Behold… the dingbat! A drab, though often kitschy icon of Sun Belt, and particular Southern Californian, architecture of the 50s and 60s.
What’s to say about the maligned, American dingbat? It’s boxy, “fortress-like,” easily fabricated and carbon-copyable, and, besides being rather a ugly example of mid-century, apartment architecture, seems to hold a strange fascination over many. For something so aesthetically so-so, a lot has been said about these dingbats:
“Most dingbats are remarkable only in their complete lack of any distinguishable qualities. The builders of some dingbats, however, chose to decorate their flat facades with all sorts of gaudy decorations like tikis, cutout fish, planets and stars. Others sought to achieve individuality by giving their behemoths elegant names. Nearly every book I consulted for this article credited Reyner Banham with coining the term dingbat; however, in his seminal work on Los Angeles architecture, ‘Los Angeles: The Architecture of four Ecologies,’ Banham gives UCLA colleague Francis Ventre credit for the name.
In his book, Banham speaks at length about the customized dingbats:
‘A row of dingbats with standardized neat backs and sides will have every street facade competitively individual, to the extent that it is hard to believe that similar buildings lie behind. Everything is there from Tacoburger Aztec to Wavy-line Moderne, from Cod Cape Cod to unsupported Jaoul vaults, from Gourmet Mansardic to Polynesian Gabled and even — in extremity — Moderne.'”
Dingbats are a particularly, quirky and humorous American invention. As customizable and mass-producible as a hamburger: you can have them your way. Built as an answer to the sprawling, urban commute that combines both domestic shelter and parking for our car-loving nation. And yet, dingbats are typically in such poor taste, that their audacious, flowery names merely mock the terribleness of their truly forgettable structures.
With names like “La Traviata” and “Crapi Apartments,” it’s good, old inspired advertising to say the least.