In camera

Today’s Zippy takes us to photographic LA:


While namechecking the famous American photographers Diane Arbus, Edward Weston, Berenice Abbott, and Weegee, Zippy peers in the window of the Darkroom at 5370 Wilshire Blvd. in LA, now a bar and restaurant, originally a camera shop in the shape of a camera.

Looking for buidings in the shape of a camera will then take us around the world, thanks to a construction company in Karawang, West Java, Indonesia.

The Darkroom. From the Los Angeles Conservancy site:

(#2) The Darkroom now (as seen in #1)

Originally a camera shop, this unique structure (now a restaurant) is one of the city’s last remaining examples of programmatic architecture, in which a building physically resembles its purpose.

The façade’s nine-foot-tall Argus camera announced The Darkroom’s wares quite literally. Some claim that during the building’s heyday, the tenant would project short films through the camera lens/window for pedestrians to watch.

Although the famed store is long gone, the black vitriolite facade remains as a protected city landmark (Los Angeles Historic-Cultural Monument).

Yet its Art Deco neon signage was not protected. Removed and hidden for decades in a private collection, the sign is now owned by the Museum of Neon Art.

Two shots of the facade from its camera-shop days:

(#3) Wider view

(#4) Up close and in color

Programmatic architecture: the camera. The term programmatic architecture was new to me, though I was familiar with the term mimic architecture, referring to a subtype of novelty architecture, as in this Wikipedia article (with the relevant passage bold-faced):

Novelty architecture is a type of architecture in which buildings and other structures are given unusual shapes for purposes such as advertising or to copy other famous buildings without any intention of being authentic. Their size and novelty means that they often serve as landmarks. They are distinct from architectural follies, in that novelty architecture is essentially usable buildings in eccentric form whereas follies are non-usable, ornamental buildings often in eccentric form.

Although earlier examples exist, such as the planned but never completed Elephant of the Bastille, generally the style became popular in the United States and spread to the rest of the world as travel by automobile increased in the 1930s. The Statue of Liberty in New York is a replica building that is part sculpture and part monument, which like many subsequent examples of novelty architecture, has an accessible interior and became a tourist attraction.

Constructing novelty architecture near to roads became one way of attracting motorists to a diner, coffee shop, or roadside attraction, so buildings were constructed in an unusual shape, especially the shape of the things sold there. “Mimic” architecture became a trend, and many roadside coffee shops were built in the shape of giant coffee pots; hot dog stands were built in the shape of giant hot dogs; and fruit stands were built in the shape of oranges or other fruit. Tail o’ the Pup [is] a hot dog-shaped hot dog stand; Brown Derby is a derby-shaped restaurant; Bondurant’s Pharmacy is a mortar-and-pestle pharmacy; the Big Apple Restaurant … and the Big Duck are respectively a tall apple and a (now defunct) poultry store shaped like a duck.

Novelty or programmatic (mimetic) architecture may take the form of objects not normally associated with buildings, such as characters, animals, people or household objects. Lucy the Elephant and The Longaberger Company‘s head office are examples. There may be an element of caricature or a cartoon associated with the architecture. Such giant animals, fruits and vegetables, or replicas of famous buildings often serve as attractions themselves. Some are simply unusual shapes or constructed of unusual materials.

Bill Griffith is much taken with novelty architecture, and I’ve posted a number of times about Big or Giant X structures, mostly inspired by Zippy strips.

Searching for information about a camera shop in the shape of a camera led me to the page “9 Buildings with Architectural Design Look Like Camera Shape” (the text is in Indonesian, the title in decidedly non-native English) on the site of Pt. Niki Four, a general contractor and building maintenance firm in Karawang, listing:

  1. The Big Camera in Perth, Australia
  2. Picture Perfect Nail Salon in Marion, NC, USA
  3. The Darkroom in Hollywood
  4. Art Decal by [Chilean artist] Diego Castillo Roa
  5. Giant Camera in Point Lobos, CA, USA
  6. Camera Inspired House in Pontyprid[d], Wales, UK
  7. Public Toilet in Chongqing, China
  8. Dreamy Camera Café in Yangpeyong-gun, South Korea
  9. Camera House in Biddeford Pool, ME, USA

The third item on this list was clearly what I was looking for. Bingo.

All nine buildings are entertaining, but I was particularly taken by the seventh:


Why the city of Chongqing chose to build a public toilet in the shape of a camera I do not know.

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