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LAistory: Randy's Donuts

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Yesterday was officially National Doughnut (or Donut) Day, but there's no reason to not carry the spirit of celebration over to your weekend, which is why today we're looking at the story behind one of our city's most well known structures.

And that structure happens to be a giant donut.

Randy's Donuts is a landmark building that stands out among others in the category of architecture. The official Randy's Donuts website's "History" section offers this brief take on the giant be-holed goodie:

"Built in 1952 as part of the Big Donut Drive-In chain, it has dispensed donuts ever since. Current owners Lary and Ron Weintroub keep it in top condition for occasional cinematic appearances." -Westways Magazine
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But that's the kind of story that's got a (donut) hole in it. Why on earth would they build a giant donut, and why is it a landmark?Firstly, one of the architectural and design movements of the 1950s in America was called Programmatic or Mimic architecture, when buildings were designed to include or around a larger-than-life form not ever associated with structures--often something cartoonish and colorful, usually a caricature or a household object. This style popularized restaurants designed to look like the food they sold (like the giant hot dog of Tail O' The Pup, for example) or to visually evoke the eatery's name (The Brown Derby). Thanks to Southern California's burgeoning car culture of the mid-20th century, and being the home of the cinematic, it's no surprise Los Angeles boasted a significant number of these buildings, and that another name for Programmatic style was "California Crazy"--contextualized on one website in terms of Disney, for example.

Many of these structures became roadside attractions, as Americans hopped in their automobiles and navigated the rapidly expanding highways and freeways. And so they would drive up to the big old Donut towering above the multiple locations of The Big Donut Drive-In around Los Angeles.

There were 10 Big Donut Drive-Ins built in the 1950s by donut machine salesman Russell C. Wendell. He began with a location in Los Angeles (now Kindle's), followed by Inglewood (now Randy's), Gardena (now Donut King II), Culver City (gone), Compton (now Dale's Donuts), North Hollywood (gone), Inglewood (on Imperial Hwy; gone), Bellflower (now Bellflower Bagels), Van Nuys (gone) and Reseda (gone).

But it's this second location, at 805 West Manchester Avenue in Inglewood that is the most well-known. Topped by a 32.5-foot (9.9 m) donut made of rolled steel bars and gunnite, this pretty average 24-hour donut shop, designed by Henry J. Goodwin, is one of LA's most beloved icons. It became Randy's in 1976 under the ownership of Robert Eskow, who sold it off a mere two years later to Ron & Larry Weintraub, who have owned it ever since.

Perhaps to show our love of our local landmarks, we immortalize them in film--which, as history shows us, often lasts longer than the buildings themselves. So even if you've never made a late-night run to Randy's for a bearclaw or a jelly filled, you've probably seen it on both fictional and documentary-style TV shows (Arrested Development, Modern Marvels, Californication, or the Bernie Mac Show to name a few) in online video clips, drawn up in animated movies and TV shows, and in music videos (of course it's in Randy Newman's "I Love LA." We love it!). They even offer a 24-hour webcam if you have a craving to...sit at your computer and watch other people drive up to get donuts.

But luckily this is one of our landmarks that still stands, and still does what it set out to do: Get you in your car to drive up and eat donuts. Why not? As Roadside America tells us, "the doughnuts baked at Randy's are fresh and tasty -- honey-glazed, chocolate drenched, and fat bearclaws acquired at the drive-thru window from friendly staff." So eat one...before it's too late!

And you don't really need a special day for a donut, do you?

LAistory is our series that takes us on a journey to what came before to help us understand where we are today.

Check out our other entries in the series:

Val Verde; Thelma Todd's Roadside Cafe; An eclectic house in Beverly Hills; Echo Park's Bonnie Brae House; Marineland of the Pacific; Grand Central Air Terminal; LA's Own Wrigley Field; How LA got its name; The wreck of the Dominator; The 1925 "Hollywood Subway."; The Pink Lady of Malibu; Lions Drag Strip; Disneyland...when it was cheap to get in; The ugliest building in the city; Union Station; Union Station's Fred Harvey Room; A Smelly Mystery at another train station; The Egyptian Theatre; Pilgrimage Bridge; The "It" Girl, Clara Bow; Elias J. "Lucky" Baldwin; Get Involved!; Houdini's House; Spanish Kitchen; The Platinum Blonde; Chutes Park; Fatty Arbuckle; The Brown Derby; Griffith Park; The Outpost Sign; Cross Roads of the World; Sowden House; Monkey Island; Carthay Circle Theater; The Post-War House & the Home of Tomorrow; Dan the Miner; Tropical Ice Gardens; William Desmond Taylor; Alligator Farm; Schwab's Pharmacy; Tail O' the Pup; Good Reads; Fatty Arbuckle's Plantation Cafe; The Garden of Allah, Mapping LAistory, The Pan Pacific Auditorium; Pickfair; Tower of Wooden Pallets; Hollyhock House.