By Lynne T. Jewell
No offense, but Los Feliz has more than its share of dingbats. Meaning, in architecture parlance, those two-story, overhanging carport apartments from the ‘50s and ‘60s.
From the many sightings in Los Feliz alone, it’s not surprising that Los Angeles has been called the dingbat architecture capital of the world. These dingbat designs are one of the many architectural styles spotlighted in LFIA’s new Exploring Los Feliz: Interactive Map & Property Search.
As trends change, the quirky multifamily complexes may have gone out of fashion, but now it’s cool to call a dingbat home. Local architect Barbara Bestor wrote in an essay in “Dingbat 2.0: The Iconic Los Angeles Apartment as Projection of a Metropolis” (yes, there are books on dingbats) about its revival, referring to the stucco boxes as “simultaneously pedestrian and secretly iconoclastic.”
“I like it,” says one dingbat dweller on Rowena Avenue sharing that he was well aware of the architectural style before moving in. The term actually comes from graphics jargon, depicting the atomic-age decorative symbols and starbursts featured on the front of the buildings.
Dingbat lovers abound like graphic designer Clive Piercy. He’s a big fan of the dingbat light fixtures that “twinkle and glow” at night. In his book, “Pretty Vacant,” he calls the design “a purist international style fused with a generous helping of Googie.” He denotes that all the attention is paid to the street facades that “mostly reflect the exuberant optimism and confidence that were sweeping the country in the period from 1945 to the early ’60s.”
Of course, the dingbats are not without its critics. One detractor likens the boxy look to “lipstick on a pig.”
How did dingbats become part of our architectural landscape? Bloomberg News describes them as “colorful carport-equipped apartment buildings offering cheaper—and sometimes stylish—digs for generations of LA dreamers.” They also provided affordable housing during the earlier housing shortage in the post-WWII days. And, let’s not forget it offered space for residents to show-off those tailfin cars in the open carports.
As you drive—or walk—around Los Feliz, catch some of the themed names the dingbat developers came up with to conjure up life in paradise, like Hale Loke (“Happy House”) 3207 Rowena Ave; The Rowena Palms, 3335 Rowena Ave; Chatelet, 1851 Winona Blvd. or the The Hollywood Capri, 1757 Normandie Ave.
For the delight of devotees, there are many different types of dingbats, as gleaned from “Dingbat 2.0.” There’s the twinbat (double dingbat buildings), drivebat (carport on the side), halfbat (reduced carport), hillbat (on a steeply sloping site) and even the dumbbat (with parking on both sides).
Some dingbats are sadly showing their age, like the twinbat complex at 3346 Griffith Park Boulevard. But fortunately the 1959 complex is undergoing a total rejuvenation.