Novelty architecture arose with the coming of car culture. An early and iconic form of this kitsch architecture is a building shaped like an item, known as a “Duck,” after the iconic Big Duck in New York, built in 1931 (term coined by the authors of Learning from Las Vegas in 1977). Novelty architecture comes in a range of sizes, from your teepee-shaped motel room to the picnic-basket-shaped Longaberger Headquarters (yes, they make baskets!).
Novelty architecture, from Ducks to giant sculptures, spread across the United States in the mid-twenthieth century as a way to catch eyes and turn heads of potential customers that were speeding by in cars. If you’ve done road trips in the West or the Midwest, you may be familiar with giant sculptures including Paul Bunyan and Babe the Blue Ox.
Hat N Boots, a well known landmark in south Seattle, is a beautifully preserved example of novelty architecture. The sculpture duo was originally part of “Premium Tex,” a cowboy themed gas station built in 1954. The boots, which you can go inside, served as the bathrooms for the gas station. Following the 1988 closing of the gas station, the hat and boots fell into disrepair. In 2003, the local community gathered the funds and plans to save these icons. They were moved to Oxbow Park, in Seattle’s Georgetown neighborhood, were they were restored and can be visited, today.
Sources and Further Reading
Roadside America has a nice write-up of Hat N Boots here, as well as an older photograph (see below).
There is a nice collection of Ducks and other novelty architecture on the Wikipedia page, which is a nice place for a little introductory looking around.
Another blogger has previously gathered a list of 15 examples of novelty architecture, and it’s a good one! Check that out here.
Photos: the historic photo came from Roadside America; all the rest are my own.