Roadside Mimetic Architecture

The Donut Hole, Amar Road, La Puente, California
by Michael Satterfield

In the first half of the 20th century, American entrepreneurs needed to find a way to get people out of their cars and into the restaurants, gas stations, and hotels along the road. One way these enterprising business owners stopped traffic was through the use of mimetic architecture, novelty buildings that could be anything from a Donut Shop where you drive through a giant donut (above) or an oversized bird such as the Hoot Owl Cafe in Los Angeles. While the trend started to fade in the late 50's many of these buildings became icons in their community and thankfully may are still around to this day. 

These images were captured by John Margolies between 1977-1981 as he traveled around the US photographing main streets and motels, billboards and barbershops, he captured unique pieces of Americana some that are now lost to time. He was motivated by the fear that these structures, more folk art than buildings, would start to disappear.  The Library of Congress credits Margolies with shaping the postmodernist movement, and digitized his work in 2016, making it available as public domain.

In 2010, his book Roadside America was published by Taschen, a collection of over 400 images from over 30 years and 100,000 miles of driving around America, I highly recommend you track one down for your own collection.

Here are just a few of the mimetic buildings he photographed over the years, some you can visit today.

Bob's Java Jive, Route 88, Tacoma, Washington
Hoot Owl Cafe, 9711 Long Beach Blvd, Southgate, California

The Barrel, 6th Avenue, Devils Lake, North Dakota

Orange Julep, Route 6, Plattsburgh, New York
Mammy's Cupboard, Route 61, Natchez, Mississippi.
Coney Island Dairyland, Route 285, Aspin Park, Colorado
See pictures from my recent visit to the Coney Island Hotdog Building HERE

Bomber Gas Station, Route 99E, Milwaukie, Oregon
Teapot Dome Gas Station, Zillah, Washington
Hat n' Boots Gas Station, Route 99, Seattle Washington
Pocahontas Gift Shop, Pocahontas, Iowa

John Margolies Roadside America photograph archive (1972-2008), Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division.