Monday, March 16, 2009
Updated! Scroll down for links to recent pix...
One of the delights of living in California is the proliferation of moderne architectural styles available to the casual historian.
The Golden State is, after all, home of the future - at least, it was.
So there's plenty of deco and streamlined styling to be photographed around here. And for postwar buffs, lots of international style too.
For a while now, I've been fascinated by an offshoot of the international style: Dingbat architecture. I thought I'd share an example and a little background.
Dingbat is built for a car-centric society, designed for the automotive gaze. It's also cheap and seemingly ubiquitous in the sunbelt.
The quintessential 50s or 60s-era dingbat is a "shoe box" building - say, an eight unit apartment built on narrow supports upon a parking area. The stucco facades are typically painted in a bland color, presenting large rectangular planes. Sometimes the doorway will be aligned with some faux-rock, suggesting a midcentury googie influence. But the building is generally pretty boring.
That's where the dingbat comes in. A "dingbat" is a typesetting ornament - kind of like a "special character" on your keyboard. It might be a star or a check mark or a pointing finger (remember those from nineteenth century broadsides?). On paper, they're pretty small. But on a dingbat building, they're huge, large enough to fill some of that empty space. Dingbat buildings therefore include ornaments such as diamonds or amoebas or - the moderne fantasy - atomic symbols.
Along with the the ornament, dingbat buildings often feature a name or a number, sometimes both, is some fancy script. The name provides some personality for the otherwise nondescript building, something arty like "Elysian Apts" or "Royal Arms." The number refers to street number. It's almost always a large set of digits, some set at jaunty angles. But sometimes the street number is spelled out. After all, everything is classier if it's spelled out, right?
Los Angeles is the world capital of dingbat architecture, and I hope to set up a shoot sometime in the next few months. In the meantime, I wait for blue skies and free time to investigate the dingbat buildings closer to home.
May 27, 2009 follow-up: Check out photos from my early-summer L.A. Dingbat Tour. I merely scratched the surface, but I managed to find some awesome examples.
• L.A. Dingbats - Part 1 (an afternoon visit to the land of Sputniks and Starbursts)
• L.A. Dingbats - Part 2 (a foggy morning visit to Tiki Apartments on Redondo Beach)
• L.A. Dingbats - Part 3 (featuring The Hauser - the most iconic Dingbat that I've seen thus far)
January 7, 2010 follow-up: Here's an addition to the Dingbat Tour.
• L.A. Dingbats - Part 4 (more amazing Dingbats, including some goofy names)
• My Favorite Dingbat (there may be a better one, but this is tops for me)
(Photograph by Andrew Wood - Location: 230 E. San Salvador St., San José, CA)