western.
- The Fruit Basket - a stand that stood for 45 years on Venice Boulevard near La Brea Avenue.
- Gunther Castle Real Estate Office - a real estate firm built in the shape of a castle back in the twenties
- The Hollywood Flower Pot - 1124 Vine Street, a flower shop inside a giant flower pot built in 1930
- Hoot Hoot I Scream - Built in 1925 (some sources say 1926 or 1927), The Hoot Hoot I Scream was in the shape of an owl and the store sold ice cream and refreshments. Supposedly the head rotated just like a real owl's. The eyes were made out of a Buick's headlamps, could blink, and glowed at night. It was run by Tillie Hattrup for over fifty years, originally on Valley Boulevard, then moving to 8711 Long Beach Boulevard, before being demolished in 1979.
- Idle Hour Cafe - located at 4824 Vineland Avenue, Los Angeles, the middle part of this building is built to resemble a gigantic barrel. Built in 1941, and closed in 1984, the barrel was originally commissioned by former hobo and Universal Film Studios tech, Michael D. Connolly, and built by George F. Fordyk. After 1984, it fell into disrepair until it was purchased by the same people who own the Bigfoot Lodge. The building reopened in 2015, and now also has a small scale replica of the Bulldog Cafe on its patio, acquired from the Peterson Automotive Museum.
- The Igloo - igloo shaped ice cream parlor formerly at 4302 W. Pico Street. Built in 1928.
- Jail Cafe - restaurant at 4212 Sunset Boulevard that resembled a jail, both outside and in. Tables were in cells, and windows outside had graphics of inmates looking out at the street.
- Mother Goose Pantry - built in 1929, this restaurant was in the shape of a Mother Goose shoe and formerly at 1951 E. Colorado Blvd, Pasadena
- Mt. Baldy Inn - built in 1927, this was an iceberg shaped dance hall in the Pico Rivera area. It was famous for using fresh squeezed oranges in its orange freeze drink . . . during Prohibition.
- The Mushrooms - a cafe that looked like a giant mushroom surrounded by toadstools. Built in 1928 it was located at 3500 W Olive Avenue.
- The Oil Can - oil can shaped restaurant built in 1933 on Whittier Boulevard in honor of the underground oil that had been found prior in the Montebello region that the restaurant was located. The restaurant served food, ice cream, and beer brewed by Eastside Beer. Eastside Beer was eventually purchased by Pabst Brewing.
- The Pig Cafe - Pig shaped fast food or sandwich shop, built in 1934 in Hollywood near La Brea Avenue and Rosewood Avenue.
- Pumpkin Palace - 3611 Magnolia, Burbank - formerly a night club in 1927, later a church called Valley Gospel, an inn called the Pumpkin Inn, a real estate office called Stan Summeril Real Estate, and later a hardware store (Magnolia Park Hardware).
- The Pup Cafe - a Venice hot dog and ice cream stand located at 12732 West Washington Boulevard (1928 - 1973)
- The Ship Cafe - a restaurant in the shape of a ship, located on a pier in Venice built in 1905. It was built to look like it sat on the water, but no part of the restaurant did in fact touch the ocean. It was designed after the Spanish galleon sailed by Spanish explorer Juan Cabrillo when he discovered California. It was destroyed in October 1946.
- Shutter Shak - originally located at 15336 Goldenwest Avenue in Westminister, this was a small structure that handled one day film developing. It is in the shape of a camera, and was originally built in 1976. It is now located in Blakey Historical Park.
- Sphinx Realty Building - real estate office in the head of a Sphinx located at 537 North Fairfax Avenue. Built at least as early as 1926.
- Sushi Maru Seafood - located at 962 W Foothill Boulevard, Claremont, CA, Sushi Maru Seafood is a Japanese restaurant in the shape of a large boat. Formerly Sushi Cruise, Sushi Boat, and Shrimp House before that.
- Tail o' the Pup - hot dog stand that stood from 1946 until 2005. Its original location was at 311 North La Cienega Boulevard but in the 1980s, while facing possible demolition, it moved to 329 North San Vicente Boulevard. Sadly in 2005 its site was purchased and the hot dog stand was evicted. It is now in storage
- The Tamale - built in 1928, this restaurant is at 6421 Whittier Boulevard, East Los Angeles. It is now a beauty salon
- Teepee Barbecue Company - in Long Beach at 2nd Street and Covina Avenue, at 5231 and 5251 East 2nd Street, at least present from 1931. Rumors have this listed as Teepee Ice Cream, so perhaps later it became an ice cream stand. Also supposedly it later became a Chinese place called Shangri La.
- Toed Inn - a food stand /restaurant in the shape of a toad. It was originally located on Channel Road in Santa Monica, built in 1931, but after suffering damage in a flood in 1938 it was relocated to 12008 Wilshire Boulevard in Westwood.
- Wigwam Motel #7 - built in 1949 in Rialto, this was the last of the Wigwam Villages built, and it still operates today.
- Wilshire Coffee Pot - The Sanders System drive in restaurants. I've seen three different addresses for them, although believe there was actually four of them, built 1930 - 1931. One at 8601 Wilshire Boulevard, Beverly Hills, another at 1950 W. Washington Blvd, and a third at 7275 Beverly Boulevard, Los Angeles. The building or buildings had a giant coffee pot on top of it. Also seen it called the The Ben-Hur Delicious Drip Coffee. The one on Beverly Boulevard was purchased and turned into a seafood place, the handle and spout of the coffee pot were removed and thousands of abalone shells were affixed to the outside of the restaurant sometime in 1938.
- The Witch's House - a house built in 1926 and used as dressing rooms and offices for a movie studio, before being relocated to Beverly Hills where it still stands today.
- Zep Diner -The Zep Diner was built in 1930 in South Los Angeles at 515 W Florence Avenue, a result of the recent Zeppelin craze of the 1920s and 30s which had recently brought the famous Graf Zeppelin to visit LA in 1929. The Zep Diner was a zeppelin shaped diner, open 24 hours a day, and served up the "Hinden Burger".
- WeirdCA: Photos of Bono's Orange, Brown Derby (Present), Darkroom (Present), Donut Hole, Fleetwood Square, Former (Present Day) Chili Bowl on Pico, Giant Binoculars, Giant Coca Cola Bottling Headquarters, Coke Bottles, Randy's Donuts, Shutter Shak (Present), Sushi Maru Seafood, Tamale (Present Day), Wigwam Village, and Witch's House
- Chalmers Butterfield: Brown Derby Photo (in color)
- Craig Baker: Photo of Chili Bowl in Glendale, the Idle Hour Cafe, and the replica of the Bulldog Cafe
- Library of Congress: The Darkroom
- Los Angeles Public Library Photo Collection: Photos of Airplane Cafe, Betsy Ann, Brown Derby (b&w photos), California Piano Supply Company, The Chili Bowl, Coffee Cup Cafe, Cornucopia Ice Cream Stand, The Dugout, Flower Pot Flower Shop, The Freezer, Gunther Castle Real Estate, Hoot Hoot I Scream, The Igloo, The Jail Cafe, Mother Goose Panty, Mt. Baldy Inn, Mushroom Cafe, Pig Cafe, Pup Cafe, Sphinx Realty Company, Tail o' the Pup, The Tamale, Tee Pee Barbecure Company (Exterior) , Toed Inn (1st Picture), Wilshire Coffee Pot, Zep Diner (1st Picture).
- Belmont Shore Business Association: Tee Pee Barbecure Company (Interior)
- USC Libraries: The Oil Can
- Unknown Source: Barkie's Sandwich Shop, Bulldog Cafe, Toed Inn (2nd Picture), Zep Diner (2nd Picture), Shutter Shak
- California Crazy and Beyond (2001) by Heimann, Jim
Last Edited: 2019-09-12