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c. 1920s-1930s

See restaurants shaped like animals, barrels, food, and more

In the 1920s and 30s, these crazy buildings aimed to attract diners

The 1920s and 1930s saw the emergence of an extraordinary trend in dining architecture—restaurants designed to look like anything other than a restaurant. Animals, foodstuffs, objects—even an airship—nothing was off limits, especially, it seems, in Los Angeles.

The cause for this explosion of culinary surrealism? The motor car. After the end of World War I, the era of mass car ownership began in earnest. 

In a way that had not been possible before, even with the railway age, people were now able to journey large distances simply for the sake of it.

When they did so, they required, among other things, refreshments.  And how was a restaurant to draw motorists’ attention? Through increasingly bizarre structures.

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The era of the restaurant/object faded away with the arrival of the chain restaurant. Instead of a hat, or a sphinx, drivers looked out for the familiarity of their favorite brand, perhaps most effectively expressed by McDonalds’ golden arches—and just as recognizable today.

1920s
A bulldog-shaped restaurant, Beverly Hills, Los Angeles.
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1920’s
A dairy stand shaped like a Cream Can.
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1930s
Two women enter the Zep Diner, a diner shaped like a dirigible airship in Los Angeles.
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1928
The Sphinx restaurant.
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1949
The Toed Inn at Wilshire Boulevard, Los Angeles.
Keystone-France/Gamma-Keystone/ Getty Images
“No longer content with displaying mere “Eat Here” signs, the owners of restaurants have camouflaged their establishments into the wildest sort of buildings in order to attract trade.”
1928 news article
1939
A coffeepot-shaped drive-in restaurant, Los Angeles.
Ewing Galloway/Ullstein Bild/ Getty Images
1928
The Ice Cream cone restaurant.
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1928
The Freezer ice-cream parlor.
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1920s
The Brown Derby, Los Angeles.
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1939
The Twin Barrels drive-in restaurant, Los Angeles.
Ewing Galloway/Ullstein Bild/ Getty Images
c. 1925
Actress Elizabeth Allan stands in front of the “Pig Barbecue” food stand in Hollywood.
Virgil Apger/Hulton Archive/Getty Images
1928
Oil Can Restaurant, Montebello, California.
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