Novelty Roadside Architecture
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!
You could get your coffee from a building that looked like a coffee pot….
…or stop for a donut from a building that looked like a donut…
….or have your film developed in a little building that looked like your camera.
Restaurants made good use of the architecture…
…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:
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.
While many examples of novelty architecture still exist, it’s not surprising that some of these structures have disappeared:
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 – Roadtrippers.com
Los Angeles Public Library – website
Calisphere.org – University of California Digital Collections