California’s forgotten roadside architecture makes for a wild West Coast drive

California’s forgotten roadside architecture makes for a wild West Coast drive

‘Monstrosities’: a word long-associated with the architectural anomalies littered along California highways. A new book published by Taschen – California Crazy: American Pop Architecture – seeks to convince us otherwise.

In the 1920s, as the age of the automobile was revving up, local entrepreneurs began building eye-catching, increasingly bizarre structures to lure in passing motorists for snacks and souvenirs. From dogs to hotdogs, pigs to ships, the explosion of novelty architecture continued in earnest into the 1930s, when it began to show signs of exhaustion. New architectural movements, like the Streamline Moderne style, were capturing the minds and drawing-boards of the new-thing-hungry LA crowd.

Example of California's roadside architecture

Photography: copyright Jim Heimann Collection, courtesy TASCHEN

This isn’t to say the quirky structures weren’t popular with locals and receptive press for a time. It was the architectural establishment that needed convincing, and the larger-than-life pop-sculptures lived largely in critical excile. Jim Heimann, executive editor at Taschen, and editor of this title, thinks otherwise, offering a fresh perspective. Brimming with the best examples, California Crazy includes essays exploring the influences that fostered the nascent architectural movement, as well as identifying the unconventional landscapes and attitudes found on Los Angeles and Hollywood roadsides which allowed these buildings to flourish.

Take the Carmel works of local resident Hugh Comstock, like the Tuck Box tea shop (1926) and other ‘fairy-tale-like buildings’. Such structures are thought to have inspired the prestigious likes of Frank Gehry, who designed the Binoculars Building in 1991 (later to become Google’s Southern California outpost) which features a giant pair of Binoculars designed by Claes Oldenburg and Coosje van Bruggen.

Whatever your predilection for them, roadside art-itecture undeniably influenced and embodied Sunbelt culture; and this book is sure to raise an eyebrow or two, if not a smile.

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