Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Chili Bowl Matchbook

Over the years I have been developing a decent-sized collection collection of ephemera related to motels, diners, and other roadside attractions: postcards and matchbooks mostly. While I was able to share a few of them in a couple books published by Collectors Press, the majority of my collection still sits in acid-free boxes, viewed and enjoyed only once every few months. This blog is a chance to open that collection up to anyone who shares my passion for these artifacts of another time and place. I decided to start with matchbook covers, the kinds you generally don't see anymore. Here's the first one...

Chili Bowl was a southern-California chain of restaurants whose buildings were shaped like chili pots. This is an example of mimetic architecture (sometimes called programmatic or vernacular architecture): buildings shaped as things. Jim Heimann offers a concise history of the Chili Bowl in his book, California Crazy & Beyond:
Chili Bowl owner Arthur Whizin [ed. note: Oh that name] was the consummate programmatic entrepreneur. Starting in 1931 Whizin managed to open several Chili Bowls a year, completing twenty-three within a decade. His popular cafes had a loyal following and to further promote them he sponsored a baseball team, raffled rides on the Chili Bowl airplane, and advertised his restaurants on a speedboat which crossed the Catalina Channel laden with Fanchon and Marco showgirls. (p. 64)
The back of this matchbook cover illustrates Whizin's pride in the design of his buildings, warning all would-be copy-cats, "building design protected." Despite the initial success of the chain, though, Chili Bowl could not survive the economic hard times wrought by World War II. Those few Chili Bowls that survived now have been repurposed; one is a rib joint. The other sells noodles.

Learn More:

Los Angeles Time Machines


Gary said...

Hi, I'm Art's grandson. I vaguely remember seeing those matchbooks as a boy. Meanwhile, I still have some of the Chili Bowl cups and plates.

highway163 said...

Gary, that is so cool! Thanks for sharing those images.