Early Los Angeles Programmatic-Style Buildings

Background

Los Angeles is known around the world for its programmatic or mimetic type architecture.  The style rose to prominence after the wild success of the Brown Derby restaurant on Wilshire Boulevard in 1926.  This giant object spawned at least 75 other roadside structures in the region shaped like animals, food or vehicles.  These specimens were portrayed in popular media as lining LA streets and, along with the booming artist community, health food fads and creative expression of religion, added to Southland’s reputation as a bastion of eccentricity in the early part of the 20th century.  The golden age of programmatic architecture was the interwar years (1918-1941), giving us several of the most bazaar-looking buildings, some of which still stand today.*+*

Programmatic architecture momentarily dotted the Greater Los Angeles landscape as it catered to the area’s expanding car culture and commuters by utilizing a commercial building’s architecture to advertise what products consumers could expect to find inside. The programmatic style of architecture was highly influenced by the exponential rise of the automobile, a trend that grew through the post-war era.^#^

 

Hollywood Flower Pot

 
(1920s)* - The Hollywood Flower Pot florist in the shape of a flower pot with a plant growing in it, located 1124 N. Vine Street (S/E corner of Vine St and Banner Ave).  

 

Historical Notes

In the 1920s, as the automobile was becoming 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.  These “hey-you-can’t miss-me!” buildings (referred to as Novelty or Programmatic architecture) were made to pull automobile drivers right off the road.

 

 

* * * * *

 

 

Coffee Cup Cafe

 
(1920s)* - View of the Coffee Cup Cafe located at 8901 Pico Boulevard. A giant coffe cup and saucer sit on top of the cafe structure.  

 

 

 

Wilshire Coffee Pot Restaurant

 
(ca. 1925)#*#^ - View showing a car in the parking lot of the Wilshire Coffee Pot restaurant. The restaurant and coffee shop was located at 8601 Wilshire Boulevard, on the northwest corner of Stanley Drive and Wilshire Blvd. A giant coffee pot sits on top of the building. Ben-Hur Coffee is featured.  

 

 

 

 

 
(ca. 1930s)* - Close-up view of the Wilshire Coffee Pot restaurant, located at 8601 Wilshire Boulevard in Beverly Hills.  The building has a coffee pot on the roof with advertisement for: Ben-Hur Delicious Drip Coffee.   

 

* * * * *

 

 

Sphinx Realty Company

 
(ca. 1920s)+^^ – View looking north on Fairfax Ave showing a man walking in front of the Sphinx Realty Company. The building was located at 537 North Fairfax Avenue, across the street from Fairfax High School. Camel-shaped sign on the left reads: 50 ft. Kings Road - $2150. Triangular-shaped sign on right reads: Well Located Lot - $1895.  

 

 

 

 
(1920)* - Exterior view of the Sphinx Realty Company, in the shape of a sphinx, located at 537 North Fairfax Avenue, surrounded by signs listing these properties for sale: Beautiful five bedroom home, $6,750; Six room corner stucco near here, $7,200; Seven room stucco, $7,650; Corner near here, $2,500.  

 

 

 

 
(1920)* - View showing two men standing in front of the Sphinx Realty Company sales building located on Fairfax Avenue. The office was located across the street from where Fairfax High School stands today.  

 

* * * * *

 

Barkies Sandwich Shops

 
(1930)* - View showing Barkies Sandwich Shops located on the northeast corner of Beverly Blvd and Westmoreland Ave.  

 

Historical Notes

Barkies Sandwich Shops was a 1920s Los Angeles restaurant chain, featuring a larger than life mascot named “Ponderous Pup.” These types of shops were an early precursor to the mini-mall idea.*

 

 

 

 

(ca. 1930)^*^# - View showing a woman in a fur coat posing next to an early model car with Barkies Sandwich Shops No. 4 in the background.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 
(1974)^*^# – View showing the Barkie’s Sandwich Shop No. 4 building seen here as the Caibarien Bar, with 'Happy Hours from 2 – 5 pm Every Day'.  

 

* * * * *

 

 

Mother Goose Pantry

 
(1920s)* - Side view of the Mother Goose Pantry, a restaurant in the shape of a Mother Goose shoe located in Pasadena. Photo shows "Mother Goose" character greeting a large crowd of children. This is the solution to the Mother Goose rhyme: "There was an old woman, who lived in a shoe; she had so many children, she didn't know what to do. She gave them some broth, without any bread; she whipped them all soundly, and sent them to bed." - apparently, now everyone can be fed.  

 

Historical Notes

The restaurant served hearty meals from the whimsical shoe that attracted patrons driving along Route 66 from the east coast to Los Angeles. Diners would be seated on the ground floor and in a dining room upstairs.

 

 

 

 
(1920s)#^#^ - View showing Mother Goose Pantry, located at 1951 East Colorado Boulevard. This was a 'shoe-in' for best design in the 1920s.  

 

* * * * *

 

 

Toonerville Trolley Sandwich Shop

 
(1920)* - View of the Toonerville Trolley sandwich shop located at 1635 W. Manchester Avenue. Sign reads:  'Sandwich Special' and 'Free Coffee'  

 

* * * * *

 

 

The Cream Can

 
(ca. 1920s)+^^ – View showing the Cream Can stand located somewhere in Southern California.  Signs read:  ORANGE JUICE and JUMBO ROOT BEER  

 

* * * * *

 

 

Freezer Ice Cream Store

 
(1920s)* - View showing The Freezer, an ice cream parlor in the shape of an ice cream maker complete with a giant crank, located at 3641 Pico Boulevard.  

 

Historical Notes

The Freezer was a mini chain of ice cream outlets, and each store was built into the shape of an ice cream churn. They also had locations at 7435 Sunset, 1124 Vine, 3801 W Washington, 402 S Western, and one in Alhambra.*##

 

 

* * * * *

 

 

Hoot Owl Café

 
(1920s)* - View showing a boy and girl enjoying Hoot, Hoot ice cream in front of Hoot Owl Café.  

 

Historical Notes

I Scream Hoot Owl Cafe was in the shape of an owl. The head rotated; the eyes, made from Buick headlamps, blinked; the sign: Hoot Hoot, I Scream, used elements of a theater marquee. For over 50 years, Tillie Hattrup ran this refreshment spot designed and built by her husband, Roy in 1926-27. It was originally on Valley Boulevard, then moving to 8711 Long Beach Boulevard, before being demolished in 1979.*

 

 

* * * * *

 

 

Home of The Cone

 
(ca. 1920s)* - Home of The Cone, an ice cream parlor with an oversized ice cream cone at each corner, located at 2626 Colorado Boulevard in Eagle Rock.  A house can be seen behind the parlor, on the right side.  

 

Historical Notes

This small establishment offered dairy products such as milk & cream, cottage cheese, churned buttermilk, and fancy ice cream. The building eventually became the Feed Rack, a small restaurant, during the Depression.*

 

 

 

 
(ca. 1930)* - Originally built as an ice cream parlor, with an oversized ice cream cone at each corner, the building became the Feed Rack, a small restaurant, during the Depression. An older man (possibly the owner) points to a sign: "Hello, Oldtimer! Are you hungry? Stop and get some coffee & donuts. They are on us."  

 

* * * * *

 

 

Currie's Ice Cream

 
(1935)^^#* – View looking at a well-lit Currie's Ice Cream located at the northwest corner of Gale Drive and Wilshire Boulevard.  Apparently, their 10 cent jumbo malts were the big thing—they mention it on all three sides of the building!  Currie's was also known for its "Mile-High Cones". Click HERE to see contemporary view showing the same building..  

 

Historical Notes

People still fondly remember the Currie’s chain and its “mile-high cone” whose replica was often displayed billboard-style on roofs. The chain was started in 1927 by three brothers named Kuhns. After WWII they sold it to the Good Humor Company who later sold it to Lipton in the 1960s. In 1964 the chain opened its 87th store, in North Hollywood. Although Currie’s anticipated launching units in every community in Southern California, only three outlets were listed in the 1967 Los Angeles phone book and the chain had disappeared by the 1980s. ^##

 

* * * * *

 

 

The Cornucopia

 
(1928)* - The Cornucopia ice cream stand, located at 1934 San Fernando Blvd, was in the shape of a huge upside-down ice cream cone. It had two small windows on both sides and a doorway at the front, all with awnings. A sign on the right of the cone reads: "Bonded quality ice cream. Open 11 AM to 10 PM. Malted milk candies". The 'speckling' on the photo is from a bad nitrate negative. Photo dated: April 19, 1928.   

 

* * * * *

 

 

The Big Cone

 
(1930s)*^^ – View showing a man standing in front of the The Big Cone, a Chapman’s Ice Cream parlor in Los Angeles.  

 

* * * * *

 

 

Oil Can Restaurant

 
(1928)** – View showing the Oil Can Restaurant located on Whittier Boulevard in Montebello.  

 

Historical Notes

The tiny diner mimicked the shape of the cans once used to lubricate machinery, complete with a giant handle and a spout that towered above the building's domed roof. The Oil Can was built in the 1920s 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. #^#^

 

 

 

 
(1928)** - Closer view of the Oil Can Restaurant with a man and woman (maybe the owners) standing in front of the window. Several signs appear on the building advertising: Ice Cream, Eastside Beer, and Soda.  

 

Historical Notes

The discovery of an underground oil field in 1917 had brought fortune to the town and transformed its once graceful hills ("Montebello" is Italian for "beautiful mountain") into a forest of wooden derricks.^**

 

 

* * * * *

 

 

The Oil Well

 
(1920s)* - View showing The Oil Well service station offering 1 qt. oil, free, with 6 gallons of gas.  

 

 

 

 
(1920s)* - The Oil Well service station shaped like an oil well, next to a palm tree and a two-story apartment building in Los Angeles. Click HERE to see more Early Views of LA Gas Stations.  

 

* * * * *

 

 

Roundhouse Café

 
(1929)* - View showing the Roundhouse Café, located at 250 N. Virgil Avenue. This photo shows the main entrance, with a large "Café" sign above the door, and the front end of a locomotive peeking out from a "stall"; a large engine 'shed' is at the rear of the restaurant. The building is brick with a solid color roof, possibly red, which has a circular "Round House" sign on top. On the left, a 'railroad crossing' signal reads: "Stop. Look. Eat". Another sign below that advertises chicken, steaks, and ham. The operating hours are 5 P.M. to 2 A.M.  

 

* * * * *

 

 

Toed Inn

 
(1920)* - The Toed Inn, was a stand in the shape of a toad, located on Channel Road in Santa Monica. Behind can be seen the Seaside Service Station.  

 

Historical Notes

In 1938, the Toed Inn structure was damaged by a flood caused by one of wettest seasons ever to hit Southern California. That same year, the Toed Inn was relocated to Westwood, at 12008 Wilshire Boulevard.*

 

 

 
(ca. 1938) - The Toad Inn at it's new location at 12008 Wilshire Boulevard.  

 

* * * * *

 

 

Pup Café

 
(1930)* - View showing the Pup Café, a hot dog and hamburger stand located at 12728 Washington Boulevard in the community of Venice. A sign resting against the side reads: "Chili. Hot dogs and Hamburgers". It appears that the lots on either side are vacant, but houses can be seen in the background.  

 

Historical Notes

The Pup is a small fast-food restaurant in the shape of a large white dog with black spots, sitting on hind legs. The entrance is through a door on his belly.*

 

 

 
(ca. 1940)* - View showing "The Pup," a hot dog and hamburger stand located at 12728 Washington Boulevard. Signs advertising colas and a variety of food items are seen on every side of the building.  

 

* * * * *

 

 

Bulldog Café

 
(ca. 1928)^^* - View showing a man dressed in a nifty pair of knickerbockers walking in front of the Bulldog Café.  

 

Historical Notes

The Bulldog Café (similar to the Pup Café) was built in 1928 and located at 1153 West Washington Boulevard. Disney recreated the café when it adapted the work into a 1991 movie called The Rocketeer.

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 Café (opened in 2015). #^#^

 

 

 
(2015)#*#* – View showing the replica of the Bulldog Café standing in the courtyard of the Idle Hour Café (see below). Photo by Elizabeth Daniels  

 

* * * * *

 

 

Chili Bowl Restaurant

 
(1937)* - One of the six Chili Bowl restaurants, located at 3012 Crenshaw Boulevard.  

 

Historical Notes

Art Whizin established the Chili Bowl restaurant chain in Los Angeles in 1931, known for its distinctive shape in the form of a chili bowl. Whizin was a 25-year-old former amateur boxer when he established the business on Crenshaw Boulevard near Jefferson Boulevard with funding raised by selling "his wife's wedding ring and his roadster."

Chili Bowl restaurants were arranged with 26 stools around a circular counter (no tables) and employed college "kids" as burger flippers. The specialty dish was an open-faced burger smothered in chili and there were 22 restaurants within a decade of the eatery's opening.  After WWII many of the stores were converted into Punch & Judy Ice Cream Parlors that were later closed, and Whizin also built a mall in Agoura Hills that still bears his name.*^

 

 

 
(2010)##* - View of Mr. Cecil's California Ribs on Pico Boulevard in West L.A. in a former Chili Bowl building.  

 

Historical Notes

Four Chili Bowl structures survive, one in Huntington Park, Long Beach that is now the Guadalajara Nightclub, another became Kim Chuy Chinese restaurant on Valley Boulevard in Alhambra, the one on Pico Boulevard (that remained open 24 hours during the war effort for nearby workers), is now Mr. Cecil's California Ribs (seen above), and the one on San Fernando Road in Glendale is a used-car dealership.*^

 

* * * * *

 

 

Brown Derby (Wilshire)

 
(ca. 1926)**^ - View showing the original Brown Derby Restaurant located at 3427 Wilshire Boulevard between Mariposa and Alexandria avenues.  

 

Historical Notes

The Brown Derby chain was started by Robert H. Cobb and Herbert Somborn (a former husband of film star Gloria Swanson). Bob Cobb is known as the inventor of the California Cobb Salad. He was also part owner of the Hollywood Stars baseball team.*^

The original Brown Derby was built in 1926 on the site that later became the Chapman Park Hotel. It had to vacate its location on Wilshire between Alexandria and Mariposa when the land was requisitioned for the women’s village for the 1932 L.A. Olympic Games. So it was temporarily moved in 1931 five blocks west into the Bilicke Building located at 3927 Wilshire Blvd.

In 1937, the Brown Derby would move out of the Bilicke Building into a newly constructed derby-shaped building at 3377 Wilshire Boulevard. The new location was a block east of the Derby's original home, on the northeast corner of Wilshire and Alexandria.

 

 

 
(ca. 1940)* - Cars travel east down Wilshire Boulevard, where it crosses S. Alexandria Avenue (left), right outside the Brown Derby Restaurant. This was the second derby-shaped building of the Brown Derby. Built in 1937, it was located at 3377 Wilshire Boulevard (N/E corner of Wilshire and Mariposa), a block east of the Derby's original location.  

 

Historical Notes

The derby-shaped building remains the most famous due to its distinctive shape. Whimsical architecture was popular at the time, and the restaurant was designed to catch the eye of passing motorists. It is often incorrectly thought that the Brown Derby was a single restaurant, and the Wilshire Boulevard and Hollywood branches are frequently confused.*^

 

 

 
(1954)^++_ - View showing a large group of men in business suits crossing Wilshire Buolevard in front of the Brown Derby.  

 

Historical Notes

The Brown Derby chain also included restaurants in Hollywood, Beverly Hills, and the Los Feliz area. The Los Feliz Brown Derby at 4500 Los Feliz Blvd is the last remaining branch of the chain still extant and in operation*^

 

 

 
(1956)*^ - View showing the front entrance to “The Original Brown Derby Restaurant” on Wilshire Boulevard.  

 

Historical Notes

After being sold in 1975 and renovated, the Brown Derby Restaurant on Wilshre Boulevard was finally replaced in 1980 by a shopping center known as the Brown Derby Plaza. The domed structure was incorporated into the third floor of the building and accommodates a cafe. A Korean mini-mall occupies the site today.*^

Click HERE for more historical background on the Brown Derby.

 

* * * * *

 

 

Airplane Café

 
(ca. 1924)* - View of the Airplane Café, a restaurant in the shape of a plane, complete with wings and a propeller. The structure has wheels, but rests on raised slabs of wood. The sign on roof reads: REAL CHILI - GOOD COFFEE - SPECIAL PREPARED HAMBURGER.  

 

 

 

 
(ca. 1924)* - Front end view of the Airplane Cafe (address unknown). The sign in the window reads: “Girl Wanted”.  

 

* * * * *

 

 

The Dugout Restaurant

 
(1929)* - "The Dugout" sandwich stand, which is surrounded by sandbags and has a plane crashed into its roof, located at 6157 E. Whittier Blvd. A sign outside reads: "The famous Dugout French dip sandwiches".  

 

 

 

 
(1920s)* - Close-up view of "The Dugout" showing a man in a soldier's uniform waving from behind sandbags in front of the restaurant.  

 

* * * * *

 

 

Zep Diner

 
(1931)* - View of Zep Diner, located at 515 W. Florence Ave, near Figueroa St. A sign hanging from the stairs advertises lunch for .40 cents. The Zep was open “all night” and was the “Home of the Hinden Burger”. The location is now a McDonald’s parking lot.  

 

 

 

 
(1931)#^^ - View of two women standing on the stairway leading to the entrance of Zen Diner. There is a Gilmore Service Station next door.  

 

* * * * *

 

 

The Tamale

 
(1928)* - Exterior view of The Tamale, a restaurant specializing in hispanic foods. Building was built in the shape of a tamale. Located at 6421 Whittier Boulevard in East Los Angeles.  

 

Historical Notes

A rare remaining example of programmatic architecture, The Tamale was designed to advertise its products to passing motorists. It opened in 1928 as a restaurant that served “Tamale pies,” malts, and other “Spanish delights” along with hamburgers and chili.^#^

 

 

 
(2001)* -  Exterior view of Charley's Beauty Salon, once the Tamale Restaurant, located at 6431 Whittier Boulevard. Photo by Milton Slade  

 

Historical Notes

Originally opened in 1928 as a restaurant that served “Tamale pies,” malts, and other “Spanish delights” along with hamburgers and chili. The Tamale is now home to a beauty salon and a dental laboratory.  In 1984, The Tamale was transformed from a restaurant and adaptively reused to meet the needs of its current tenants.  This particular building, which was designed to look like a wrapped tamale, has seen its exterior color change throughout the years but is largely intact. ^#^ 

 

* * * * *

 

 

Bob's Air Mail Service Station

 
(1936)^*^ - You could gas up your car beneath the wings of a grounded airplane at Bob’s Air Mail Service Station on the n/w corner of Wilshire Blvd. and Cochran Ave. in 1936.  

 

Historical Notes

Bob’s Air Mail Service utilized a real twin-prop airplane to top its station, with the wings serving as canopies to shade its General Petroleum pumps. The plane was one of two Fokker F-32 aircraft operated by Western Air Express, circa 1930-31. The four engine F-32 was a design failure due to overheating of the two pusher engines and was only briefly in commercial service.

 

 

 

 
(ca. 1938)#^ – Night view showing a man standing in between a Fokker F-32 aircraft with spinning propellers and the gas pumps at Bob's Airmail Service on Wilshire.  

 

 

 

 

 
(1936)***^ - Another view of Bob's Airmail Service Station at 5453 Wilshire Boulevard. Click HERE to see more in Early Views of LA Gas Stations.  

 

 

* * * * *

 

 

Royal Albatross Service Station

 
(ca. 1939)* - View of the Royal Albatross, an airplane used as a service station, located on the eastern vertex of a narrow strip of land bordered by Ventura Boulevard (south), Ventura Place (north, seen here, foreground) and Laurel Canyon Boulevard (west). Gasoline pumps are set up under the wing spans.  

 

 

* * * * *

 

 

Idle Hour Café

 
(1941)*+* - View showing the Idle Hour Café the year it opend, located at 4824 Vineland Avenue, North Hollywood.  

 

Historical Notes

Michael D. Connolly, the original owner/builder, was a film technician for Universal Studios, creating daily rushes for movie directors.  In 1940, he acquired the land in North Hollywood for his Café and Tap Room, less than two miles from the studio.  Connolly and his wife Irene would live above their new venture in a small apartment built into the head of the barrel, completed in 1941.  On December 7, the United States was attacked at Pearl Harbor and Michael enlisted as a cook in the Merchant Marines.  Upon his return he and Irene divorced.  Irene continued running the café into the 1960s.  Late in that decade it was renamed Rudy’s Keg.*+*

 

 

 
(2011)++* – View showing the La Caña Restaurant (Idle Hour Café), before its recent renovation.  Photo by Lindsay William-Ross  

 

Historical Notes

In 1971, the building was purchased by renouned flamenco dancers Jose and Dolores Fernandez.  The pair redecorated the dining room to create a dinner theater called La Caña.  The restaurant closed in 1984 but Dolores continued to live in the upstairs apartment until 2009. The building would be shuttered for over 27 years.  #*#*

 

 

 
(2015)#*#* – View showing the newly renovated Idle Hour Café, located at 4824 Vineland Avenue.  Photo by Elizabeth Daniels  

 

Historical Notes

In 2010, the City of Los Angeles designated the Programmatic-style building Historic-Cultural Monument No. 977. The following year the "1933 Group" purchased the property and by 2015 the fully restored barrel-shaped building would once again open as the Hour Café.

The barrel was actually once a more common type of mimetic architecture; local examples included The Barrel Inn, 1525 San Fernando, 1927; Twin Barrel Drive-in, 7200 Beverly Blvd., 1932, Giant Barrel, Los Angeles, 1935; as well as other exmaples around the country.  The Idle Hour is the last remaining barrel-shaped structure in the Los Angeles area.*+*

 

* * * * *

 

 

The Darkroom

 
(1970s)^^^ – View showing the The Darkroom located at 5370 Wilshire Boulevard. Photo by Marvin Rand  

 

Historical Notes

Los Angeles is home to the original Darkroom. The shop, which is located at 5370 Wilshire Boulevard, was built under the direction of Marcus P. Miller in the 1930s at the height of the California Programmatic movement.

The real life inspiration behind the architecture is an Argus 35mm camera.*^*

 

 

 
(2015)^^ - View looking at the Spare Tire Kitchen and Tavern (previously The Darkroom) at 5370 Wilshire Boulevard.  

 

Historical Notes

When The Darkroom ceased being a camera store, it became a restaurant. Not only is the camera still there, so is the glass block wall that surrounds it.  Before becoming Spare Tire Kitchen and Tavern, the former camera store had at least three other restaurants:  El Toro Cantina, Punjab Cuisine, and La Boca del Conga Room.*^*

 

* * * * *

 

 

Tail o' the Pup

 
(1957)**^ - View of Tail o' the Pup hot dog stand at its original location at 311 North La Cienega Boulevard.  

 

Historical Notes

Designed by architect Milton Black, the stand opened at La Cienega and Beverly boulevards in June 1946 to luminary-studded, searchlight-lit fanfare. Eddie Blake purchased the Pup in the early 1970s from its celebrity owners, the dance team of Veloz and Yolanda.

Despite its appearance in countless movies and commercials, the stand faced demolition in the mid-1980s, creating an outcry that resulted in the stand being moved a few yards from its original location at 311 North La Cienega Boulevard, to 329 North San Vicente Boulevard.*^

 

 

 
(ca. 1970s)* - Eddie Blake's Tail o' the Pup, famous hot dog stand at 301 N. La Cienega Boulevard in West Hollywood.  

 

Historical Notes

In December 2005, the Pup was evicted and it moved into a Torrance warehouse after Regent Properties, a development company, purchased the Pup's site from landlord Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, and announced plans to build 152 condominium and apartment units. As of December 2012, construction had not started and the site remained a parking lot.

Owners Dennis and Eddie Blake plan to reopen the Tail o' the Pup once a suitable location is found, possibly in West Hollywood.

The City of Los Angeles has since declared Tail o’ the Pup to be a cultural landmark.*^

 

* * * * *

 

 

Fish Shanty

 
(ca. 1960s)*^# - View showing Smith Bros. Fish Shanty restaurant on La Cienega Blvd.  

 

Historical Notes

The Fish Shanty, owned by the Smith Bros, was established on La Cienega in 1950.  It was known to Los Angeles residents as "that place where you walked through the whale's mouth."  The popular fish restaurant was anchored at the southwest corner of the La Cienega Boulevard, Burton Way, and San Vicente intersection in an area known as Restaurant Row.

 

 

 

 
(1965)*^# – View showing an early model car in front of the whale-mouth entryway of The Fish Shanty.   

 

Historical Notes

The above clip was taken from the British black comedy called The Loved One, starring: Robert Morse, Anjanette Comer,  Rod Steiger,  John Gielgud, and Liberace.

The jaws of the Shanty’s whale façade was made out of thousands of tiny, ocean-blue, midcentury mosaic tiles that sparkled during sundown like the crest of an effervescent wave.*^#

 

 

 

 
(1980s)* - Exterior view of the entrance of the Smith Bros. Fish Shanty restaurant, showing a whale's mouth around the doors. The former seafood restaurant was located near the intersection of La Cienega Boulevard, San Vicente Boulevard and Burton Way in Los Angeles.  

 

Historical Notes

The Fish Shanty was demolished after a fire during the early 90s and was replaced by a car dealership. Today a new apartment building has taken its place built by Rick Caruso that also includes a Trader Joe's.

 

* * * * *

 

 

Big Donut Drive-in

 
(1960s)^^^*  - View looking east on Magnolia Boulevard at Laurel Canyon Boulevard where the Big Donut Drive-in stands on the northeast corner.  

 

Historical Notes

Russell C. Wendell, a doughnut machine salesman, created the Big Donut Drive-in. There were 10 locations, built over the course of the 1950s. At least five Big Donuts survive: they are Kindle's Donuts in unincorporated Westmont (this is the original location, built in 1950), (2) Randy’s Donuts in Inglewood near LAX, the Donut King II in Gardena (3), Dale's Donuts in Compton (5), and Bellflower Bagels in Bellflower (8). Each features the distinctive giant doughnut constructed of rolled steel bars covered with gunite, a material used in swimming pools. Five Big Donuts have been demolished. They were located in Culver City (4), North Hollywood (6), Inglewood (on Imperial Hwy, 7), Van Nuys (9) and Reseda (10).

The building style dates to a period in the early 20th century that saw a proliferation of Programmatic Architecture throughout Southern California. This style had its heyday from the mid-1920s to the mid-1930s. By the 1950s however, the trend of designing structures in the shape of the product sold there had changed to focus on signs rather than architecture itself.*^

 

 

Randy's Donuts

 
(2009)+** - View showing Randy's Dunuts located at 805 West Manchester Avenue in Inglewood (near LAX). "OPEN 24 hrs"  

 

Historical Notes

Randy’s Donuts is an unquestionable icon of 1950s Los Angeles, for obvious reasons: it is a typical mid-century drive-up restaurant with a giant donut on its roof.

Not just a giant donut—Randy’s has THE giant donut, the most famous donut in America and maybe even the world. It has appeared in innumerable television shows, music videos, and films.

The donut shop was reportedly designed by Henry J. Goodwin as the second of ten locations for Russell C. Wendell’s now-defunct Big Donut Drive-In Chain, and was completed in 1953. Several others still survive, but Randy’s in Inglewood is the best known.

The building itself is a fairly unremarkable if admirably intact Mid-Century Modern drive-up food stand, and it may not technically count as Programmatic architecture (in which a building looks like the item it hawks). But the donut on its roof is just so large, so uncompromising, so demanding of our attention that we’ll look the other way and consider Randy’s a Programmatic design.^#^

 

 

 
(2004)*^ – View showing Randy's Donuts, colloquially known as "The Big O".  The donut shop was made famous by the 32.5-foot donut on its roof.  Photo Credit:  Library of Congress  

 

Historical Notes

Structural engineer Richard Bradshaw, who worked on the Theme Building at LAX, is said to have designed this and other giant donuts out of rolled steel bars covered with gunnite.

The restaurant has seen three owners: 1) Russell Wendell, who created the Big Donut Drive-in chain in the 1950s; 2) Robert Eskow who purchased it in the mid-1970s and made it part of his Randy’s chain of sandwich shops; 3) Ron and Larry Weintraub who took over in 1978 (Weintraubs and Eskows are related).

Randy’s Donuts is one of Los Angeles’ most iconic landmarks and represents the postwar optimism and whimsy of the city in a way few other places can.^#^

 

* * * * *

 

 

Fleetwood Center

 
(ca. 2010)^#^ – View of the Fleetwood Plaza located at 19611 Ventura Boulevard in Tarzana.  Photo by Jessica Hodgdon  

 

Historical Notes

Constructed in 1987, according to An Architectural Guidebook to Los Angeles, it was designed in the Programmatic style of architecture, although it's unclear if a Cadillac dealership ever actually occupied the space. Lee Oakes of architectural firm Matlin and Dvoretzky designed the two-story building for developer CBS Realcorp.^#^

 

 

 
(2015)^^ – View of the Fleetwood Square mini-mall on the north side Ventura Boulevard east of Corbin Avenue. It was designed to look like the front of a Cadillac Fleetwood.  

 

Historical Notes

The building has angular corner turrets like the jutting front fenders of a ca. 1970 Caddy, punctuated by four “headlights” of circular neon, central windows arranged like a radiator grill, and first-floor masonry walls painted black to look like tires. It was designed expressly to draw attention to the block, and that it does, in a way that could not be more weirdly appropriate to its Ventura Boulevard setting. Tragically, its stucco finish is currently painted a subdued white, a far cry from its original shocking pink.^#^

 

* * * * *

 

 

 

Support this Site

Support the Water and Power Associates with a donation in any amount you choose, via PayPal. All donations are applied directly to the ongoing expansion of this site, including digitization, research and acquisitions.

Thank you for your support of this site.

 

 

.

 

 

 

More Historical Early Views

 

 

Newest Additions

 

 

Early LA Buildings and City Views

 

 

History of Water and Electricity in Los Angeles

 

 

* * * * *

 

 

References and Credits

* LA Public Library Image Archive

**USC Digital Library

^^Google Sreet View

#^Flickr.com: Michael Ryerson

**^La La Land: Pup o' Tail

^^*The RPF: Bulldog Cafe

*+*Los Angeles Planning Department: Idle Hour Cafe

+**Google Maps Panoramio.com

+^^Facebook.com:  Garden of Allah Novels – Martin Turnbull

^++Pinterest.com: California Dreamin

++*LAist.com: Idle Hour Cafe

^*^ Nuestra Señora la Reina de los Ángeles: losangelespast.com

*^^Mordmardok.tumblr.com: The Big Cone

^**KCET: The Oil Can Restaurant

^^^Pinterest: The Darkroom

*^*Main Street Gazette - World Famous Photo Finishing

*^#Los Angeles Magazine: The Fish Shanty

^#^Los Angeles Conservancy: The Tamale; Fleetwood Center; Randy's Donuts

#^^LAtaco.com: Zep Diner

^*#Noirish Los Angeles: Bob's Airmail Service Station

*##MartinTurnbull.com: Freezer Ice Cream Store

^##Restaurant-ing Through History: Ice Cream Parlors

##*Mr. Cecil's California Ribs

^*^#Facebook.com - Bizzare Los Angeles

^^^*San Fernando Valley Relics: Facebook.com

^^#*Huntington Digital Library Archive

#*#*LA Curbed: Idle Hour Cafe

#*#^Flickr.com: Wilshire Boulevard History

#^#^Weird California: Los Angeles' Programmatic Architecture

***^Pomona Public Library Digital Archive: Bob's Airmail Service Station

*^ Wikipedia: Tail o' the Pup; Chili Bowl Restaurant - Art Whizin; Brown Derby Restaurant; Big Donut Drive-in; Randy's Donuts

 

< Back