california crazy: new book surveys the state's expressive roadside architecture

california crazy: new book surveys the state's expressive roadside architecture

from donut-topped drive-ins to owl-shaped ice cream parlors, california’s roadside structures are synonymous with the west coast. expressive, bold, and often absurd, these directly symbolic buildings and motifs define life on the road in the golden state. at the dawn of the automobile age, decades before robert venturi discussed ‘ducks’ and ‘decorated sheds’, the unstoppable rise of the automobile changed the face of the wild west. starting in the 1920s, vendors began competing for business with attention-grabbing buildings offering snacks, souvenirs, and services in the most direct way possible.

california crazy book
all images © jim heimann collection/courtesy taschen



although the unique roadside structures were originally dismissed as ‘monstrosities’ by the day’s architectural establishment, the past 40 years has seen them achieve a new sense of integrity. now, the architectural anomalies are rightfully celebrated as part of a new book from taschen. titled ‘california crazy’, the heavily illustrated publication examines this rogue architectural style with a thorough documentation of the state’s eccentric constructions.

california crazy book
toed inn, 140 west channel road, santa monica, ca. 1931



the freshly revised compendium of buildings presents new discoveries and several pictorial essays, which explore how these buildings, and the power of personal expression, became synonymous with the west coast. ‘california crazy’ features studies exploring the influences that fostered the nascent architectural movement, including david gebhard’s essay — ‘a lasting architecture’ — which defined this vernacular style almost 40 years ago.

california crazy book
deschwanden’s shoe repair, 931 chester avenue, bakersfield, ca. 1985



the ‘california crazy’ concept is also expanded to include domestic architecture, eccentric signage, and the automobile as a fanciful object. ‘combine a freethinking populace with a desire to reinvent itself, and a climate was created that served as the perfect incubator for the outrageous and amazing,’ says jim heimann, the book’s editor and the executive editor for taschen america. ‘california crazy. american pop architecture’ is available via taschen’s website.

california crazy book
la salsa man, pacific coast highway, malibu 1988

california crazy book
big donut drive-in, 805 west manchester boulevard, inglewood, ca. 1955

california crazy book
hoot hoot I scream, 1201 valley boulevard, san gabriel, 1932

california crazy book
cover — california crazy. roadside vernacular architecture by jim heimann
hardcover, 21 x 28.5 cm, 324 pages

  • How distressing to see the Big Donut mis-identified as being the famous location in Inglewood, when anyone can see the donut in the photo is facing the wrong direction. The photo shows the North Hollywood Big Donut location, confirmed by the presence of the Chuckwagon restaurant in the background!

    Don Solosan
  • That’s an interesting article Mr Philip.
    I am an architect ( by education) from India and I could not resist in sharing a sort of similar architectural style of overtly expressvie decorative water storage tanks here.
    These are mostly found in the northern state of Punjab and the shapes can vary from birds to mighty aeroplanes, dotting the landscape of towns. And infact these are also popular in contemporary times. You may have a look here :

    And so from the vantage point of pursits it may not adhere to any theoritical architectural styles, but actually they have evolved as a signature style of their own.
    Would be great to hear your views.


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