The Dingbat Project
August 10, 2010 6:55 AM   Subscribe

The Dingbat Project
Dingbats are modern shoebox-on-stilts apartment houses ubiquitous to the Sun Belt and west coast. No doubt you've seen a few. Built mostly during the 1950s-1970s, these stucco boxes often feature shmaltzy wrought iron lamps and names like 'Camelot' or 'Roman Gardens;' some are just downright depressing. The Dingbat project is a (perhaps humorous, sometimes educational) catalog of the Dingbats, architectural mishaps, and other urban detritus I encounter in Los Angeles County and the San Francisco Bay Area.
posted by DrSawtooth (6 comments total)

Oooooh, I actually love dingbat apartments! They're so odd and awkward, and the best ones exemplify a certain mid-century style — the low-rent version. I have a great fondness for architectural experiments of all kinds, including unfashionable ones...

I worked on that Wikipedia article last year, neutralizing its anti-dingbat flair, and I'm pretty sure I looked at your blog in the process. :) I'd probably classify most of your recent photos as dingbat-esque, not quite the archetypal shoebox-on-stilts format, but this white massive one definitely strikes me as a scaling-up of the style.

I have a tiny collection of favorite ones — pink and lamps on a cloudy day and green spiky beach living. There are several more around here, but they're not quite so aesthetic (by which I mean they're ugly and unfriendly). People can knock those ones down any time they want, but I hope that my favorite ones are saved as interesting examples of a certain era.
posted by dreamyshade at 9:58 PM on August 10, 2010

Agreed. I hated LA when I moved there (from Chicago) and the Dingbats were one of the main reasons. I think I had to stop taking Dingbats so seriously and just enjoy the fact that the things are supposed to be costume jewelry and not diamonds, so it's possible to make fun of them and enjoy them at the same time.

As for the more recent photos, also agreed. Turns out there are distinct differences between the buildings I encountered in Los Angeles and those I now find as a resident of San Francisco.

Southern California really has the best Dingbats; they've been more likely to have the silly names, odd/poorly conceived design, and adhere strictly to the canonical size and open-carport first level design. Now that I've lived in SF, it's a much different crop, at least in the city proper (East Bay is a yet-untapped treasure trove). Very few examples with the full carport level, they're rarely named, and typically sober in appearance. It's an interesting difference in character, maybe influenced by local building codes, climate, and aesthetics.

Greatly enjoyed the photos, and if you would like to contribute any to the blog, that would be splendid. Also much appreciation for fixing the Wiki article. It's so much better from my very first visit a couple of years back!
posted by DrSawtooth at 10:48 PM on August 10, 2010

Haha, costume jewelry is a good way to put it! Tacky, garish....and charming in their own way. I grew up in LA but never particularly noticed its architecture until I lived in other places (especially San Francisco) and realized that there were other ways to make a city.

There are vast fields of pastel dingbat-esque buildings out in the Avenues, with those fanciful metal screen gates (maybe a cousin to the mid-century concrete screen block that occurs around dingbats sometimes), and they're interesting in their boringness and variations on a theme, but they aren't as appealing as dingbats to me. Those SF ones seem like a practical middle-class solution for limited space, not so much of the dingbat embrace of car-culture and kitsch and aspirational self-presentation...

Sure, I'm digging up some photos and I'll send them along for a feature on the dingbats of Glendale.
posted by dreamyshade at 12:08 AM on August 11, 2010

I like the blog and the pictures, but wish the text was left justified rather than centered.
posted by Outlawyr at 1:50 PM on August 12, 2010

The blog will probably be getting an overhaul soon, so point noted.
posted by DrSawtooth at 4:50 PM on August 13, 2010

I have to admit that I'm not all that fond of the style, but it sure brings back a lot of memories of growing up in SoCal. And to find out the style has a name and is considered "a thing" - nifty!
posted by deborah at 5:33 PM on October 19, 2012

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