Thursday, April 4, 2024


Wendall -- every other Thursday

Some people have nothing but contempt for the city of Los Angeles, but the attitude I’ve always had about this complicated place is that everything here is either beautiful or hilarious. And sometimes, surreal.


One of my favorite things about the city is its celebration of the "oversized" and its tendency towards hyper-literal or whimsical representations. It cracks me up. Many of these signs, statues, buildings, and installations have disappeared in the almost forty years I’ve lived here, but a few survive. Here is a sampling of some of my favorites.


The original Brown Derby.

One of the most famous examples of whimsical architecture is the Brown Derby Restaurant. This Hollywood icon—built in the shape of a giant bowler hat— was part of a chain started in the 1920s by Robert H. Cobb and Gloria Swanson’s husband, Herbert Somborn. The first LA location was financed by Jack L. Warner in 1926 and opened on Wilshire Boulevard, across from the famous Ambassador Hotel. It was moved about a block away and expanded in 1936 and was frequented by, among other luminaries, Ed Wood, director of Plan B From Outer Space.  


The expanded version.

A second location was built on Vine Street in 1929 and its proximity to the movie studios made this one even more celebrity-centric. It retained the name and echoed the bowler hat on its sign, but was built in the Spanish Mission style. It is purported to have invented both the Cobb Salad and the Shirley Temple. Various other franchises opened across the city, but all of them closed by the end of the 1980s. Bizarrely, the top of the hat from the original restaurant—almost unrecognizable—now sits atop The Boiling Crab in a mini-mall at its old address.


Vine Street location.

The current state of the giant bowler, alas.

When I first came to the city, I almost had a car accident the first time I saw the thirty-two foot Randy’s Donuts sign. Happily, not only is Randy’s alive and well, they are about to open a new location within walking distance of our apartment. I love LA.



Who doesn't want a giant donut?

For a long time, when I worked on the westside, one of the delights of my commute was passing the largest light bulb I’d ever seen, about twenty-five feet high.  It sat above a lighting store on West Pico Boulevard for years, but has sadly gone. This was the only image I could find, but you can get a sense of the scale by the power lines behind it. . .


My daily "bright idea" for a few years.

Another LA icon which has appeared in many films is the Tail O’ the Pup, a hot dog stand shaped like a hotdog and originally opened in 1946. I frequented this gem for many years, when it sat just off Beverly Boulevard. It closed in 2005 and the building was stored, sold, and resold, and finally reopened in a new location on Santa Monica Boulevard in 2022. Long live the pup.


In its new location.

One of our neighborhood bars, The Idle Hour, was built in 1941 in the shape of three oversized barrels, inside and out, and currently has a bull-dog shaped structure in its courtyard—modeled on a former cafe on W. Washington Blvd.


The exterior of the bar on Vineland Ave.

The barrel-like ceiling in the main seating area inside.

James lurking in front of the giant bulldog.

The original bulldog spot.

And then, of course,  there are the giant chickens and giant chicken-adjacents. There are multiple poultry markets and fast food chicken restaurants in Los Angeles that feature an oversized chicken or rooster on their roof. 


One of my favorite buildings in Chinatown.

These kinds of statues occur all over America, but only Los Angeles has Chicken Boy.


Chicken Boy!

Chicken Boy’s story began in the 1960s, when the twenty-two foot tall fiberglass figure was put atop the Chicken Boy Restaurant on Broadway to overlook downtown Los Angeles. When the building was about to be torn down in 1984, the statue was rescued by a local designer. In 2007 it found a new home on the roof of her Future Design and Style Gallery on Figueroa Street in Highland Park.


You can find the whole hilarious history of Chicken Boy here:


In addition to permanent, or semi-permanent oversized fixtures, the Los Angeles area has also welcomed large public art installations and we try never to miss one. Here are two of our encounters.

Visiting Amanda Parer's amazing inflatable rabbits.

Rubber ducks in Long Beach Harbor

We don't take many selfies, but it was the only way to get us all in the picture.

If anyone has a hankering to see a selection of the giant items Los Angeles, and America, has to offer, this website has a lovely selection:

Hope to see some of you at Left Coast Crime, where I'll be hosting the "Screwball and Screwed Up" breakfast on Thursday morning with Matt Coyle (, hosting a table with my husband James, and appearing on the Best Humorous Lefty Panel on Friday morning at 9am.