It was a confluence of West Coast optimism, Hollywood imagination, and California’s come-up during the automobile age that created the Golden State’s peculiar roadside attractions. All along the freeways, there are buildings in the shape of donuts, dinosaurs, ice cream cones, and pianos – architecture-sized ads for the goods you might find inside. Officially, these are examples of what’s known as programmatic architecture, but L.A. historian Jim Heimann simply describes them as “crazy.”
Heimann’s new book, California Crazy: American Pop Architecture (Taschen, $60), traces the origins of these eccentric icons back to the beginning of the 20th century, when a fledgling California was “a perfect incubator for the outrageous and amazing,” he writes. “What Los Angeles lacked in history it made up for with space – a wide geographic area devoid of development – and an optimistic attitude that anything was possible.” The pages document the whimsy and unapologetic experimentation that blossomed during that era. Below is a short list of our favorite examples.
Big Donut Drive-In, Inglewood, CA
After donut machine salesman Russell C. Wendell launched his Big Donut chain in 1949, he subsequently built 10 locations in and around Los Angeles. Some were taller than 30 feet.