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Architectural Oddities

Standout Structures With Unusual Shapes

May 28, 1987|RHONDA BRIGHT | Bright is a free-lance writer in Los Angeles

During the 1920s and '30s, one could find in Los Angeles a real estate office in the shape of a sphinx, an ice cream shop shaped like a giant ice bucket and a florist's shop in the shape of a flowerpot.

Although no longer standing, those roadside buildings, shaped like merchandise being sold or a related product, were meant to stand out to passing motorists, amuse them and, merchants hoped, lure them in to buy whatever the shop had to offer. This concept became known as programmatic architecture, and usually the buildings were designed by the shop's owners.

Sometimes they were constructed of stucco over a wood frame and sculpted wire mesh, and because they were not built using the best materials, many have vanished. Some are pictured in "California Crazy" (Chronicle: $8.95) by Jim Heimann and Rip Georges, and a few are in "L.A. Lost and Found" by Sam Hall Kaplan (Crown: $27.95).

Here are 10 interesting "representative buildings" sure to attract roadside attention:

The Shutter Shak, 15336 Golden West St., Westminster, (714) 897-4777. The hardest part about building this 8-foot-wide, 14-foot-long black-and-silver camera that serves as a photo-developing shop was getting legal permission, said co-owner Michael Bel Monte. "We had to fight City Hall. They thought it looked too much like Disneyland," he said. Wife Susan Bel Monte designed the free-standing camera-shape building, "but we couldn't find anybody who would build it," he said. So Michael constructed it himself during four months in 1977. Complete with a 2 1/2-foot lens, flash cube and knobs, this 1,000-times-enlarged camera is made of lumber and sheet metal.

United Equipment Co., 600 W. Glenwood Road, Turlock, (209) 632-9931. This 2,400-square-foot yellow tractor that appears to be bulldozing a pile of rocks is a two-story office building for a heavy-equipment company. Patterned after a Caterpillar D6 tractor (it's about 2 1/2 times larger than the actual thing), this "Cat" even copies the details, including large heavily treaded undercarriage, seat and gearshift. "The owner saw a scale model of a tractor on top of a 25-story building in Tokyo, and got the idea for his own tractor-shaped building," said Brenda Schmidt, secretary/bookkeeper and daughter of Harold Logsdon, who owns the building. The building, constructed in 1976, is made mostly of plywood. It has six rooms, including a conference room and employee lounge where the diesel engine would otherwise be.

Deschwanden's Shoe Repair, 931 Chester Ave., Bakersfield, (805) 324-7292. This white oxford shoe measures 30 feet long, 14 feet wide at the sole, 12 feet wide at the heel, 10 feet high at the toe and 20 feet high at the heel. The 50-foot-long shoelace is a three-inch-wide oil-field rope, dyed black. A window is by the instep of the shoe, and the door is by the toe. Owner Don Deschwanden's father designed and built this repair shop in 1947. "It was made like a model airplane is made, with ribs and wire and plaster pushed into it," Deschwanden said. "It has stood through a lot of earthquakes." The shoe repairer said he doesn't spend any money on ads. "The shoe advertises for itself."

Bear Tree in Hobby City, 1240 S. Beach Blvd., Anaheim, (714) 527-1411. A shop for stuffed teddy bears is, naturally, shaped like a giant oak tree. "We decided to go for the natural-type setting," said Jason Walker, who, with his wife, Michelle, helped design and now owns the Bear Tree. The Walkers, who built the tree in 1983 with stucco and wood, once lived upstairs. The inside, made from plywood, looks like the inside of a tree. Located between Knott's Berry Farm and Disneyland, the unusual building is 38 feet high and 30 to 35 feet wide.

Donut Hole, 15300 E. Amar Road, Hacienda Boulevard and Elliott Avenue, La Puente, (818) 968-2912. A giant brown half doughnut lies on each end of this building. Customers drive through the hole of the doughnut and order their pastries from one side of the building while doughnuts are being made on the other side. This 24-hour landmark shop with the two 46-foot-long, 26-foot-diameter doughnuts was built in 1962 and was originally part of five Donut Hole establishments. But only this one was shaped like a doughnut.

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