The Bulldog Café, a lost monument of mimetic architecture

It begins with yesterday’s posting “Charlie’s Dog House Diner” — not actually in the form of a doghouse, but with a doghouse image on its facade; in a comment on my posting, Tim Evanson now suggests a little place in old L.A. in the form of a bulldog — a genuine piece of mimetic architecture:

There is also the Bulldog Cafe, once located at 1153 West Washington Boulevard in Los Angeles, California. A takeout restaurant, it was torn down in 1955. A re-creation was built for the 1991 Disney movie The Rocketeer.

The link Tim provided is unusable for me, but here’s a fine one, to Martin Turnbull’s website (of 3/10/15) on the Bulldog Café, opened in 1928:

I’m a fan of mimetic architecture – buildings intentionally made to look like something, often in the shape of what it sells, like an ice cream store in the shape of a waffle cone. Yes, they’re kitsch, and but they’re fun and memorable. This one was called the Bulldog Café, and opened at 1153 West Washington Blvd in 1928 and lasted until 1955 or 1966 (sources differ.) Not unsurprisingly, it’s no longer there, but a replica of it can now be found at the Idle Hour in North Hollywood. (The replica was built by the Petersen Automotive Museum on Wilshire Blvd, but was removed during their 2017 remodel.)

Featuring ham, barbecue, chili, tamales, and ice cream; if it offered hot dogs, that wasn’t trumpeted.

Mimetic architecture. From my 8/17/17 posting “In camera”:

While namechecking the famous American photographers Diane Arbus, Edward Weston, Berenice Abbott, and Weegee, Zippy [in a comic strip] 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.

… one of the city’s last remaining examples of programmatic architecture, in which a building physically resembles its purpose.

… 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.


2 Responses to “The Bulldog Café, a lost monument of mimetic architecture”

  1. Robert Southwick Richmond Says:

    Mimetic vehicle design. Chicken Dinner candy bars were on the market 1923-62 – I don’t remember ever seeing one – but the delivery trucks were a laugh and a half. I remember seeing one in St. Louis in 1960. Let’s see if the graphic will post – otherwise Google chicken dinner candy bar truck.

  2. Tim Evanson Says:

    This links to an article about a jug-shaped building in Portland, Oregon. Originally a gas station, the Sandy Jug has been home to the Pirate’s Cove strip club ever since.

    Which begs the question: Why wasn’t the club called Jugs?

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