One of my favorite things to do on a Sunday is to take a drive with my fabulous friend, Charles Phoenix, who knows the kitsch heights of Los Angeles and surrounding areas unlike anyone else on the planet. As we both adore LA and equally revere its vintage past, we regularly  tool through sections of town with unbelievable architecture and restaurants still unscathed by the wrecking ball. Usually we have a set destination but this time we just decided to get in the car and let the wheels take us where they may.

Our first stop was at Spudnuts in Inglewood, where Charles had heard there were unbelievable donuts made out of  potatoes. We had an appetizer there.

For the main course we hit Dinah’s in Culver City.

The 1950’s interior of Dinah’s is as fabulous as that massive bucket of fried chicken that hovers above the restaurant outside.

I especially like the carvings in the floor:

Charles and his fried chicken look excellent against the interior.

I got fried chicken too but it was my sides that were most impressive if one is judging on the culinary kitsch scale. First, there was my creamed spinach, which looked and tasted much more like elementary school paste:

Then there were my green beans. We were particularly fascinated by one particular bean as it was just a hollow tunnel with no bean inside. See how you can see clear down to the fork prong?

It’s just this kind of detail that makes this relaxed kind of day even better. There was also an outstanding detail at the IHOP we passed in Westchester, just outside LAX.

Most IHOP’s are known for their pancakes, not their horses:

Driving through Hawthorne we passed many modern 60s buildings like this…

…as well as fantastic signage like this:

We didn’t stop at Pizza Show as we were on our way to far more impressive vintage architecture and signage:

Each letter is mounted on a metal mesh canister that lights up.

The roofline is spectacular.

Other then the ratty white plastic chair that too many restaurants use for outdoor seating, the interior of Chips is just as fantastic as the exterior:

Also fantastic is the name of the whipped cream they squirt at Chips:

Charles had quite a lot of Affair going on inside his chocolate malt.

I had a sensible tossed salad with about 10,000 calories worth of Thousand Island dressing and a nice cup of watery vegetable soup.

Next we hit King’s Hawaiian Bakery in Torrance.

Charles, featured recently on the front page of the Wall Street Journal with his towering Chepumple pie/cake, wanted some King’s Rainbow Bread so we each bought a loaf. I think you can see why:

The only thing better at King’s than that psychedelic bread is the giant pineapple holding up the ceiling in the dining room.

We continued on through Torrance, passing many more incredible 1960s office buildings.Some people think these edifices look like crap. To us, they’re a Pantheon among Pantheons.

But by far, my  favorite architecture in Torrance is the Palos Verdes Bowl.

The curved rock wall reminds me of 1950’s Vegas.

The cut-out metal overhangs are pretty great:

The font is even greater, with a new ‘O’ getting it almost right except the color:

But even more impressive than the bowling alley exterior was the outfit on this bowler:

It’s hard to see in this photo but that’s a matching shimmery lion shirt and pants. The way the sun bounced off the lion on this guy’s butt was astounding. The jeans were very shiny too. I can only hope that he had matching bowling shoes.

We left Palos Verdes and passed a plethora of  great vintage signs like these in Lomita…

… and these in Long Beach:

We passed so many vintage motels they deserve a separate post. But this classic “Colonial” estabishment, with enough pillars to hold up a stadium, was one of my favorites. Fake facades are to motels what Liberace’s capes were to Liberace.

As the sun began to set, we passed this excellent mural saluting the working people of Long Beach. I especially love the marionette looking man or is it a woman out in front with the orange toupee.

Our last stop was at this historic Bob’s Big Boy in Downey. Originally built in 1958 as Harvey’s Broiler, it’s considered the birthplace of car culture dining. Unfortunately, some of the neon was out.

We did get these excellent photos with Big Boy though.

And we got to sit in a fabulous newly-tweaked-but-vintage-nonetheless interior:

And we ate very sensibly as Charles demonstrates with his fit-conscious cottage cheese…

… and me with my second tossed salad of the day. It seems blasphemous to be in an authentic diner and not get a lump of Thousand Island on something.

All in all a was a wonderful day, tooling around LA with a wonderful friend whose eyes absorb kitsch as fast as mine and whose stomach knows how to theme eat so that what goes in matches the staggering sites that lie outside.

21 Responses to “Allee Willis’ Kitsch O’ The Day – My Sunday Drive with Charles Phoenix”

  1. Sally

    Hi Allee! I’m kinda ‘new’ to your site. Have been greatly enjoying the ‘kitsch.’ This was a wonderful post; if I lived in the area, this is what I’d be doing on a beautiful Sunday. Super overview of 50s/60s architecture, and all in one spot, on your blog. Way to go, girl! I’ll be ‘watching….’ Carry on…

  2. Mooshe

    Scrolling through I was SHOCKED by that bread. I’ve seen its sort before, but apparently it still packs a punch of disbelief and giddiness.

  3. denny

    Jealous button please. This was a fun post and I haven’t been to any of these places the whole time I lived in LA. Boy, did I miss out.

  4. Suzanne

    Sounds like a great day! I’m so glad I’m not the only one that pulls the car over to take a picture of some weird building or sign!

    I live in Torrance, so it was so much fun to see my stomping grounds in your pictures. One thing you may not have seen heading south on PCH is the Geo. Smith Water Heater Mart. (I have a few shots of it here:

    Gotta love LA! My husband and I want to head to Downey soon because I desperately want pictures of the Carpenters’ apartment buildings.

    • Allee

      I love that such a tiny building could be called Water Heater MART.

      I snapped many a photo of both of the Carpenter’s apartment buildings, Close to You and, right across the street, We’ve Only Just Begun. Also have shot many photos of their house there too.

      Would love to see some of the photos you’ve taken when you pulled your car over to shoot those buildings and signs. That kind of location kitsch is one of my favorite categories of the genre. Don’t know if you’ve checked out The Allee Willis Museum Of Kitsch at yet but there’s tons of my shots and other people’s there in the Architecture and Signs categories. Dying to see some of your gems if you’re so inclined. Direct link to upload is And you can always e-mail me at [email protected] if you have any trouble getting them up there.

  5. Terrie

    This was so much fun to view!!!! Especially seeing actual grass,,,,I am in Minnesota, and it has been perpetually cold and snowy since November!!!!

  6. Scott Finnell

    Wow, I am surprised you both could walk after eating all that food. Since I grew up in Manhattan Beach in the 60’s and 70’s, I recognize a few of those places. Thanks for sharing.

  7. Jenn

    Great photos–what a fun day! I grew up a block away from that IHOP in Westchester. I wish I knew the story on the statue. It looked less out-of-place when the building was an Italian restaurant, but I don’t think it had anything to do with the restaurant then, either. Isn’t it sad what’s happened to the Loyola Theater, next door?

    Pizza Show in Hawthorne makes a delicious pizza! I’ve been eating there for over 30 years. The interior is vintage Italian restaurant: dim lighting, maroon vinyl booths, fake wood paneling and grape vines!

    I can’t believe there’s a coffee shop named “Hot ‘n Tot”!

    • Allee

      Ok, now for sure I have to try Pizza Story. We were so into going to Chips, but Pizza Stop is next the time I’m out that way.

      Yea, Loyola Theater is sad, but at least they didn’t destroy that facade.

  8. Lori

    The I hop photo is in westchester ca.. The statue was foe an italian restaurant it was there in 1991 when I moved to sc.. At Halloween the kids at loyola maramont college used to put a pumpkin on the statues head. To look like the headless horseman. And dinahs is by far the best place to eat just off the 405 freeway. I enjoyed your photos down memory lane I loved so cal.