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The Playful Side Of L.A. Architecture

“California Crazy” chronicles the history of some of the state’s more unusual structures, including The Brown Derby in Los Angeles (circa 1930).
JIM HEIMANN PHOTOGRAPHY COLLECTION
“California Crazy” chronicles the history of some of the state’s more unusual structures, including The Brown Derby in Los Angeles (circa 1930).
Jim Heimann delivers the playful side of L.A. architecture in his book, "California Crazy: American Pop Architecture"

Giant milk cans, flower baskets, barrels, cameras, pianos, accordions, coffee cups and coffee pots. And, of course, a large shoe or two.

The roadside architecture of Southern California in the early and mid-20th century was a riot of unusual buildings designed to call attention to themselves as motorists whizzed by.

Humongous human figures, enormous owls, ostriches, elephants, toads, rabbits, cows, chickens, dogs, even stockinged female legs.

"California Crazy" by Jim Heimann.TASCHEN
“California Crazy” by Jim Heimann.

The academic name for these cartoonish structures is “programmatic architecture,” and Jim Heimann, a cultural anthropologist, has collected scores of (mostly bygone) examples into his book “California Crazy: American Pop Architecture” (Taschen, 2017).

Colossal donuts, hamburgers, hot dogs, pickles, pumpkins, lemons and oranges (of course) and just about anything else under the California sun.

Los Angeles had “an optimistic attitude that anything was possible,” Heiman explains in the book’s introduction. “A climate was created that served as a perfect incubator for the outrageous and amazing.”

Fanciful roadside igloos, teepees, windmills, boats, airplanes, castles and sphinxes. The infamous pagodas of Grauman’s Chinese Theatre seem mundane by comparison.

A handful survive: an enormous donut remains a Inglewood landmark. But pretty much all that’s left of these unique buildings are the photos in Heimann’s book, memories of a bygone California.

The Big Donut Drive-In in Inglewood (circa 1955).JIM HEIMANN PHOTOGRAPHY COLLECTION
The Big Donut Drive-In in Inglewood (circa 1955).
Pig Cafe in Los Angeles (circa 1934).JIM HEIMANN PHOTOGRAPHY COLLECTION
Pig Cafe in Los Angeles (circa 1934).
Pup Cafe in Culver City (circa 1934).JIM HEIMANN PHOTOGRAPHY COLLECTION
Pup Cafe in Culver City (circa 1934).
Hoot Hoot I Scream in San Gabriel (circa 1932).JIM HEIMANN PHOTOGRAPHY COLLECTION
Hoot Hoot I Scream in San Gabriel (circa 1932).
Toed Inn, in Santa Monica (circa 1931), is another example of “California Crazy” architecture.JIM HEIMANN PHOTOGRAPHY COLLECTION
Toed Inn, in Santa Monica (circa 1931), is another example of “California Crazy” architecture.
Big Red Piano, Los Angeles (circa 1977).JIM HEIMANN PHOTOGRAPHY COLLECTION
Big Red Piano, Los Angeles (circa 1977).
Deschwanden’s Shoe Repair, Bakersfield (circa 1985).JIM HEIMANN PHOTOGRAPHY COLLECTION
Deschwanden’s Shoe Repair, Bakersfield (circa 1985).
Tail o’ the Pup, Los Angeles (circa 1959).JIM HEIMANN PHOTOGRAPHY COLLECTION
Tail o’ the Pup, Los Angeles (circa 1959).
La Salsa man, Malibu (circa 1988).JIM HEIMANN PHOTOGRAPHY COLLECTION
La Salsa man, Malibu (circa 1988).

Keep reading: Serge Ramelli’s latest photography book aims his lens on his adopted home of Los Angeles — a city in which this self-taught photographer still hopes to find fame.