Discovering Mimetic Architecture & The Big Shoe

California CrazySometime last year, I was at Powell’s browsing through some books all about Portland’s history* when I learned that at one point in time, long, long, ago there was this building in my neighborhood that was shaped like a gigantic shoe. How kick-ass is that?

The Big Shoe
, as it was called, was a shoe repair shop. Later, a little cafe moved into part of it. Eventually, the building was torn down, and the Consolidated Federal Credit Union now stands where it used to be on 20th and Sandy, right in front of Club 21.

Learning about all this got me thinking about how I would love my neighborhood even more if there was a huge shoe in it. I wish architects would bring back kitschy roadside mimetic architecture**. Or maybe I just wish that all those cool old buildings wouldn’t have been torn down and replaced with regular, bland old buildings. Either way, I feel there needs to be more functional structures shaped like huge, fun objects on this planet.

Anyway, right after I discovered the Big Shoe, I got on a crazy kick where I wanted to learn all I could about mimetic architecture. My husband turned me onto a book by Jim Heimann called California Crazy and Beyond, which discusses the history of this form of architecture—which reached its heyday in the 1920s-30s, a fact that is just more proof that someone needs to invent time travel—and includes almost 300 photographs of these various buildings in the U.S. Oh the eye candy to be found in this book! It’s a pretty amazing collection of photographs, and contains some really interesting info.

I don’t know why, but this book has been on my mind lately. I just put it on hold at the library this past weekend, and I’m looking forward to reading it again.

*I really love learning about what Portland was like in the past. If you do too, you should check out Vintage Portland and Lost Oregon.

**This website is really mid-nineties old-school, complete with rotating .gifs (no midi—thank the internet gods), but it really does have an impressive and extensive image gallery of mimetic architecture, and other forms of kitschy roadside architecture as well.

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2 Responses to Discovering Mimetic Architecture & The Big Shoe

  1. dogbarkpark says:

    We also have read California Crazy. Also check out The Well-Built Elephant & other Roadside Attractions, published in the 80’s, now out of print but often available. We built a giant beagle-shaped dog in Cottonwood Idaho that has been a b&b inn for the last 9 years. We love all the connections to by-gone days of mom & pop roadside businesses with funky architecture.

  2. Icky says:

    PBS has a great show called “Unusual Buildings and Other Roadside Stuff” (I think that’s the title). Rick Seback put it together. Some really great stuff. The pharmacy is awesome.

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