5370 Wilshire Boulevard,
Los Angeles, California
Although it's now on its (at least) fourth restaurant, 5370 Wilshire Boulevard started off life in the 1930s as a photography store called The Darkroom!
Designed by architect Marcus P. Miller, The Darkroom was a great example of programmatic architecture. The front facade of the store featured a nine foot tall replica of a 35 millimeter Argus camera with a shutter speed indicator, a winder, and dual rangefinders. It was made out of black Vitrolite glass and the center window/porthole (the camera lens) even had a small projector that was said to play newsreels for passing pedestrians.
Since the 1980s there has been a string of four restaurants at the location starting with the Indian restaurant, Sher-e Punjab. Then in 1999 came La Boca del Conga, then the Tex Mex restaurant called El Toro Cantina and as of December 2014, a restaurant called Spare Tire Kitchen and Tavern. At some point no later than when El Toro Cantina was in the location a fish tank ended up being installed in the camera lens.
As of 1989 the front facade of the building became a Los Angeles Cultural Historical Monument, which is part of the reason why the series of restaurants endured having a giant camera on their place. Although the facade was protected, sadly the sign above the original store that said "The Darkroom" was not protected. The man who was hired to remove the original sign thought that it should be saved and so he kept it in his studio. Eventually he donated it to the Museum of Neon Art (MONA), although at some point during its time, the sign lost the original "K".
Several theme parks throughout the world have made replicas of the store. Disney theme parks in both Florida and Paris each have a version of The Darkroom. Also Universal Studios in Orlando houses a third replica. All three are photography related in some way.
Another former camera shaped building is the Shutter Shak in Westminster.
- California Crazy and Beyond (2001) by Heimann, Jim, p: 15, 100
Last Edited: 2016-05-19