Creating advocates for history through the stories of greater Los Angeles.
by Paul R. Spitzzeri
In a decade that featured more than its share of the wacky and the whimsical, the fad for buildings in the shape of things, academically known as “programmatic architecture.” was a phenomenon in greater Los Angeles.
There were many, many examples of these structures, many of them restaurants or otherwise involved in food service, including hot dog stands, tamale stands, ice cream parlors and the most famous of them all, the Brown Derby restaurant.
In yesterday’s post, the focus was on the Tepee, a retreat and home office built of adobe and red brick by Walter P. Temple adjacent to his Spanish Colonial Revival residence, La Casa Nueva. In terms of regional examples of programmatic architecture, the Tepee may, in fact, be unique.
The museum’s collection has a fantastic photo album that appears to date to about 1928, with most of the images being of the family and friends of the unidentified owner. There are also views of San Pedro Harbor, Mission San Gabriel, Riverside, local mountains and beaches, regional oil fields, and more. Then, there are a quartet of photographs of local specimens of programmatic architecture.
One of the album pages features three such examples side-by-side. A familiar site/sight from the era was the Van de Kamp Dutch Bakery chain, which had a replica Dutch windmill as the structure. Theodore Van de Kamp, a native of Milwaukee, opened the first Los Angeles location of the chain in the downtown area with his brother-in-law, Lawrence Frank, in 1915. The product, however, was potato chips.
A couple of years later, the pair opened a coffee shop, but, in 1921, the first Dutch windmill-shaped bakery debuted as Western Avenue and Beverly Boulevard, which might be the location in the photograph. The structure was designed by movie art director Harry Oliver and was a smashing success.
At its peak, the Van de Kamp empire had over 300 bakeries and a few coffee shops. Frank had a sideline called Lawry’s (a play on his nickname of Larry) and also established the Tam O’Shanter Inn in Atwater Village, which is still in operation. The family relinquished its interest in Van de Kamp’s in the 1950s and the business folded nearly four decades later. Former California Attorney General John Van de Kamp was a nephew of Theodore and Lawrence Frank.
Not as well known as Van de Kamp’s were the other two images on the page. “The Freezer”, in the shape of an ice-cream churn, was a small chain of five ice cream parlors in areas west of downtown Los Angeles and in Hollywood. “The Lighthouse,” which has the namesake feature emerging from the top right of what looks like a glacial monster with two eyes for windows and a wide front door for a mouth has been elusive in a search (someone out there know where it was?)
A few pages over, near an image of the old stone church of Mission San Gabriel and a faded portrait of a young woman named Berneice on a path near some thick vines, is the famed Brown Derby, of another chain, the first of which opened in 1926 on Wilshire Boulevard near from the Ambassador Hotel and a new version moved closer to the legendary hostelry a little over a decade later. Others, not in the iconic hat shape, opened in Hollywood, Beverly Hills and Los Feliz.
The mid-1930s hat, which shed its brim over the years, was in terrible condition after the restaurant closed but it was, strangely, moved to the top open story of a three-level 1980s strip mall down Alexandria Street from Wilshire, where it remains evidently unused.
This weekend’s “Ticket to the Twenties” festival at the Homestead will include my being stationed at the Tepee to talk about its place as a rare surviving example of “programmatic architecture,” or buildings in the shape of things, as well as the wild ups and downs of Walter P. Temple’s financial fortunes during the decade.
So, if you come down to attend the festival, drop by and see what’s doing at the Tepee.