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Sam Hall Kaplan

Tail o' the Pup's Future Is on a Roll

December 13, 1986|Sam Hall Kaplan

Hot dogs and historic preservation are being served up again with mustard and relish at the Tail o' the Pup.

The enticing fast-food stand in the shape of a giant hot dog coated with mustard in a fluffy bun is steaming at a new location, on the west side of N. San Vicente Boulevard just above Beverly Boulevard.

An architectural and gourmand landmark, the 17-foot-long stucco hot dog and roll sculpted on a chicken-wire frame survived as an outgoing order from its previous site a few blocks away on La Cienega Boulevard.

The stand almost was gobbled up there in a real estate transaction--ironically, to make way for a rich architectural souffle consisting of a new Ma Maison restaurant crowned by a multi-storied luxury hotel.

The stand had teetered on the La Cienega site for nearly 40 years as one of the more successful and attractive examples of programmatic architecture--a style that in effect uses a building as a sort of three-dimensional billboard to catch the eye and hopefully whet the appetite of passing motorists.

There was a time when such fanciful structures dotted the Southern California landscape. They included giant chili bowls, tamales, ice cream buckets, milk bottles, doughnuts, a coffee cup, a coffee pot, a pumpkin and a pig, the latter serving barbecue ribs and other porcine delights.

Motivating the design and construction was the theme that if you could see it, you would probably eat it. The style also has been known as "pop" and "eat me" architecture.

In the non-consumable category, there has been a florist shop in the form of a flower pot, a shoe repair shop as a shoe, a music school as an accordion, a piano showroom as a piano and a camera store as a camera. The facade of the latter still exists at 5370 Wilshire Blvd., but now behind the lens of the front window is an Indian restaurant.

Also advertising itself was the Brown Derby restaurant in the form of, of course, a brown derby, Van de Kamp's Bakery as a windmill, the Hoot Hoot ice cream parlor as an owl, the Samson Tyre and Rubber Company with its Babylonian facade, and a hosiery shop topped by a well-turned leg.

Of the food stands, only a few have survived shifting tastes and rising land prices. Among them is Randy's Donuts, just west of the San Diego Freeway on Manchester Boulevard in Inglewood, with a huge doughnut delicately balanced on a small shop. Further east on Manchester Boulevard is a restaurant topped by a teapot. A couple of oversized chili bowls also have been sighted, unfortunately in need of a dishwasher.

The Tail o' the Pup has been one of the more venerable, pampered for nearly two decades by operator Eddie Blake with the help of his son, Dennis, and championed as a landmark by preservationists and customers. Its economics also have been aided by its status as a setting for TV commercials. When the stand was first threatened with extinction six years ago, local architect/activist Bernard Zimmerman led an effort to get the city's Cultural Heritage Board to designate it a historic-cultural monument. But because the stand was then existing on a month-to-month lease, the petition was turned down.

The repainted and patched-up stand is now anchored to its new site by a five-year lease, along with steel reinforcing bars and the continuing love and affection of customers and preservationists.

And though the kitschy stand still does not qualify for consideration by the city as an official monument, it is nonetheless a local architectural and social landmark to be cherished, preferably while consuming a hot dog.

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