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Arts and Entertainment

The Motels, Gas Stations And Drive-Ins Of 1970s L.A., As Photographed By The King Of Roadside Americana

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The late photographer John Margolies spent three decades documenting roadside Americana, capturing the wacky billboards, architectural oddities, and neon signage of America's Main Streets and highways. He traveled the country from sea to shining sea, scouring for the everyday splendor that others wrote off as unimportant kitsch.

“My parents’ generation thought it was the ugliest stuff in the world," Margolies once told the Washington Post of the motels and miniature golf courses that caught his eye. "I liked places where everything was screaming for attention: ‘Look at me. Look at me,’ ” he continued.

As the country’s foremost photographer of vernacular architecture—also known as mimetic or programmatic architecture, and best defined as buildings shaped like things (e.g. the Brown Derby, or doughnut-shaped doughnut restaurants)—it should come as no surprise that Margolies captured numerous, glorious images of Southern California over the years.

His full archive now belongs to the Library of Congress (browse all 11,710 (!) images here), but we pulled out some of our favorites from his time in the L.A. area. Although he would return to L.A. in the '80s and '90s, all of the above photographs are from the 1970s, earlier in Margolies' career documenting roadside Americana.

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“John was extremely particular about what he would photograph and how he would do it,” Margaret Engel, a longtime friend of Margolies who joined on several of his trips told the L.A. Times. “There couldn’t be any people or any cars. And he preferred very early morning light, as in 6 a.m. He would often pay people to move their cars. He really wanted pristine images.”

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