Allee Willis’ Kitsch O’ The Day – My Sunday Drive with Charles Phoenix

Submitted by Allee Willis January 12th, 2011
Certifikitsch WinnerClassique d Camembert

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.

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

  1. Mark Milligan

    Nice rims! Is that a VW?
    I’ve seen that horse before at IHOP and wondered what in the world it was all about! Do you or Charles have any idea? Did the city put it there?
    That bread! I’m want to go buy some, it’s close to a place I visit over by the Torrance airport. Is it flavored, or just colored?

      • Mark Milligan

        I have to say that it would be the ride to be remembered being in the back seat of the car when you two run around L.A. When he came to Denver for the Modernism Expo I stayed for his show and thought I fall off my chair. And he is an absolute car expert, especially 50’s and 60’s, which of course are my love.

        I think I might try to go see his show in PS in February.

        Encore! More Sunday drives!

  2. windupkitty

    What an utterly fantastic post! This made my week! There;s is nothing better than taking a sunday drive with a good friend and eating yourselves silly! I am currently bemonaing that I am missing out on a road trip to LA with one of my best friends in the world….She called me from the road and it was torture to not be there :)

    I can hardly wait to take one of Charles Phoenix’s coveted tours of LA! I’ve never had much love for LA but I think that’s because I wasn’t in know about where to go (and didn’t have a car)…I always knew these things existed and can’t wait to see them…Dinah’s Chicken I do remember and I’m glad to see it’s still there….My dad used to ice skate at Culver City skating rink…that place I remember too…

  3. Mod Betty

    Donuts and fried chicken and mid mod signage and cottage cheese and WOW, you folks sure make me miss visiting Los Angeles! I think a RetroRoadmap trip needs to happen, and soon!

    Thanks for sharing your fun day with us, love you both!

    Mod Betty /

      • Mod Betty

        Allee- I am in snowy Phoenixville PA – home of The Blob! We have Blobfest every year at The Colonial Theatre (I’m a member and volunteer). Talk about kitsch- we re-enact the “running of The Blob” scene from the movie! It’s one of the reasons we moved here :-)

        But I hold a fondness for LA/ Hollywood as that’s where I met my musician husband, and we love to visit “where it all began” – I’ll let you know when we head out next!

          • Mod Betty

            Allee I promise to gather some of my Blobfest photos and submit the event to the Museum!

            The combination of the cool old theatre (with a great marquee) that is fun enough to celebrate Blobfest, a vintage diner (alas up on blocks in a neighbor’s yard now) and a Goodwill thrift store, plus being able to live in the Hacienda, these are the things that made ups move here, and we couldn’t be happier!