Skip to content

Novelty Roadside Architecture

Tail o’ the Pup, Los Angeles. Built in 1946. Demolished in 2000s.

Novelty architecture, programmatic architecture, mimetic architecture – they’re all names used to describe buildings that were designed and built to mimic the purpose, function or name of the building. While there are examples of it in history, such as the pyramids and sphinx structures in Egypt, it wasn’t until the 1920s that mimetic, or novelty architecture entered the decades of its heyday in the United States. It’s no coincidence that this was the same time frame that held the heyday of automobile travel and tourism. These buildings were eye-catching advertisements designed to grab the attention of a driver in the second or two it took him to pass by it in his car…and they did.

Of course they did!

The Ben Hur Coffee Pot, Wilshire Blvd. Los Angeles – Built in 1930

You could get your coffee from a building that looked like a coffee pot….

The Donut Hole, La Puenta, California – Built in 1968 Photo Credit: John Margolies

…or stop for a donut from a building that looked like a donut…

Shutter Shark, Los Angeles, California film developer.

….or have your film developed in a little building that looked like your camera.

Restaurants made good use of the architecture…

Bull Dog Cafe, Washington Blvd, Los Angeles, California – Built in 1928.


The Chili Bowl, Los Angeles, California –  Built in 1931.


Mother Goose Pantry, Pasadena – circa 1928


The Cream Can Beverage Counter, Los Angeles, California.


Deschwanden’s Shoe Repair, (now Big Shoe Repair) Bakersfield, California – built in 1931 and still there. Photo credit: John Margolies

…but you could even get your shoes fixed in a shoe at Deschwanden’s Shoe Repair (now Big Shoe Repair) in Bakersfield. It’s still there at Chester and 10th!

California had a lot of novelty architecture, there’s even a book about it called Crazy California, but other states had some too:

Benewah Milk Bottle at the Benewah Dairy Drink Counter in Spokane, Washington – Built in 1935 and still there. Photo Credit: John Margolies


Mammy’s Cupboard Restaurant Located on U.S. 61 in Natchez, Mississippi. Built in 1940. Still there.


The Mother Goose Market, Hazard, Kentucky – built 1935-1940 and still there.


The Teapot Dome Gas Station on U.S. Highway 12 in  Zillah, Washington – originally built in 1922. Today, it’s Zillah’s visitor’s center.


Longaberger Basket Company Headquarters, Newark, Ohio – 1997

The Longaberger Basket Company Headquarters opened in 1997. It sold in January, 2018, after three years on the market, to a firm specializing in historic preservation.

Camera Obscura, San Francisco


Hats and Boots Gas Station, Seattle. Built in 1954, it’s been restored and relocated to a park  south of the city

While many examples of novelty architecture still exist, it’s not surprising that some of these structures have disappeared:

The Brown Derby, Wilshire Blvd., Los Angeles. Demolished November 1980.


The Pup Cafe, Washington Blvd., Los Angeles.


Thankfully, many memories of these gems are documented in surviving photographs. I’m feeling another road trip coming on to search out some remaining novelty architecture.  But for now?  I’d just like a root beer float at the Hoot Hoot Ice Cream Parlor in L.A. please.

Sources and further reading:

The Los Angeles Conservancy
John Margolies Roadside America Photograph Archive – Library of Congress website
Weird California – website
Iconic Roadside Relic “Bull Dog Cafe” Saved From Destruction –
Los Angeles Public Library – website  – University of California Digital Collections


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: