Novelty Structures in Southern
California Catch Attention
In the early days of roadside culture, California drivers could spot oversized coffee pots or donuts—buildings advertising products in the most literal way. Often called “pop,” “programmatic” or “mimetic architecture”—even “duck buildings”—its heyday ran from the 1920s through ’60s.
Frog-shaped, with turned-in toes, this restaurant first loomed in Santa Monica, then moved to Wilshire Boulevard after 1938 flood damage.
A 30-foot leg outside a hosiery factory, reminiscent of the lamp from A Christmas Story (though in nude nylons, not fishnets)
Diners could enter this restaurant by walking under the chin of a droopy-eyed pup, with chili hot dogs and burgers waiting for them.
Wilshire Coffee Pot
This circular walk-up served Ben-Hur brand coffee from underneath a giant, gleaming pot with handle and spout.
Jim Heimann’s 2018 book California Crazy charts the history (and whimsy) of the architectural phenomenon.
The Brown Derby
Shaped like a derby hat, the restaurant became an emblem for the golden age of Hollywood. Domed structure still survives as part of a Wilshire Boulevard shopping center.
The Cream Can
Stools lined the open-air perimeter of an oversized cream can that served all things dairy—ice cream, shakes, buttermilk, cottage cheese.
Classic example of the “muffler man,” oversized characters made of fiberglass which could hold an object as advertisement.
La Salsa Man
Twenty-plus feet tall, this muffler man originally presided over a Frostie Freeze while holding a burger. He stands on, with mustache, sombrero and serape.
Big Donut Drive-In/Randy’s Donuts
Giant pocked donut originally from a Big Donut Drive-In now goes by Randy’s—the star of many music videos and films.
Bull Dog Cafe
Similar in shape to the Pup Cafe, this dog smoked a pipe and sold tamales, barbecue, ham, coffee, ice cream.