Buildings shaped like unusual objects are part of the Southern California experience.

What could be more L.A. than eating a doughnut underneath the giant replica of one at Randy’s Donuts.

That kind of building is called programmatic architecture, although it has other names. Some people call it novelty architecture. And some people call it weird.

It began with the car culture of the early 20th century, said Adrian Scott Fine, director of advocacy for the Los Angeles Conservancy, a non-profit organization that preserves and protects significant buildings.

“It was an effort to stand out and look different from everything else and draw you in. It was just an early form of advertising using architecture and quirky building design for people to take notice and get off the roadway and explore it.”

Randy’s, in Inglewood near Los Angeles International Airport, is one of the best examples of well preserved programmatic architecture, he said.

“They’ve been very good at using their programmatic architecture to full effect. It’s an experience. When you go there to get a doughnut, it’s about the giant doughnut, but it’s really about advertising to the extreme.”

But many buildings that are still around are endangered.

“A lot of these were built on what’s become very valuable land,” he said. “If they’ve managed to survive up to now, they’re still probably at risk.”

A prime example is a 1928 eatery shaped like a tamale in Boyle Heights.

“It still looks like a tamale. It’s not as visible as it once was because when it was originally built it had a lot more breathing room. But it’s there. It doesn’t really have a use. That’s what we’re watching closely. There’s certainly a question about its future because it’s not in operation for something that is showcasing the building as it was originally intended.”

Nevertheless, there are still plenty of programmatic buildings in Southern California, just waiting for your selfies.

Here are a few to look for.

Los Angeles County

A 45-foot piece of artwork by artists Claes Oldenburg and Coosje van Bruggen adorns a Frank Gehry building at 340 Main St, Los Angeles. (Photo by Hans Gutknecht, Los Angeles Daily News/SCNG)

Binoculars Building: This 45-foot piece of public art by Claes Oldenburg and Coosje van Bruggen is at 1991 building designed by Frank Gehry at 340 Main Street in the Venice neighborhood of Los Angeles.

The Fleetwood Center in Tarzana looks like the front of a Cadillac. (Photo by Hans Gutknecht, Los Angeles Daily News/SCNG)

Fleetwood Center: This 1987 strip mall has a facade that resembles the front end of a Cadillac. It’s at 19611 Ventura Blvd., Tarzana.

Idle Hour: This 1941 bar shaped like a wooden barrel was brought back to life by the 1933 Group, developers interested in preserving historical properties. A replica of the 1928 Bulldog Cafe, a giant pipe-smoking canine, is on the patio. It is at 4824 Vineland Ave., Los Angeles.

  • Washington Huskies defensive back Jordan Miller #23 gets ready to play the Ohio State Buckeyes in the 105th Rose Bowl game in Pasadena on Tuesday, January 1, 2019. (Photo by Terry Pierson, The Press-Enterprise/SCNG)

  • The Gamble House, constructed in 1908 in Pasadena has just completed its 2 1/2 million dollar restoration project. The house is internationally recognized masterpiece of the turn-of-the cnetury Arts and Crafts Movement in America. The house is the most complete and best preserved example of the work of architects Charles Sumner Greene and Henry Mather Greene, who made a profound impact on the development of contemporary American architecture. (SGVN/Photo by Walt Mancini/SXCity)

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Randy’s Donuts: This walk-up stand with the towering, 32-foot fiberglass doughnut is at 805 W. Manchester Blvd., Inglewood. Built in 1953, it was part of the long-gone Big Do-nut Drive-In location. Big-Do-nut and other chains erected big doughnuts in the 1950s and 1960s, but Randy’s is the most famous. Other surviving examples include Donut King 2, 15032 S. Western Ave, Gardena; Kindle’s Donuts, 10003 S. Normandie Ave., Los Angeles; Angel Food Donuts, 3860 Long Beach Blvd., Long Beach; and Bellflower Bagels & Java, 17025 Bellflower Blvd., Bellflower.

  • The Chargers take the field at the StubHub Center in Carson on Saturday, Dec. 22, 2018. (Photo by Scott Varley, Daily Breeze/SCNG)

  • Los Angeles Chargers tight end Virgil Green (88) is tackled by Baltimore Ravens outside linebacker Za’Darius Smith (90) at the StubHub Center in Carson on Saturday, Dec. 22, 2018. (Photo by Scott Varley, Daily Breeze/SCNG)

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The Donut Hole: This doughnut shop at 15300 Amar Road, La Puente, is a little different from the rest. It’s a drive-thru, built in 1968 with fiberglass replicas of doughnuts at its entrance and exit, according to the Los Angeles Conservancy. Customers drive past display cases of doughnuts to a window where they place their orders.

This East Los Angeles building still resembles a tamale nearly 100 years after it was built in 1928, including the wrapping on the ends. (Photo by Manuel Huerta, courtesy of the Los Angeles Conservancy)

The Tamale: This 1928 building in Boyle Heights is shaped like a tamale, complete with wrapping on either end. According to Esotouric, a company that provides tours of Los Angeles, the one-time eatery has been vacant in recent years. It is at  6421 Whittier Blvd., Los Angeles.

Orange County

The Shutter Shak on the grounds of the Blakey Historical Park in Westminster. (Photo by Jeff Gritchen, Orange County Register/SCNG)

Shutter Shak: This one-day photo stand is a replica of an old-fashioned film camera. It was built in the 1970s and stood on Goldenwest Street in Westminster. It is now on the grounds of Blakey Historical Park, 8612 Westminster Blvd., in that city.

Riverside County

The Tyrannosaurus rex, dubbed Mr. Rex, in Cabazon, is surrounded by clouds in 2015. (File photo by Kurt Miller, The Press-Enterprise/SCNG)

Cabazon dinosaurs: Two giant prehistoric creators called Dinny and Mr. Rex stand in desert community of Cabazon along the 10 Freeway east of Morongo Casino,  Resort & Spa. They were created by Knott’s Berry Farm artist Claude K. Bell. Dinny is a 45-foot-high, 150-foot-long, 150-ton Apatosaurus made of steel and concrete in the late 1960s. The 65-foot Tyrannosaurus joined him in 1981. The site is famed for its appearance in the 1985 film “Pee Wee’s Big Adventure.”

  • Electrical apprentice Miguel Diaz is photographed during a lab at the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Hall in San Jose, Calif., on Thursday, Jan. 10, 2019. (Randy Vazquez/Bay Area News Group)



World’s Largest Paper Cup: The three-story replica of a wax-coated paper cup stands at 800 E. Citrus St., Riverside, which used to be the site of a 50-acre plant for the Sweetheart Cup Co., which closed in 1997. The cup remains, but is fenced off in an overgrown lot.

San Bernardino County

Eddie World: Self-described as California’s gas station, this tourist attraction off of the 15 Freeway in Yermo opened in 2018. It features a candy factory and three eateries as well as a convenience store. A 65-foot water tower on a corner of the property is decorated like an ice cream treat. Eddie World’s website calls it a sundae but some people on social media think it’s a milkshake.

Fontana native Joe Bono brought an orange-shaped citrus stand to his family’s restaurant in the 1990s. (2004 photo by Terry Pierson, The Press-Enterprise/SCNG)

Orange Stand: Orange-shaped citrus stands used to be a common sight on California highways in the 1920s and ‘30s.Few remain. This 7-foot structure was moved onto the property of a 1930s restaurant at 15395 Foothill Blvd. It is now called Bono’s Italian Restaurant & Deli and is in the National Register of Historic Places.

The exteriors of several rooms were restored at The Wigwam Motel in San Bernardino in 2011 (File photo by Paul Alvarez/Special to the Press-Enterprise)

Wigwam Motel: The piece of Route 66 history was built in 1949 on the border of San Bernardino and Rialto. It features guest rooms with queen-size beds in tent-shaped structures. Rates start at $104 a night, according to the motel’s website.


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