In 1920s America, at the dawn of the automobile age, diners and souvenir shops sought new, creative ways to lure drivers into their roadside establishments. The result was eccentric structures all along America’s Sunbelt, designed to be spotted from miles away. The roster includes owls, dinosaurs, coffee-pots, and even a Mexican giant standing on a roof serving nachos and beer. At the time, the architectural establishment dismissed these structures as “monstrosities”, but they flourished nevertheless, and now they’re even celebrated.
“The streets were dark with something more than night,” wrote Raymond Chandler in The Simple Art of Murder (1950). Born in Chicago but brought up in Los Angeles, Chandler helped create the genre that became synonymous with the City of Angels – the grimy, morally ambiguous Noir. And, suggests a new book by Taschen’s executive editor Jim Heimann, there’s good reason why LA gave birth to Noir. A small (though already shady) city until 1892, it was transformed when oil was discovered in modern day Echo Park. The black gold brought in money, and with it corruption, and a series of lurid real-life crimes. At the same time, Hollywood and the burgeoning newspaper industry helped ensure a plentiful supply of photographers, documenting both the good and the bad to be found.