What’s big and round and has America written all over it?
Nope, not apple pie.
I’m talking BIG. REALLY BIG. Like 32.5 feet in diameter.
In case you haven’t already guessed…
The well-known Los Angeles landmark — a giant donut perched atop the roadside shack that is now Randy’s Donuts — has been drawing the likes of locals, tourists and, of course, Hollywood for decades.
Designed by Henry J. Goodwin and built in 1953, the donut shop was originally the second of ten locations of the Big Donut Drive-In chain. Like the famous Tail o’ the Pup hot dog stand in Los Angeles (built in 1946 and currently awaiting its second relocation), it is a prime example of the kitschy “programmatic architecture” that became popular in the first half of the 20th century. The “onomatopoeia,” if you will, of building construction, the term is used to describe shops and restaurants built to resemble the goods they sold — an architectural gimmick to draw in the throngs of people riding the explosive wave of American automobile culture.
While many of these novelty buildings have fallen prey to demolition, this particular one continues to thrive well into the 21st century. After changing hands several times and acquiring the name “Randy’s Donuts,” the shop was purchased in 1978 by brothers Larry and Ron Weintraub, who have been churning out the sugary treats ever since.
Today, Randy’s Donuts is recognized on a global scale. Not only is the colossal donut structure in close proximity to LAX (the world’s 6th busiest airport in terms of passenger traffic), it has also made multiple pop culture cameo appearances. Notable examples include the films Earth Girls Are Easy and Coming to America, as well as Randy Newman’s music video for his 1980s ode to the City of Angels, “I Love LA.” (Watch this and travel back in time.)
It is also the cover image for the critically acclaimed Time Out Los Angeles city guide – a copy of which happens to have a home on my bedside table. Glancing at it the other day, I thought how curious it was that I had yet to sample the doughy deliciousness and snap a shot of the iconic building.
There are at least two reasons for that.
The first is simple: I love donuts.
While in recent years I’ve traded in pizza for quinoa and Mr. Goodbar for organic dark chocolate, donuts will always occupy a special place in my palate and heart.
The passage of more than two decades has done nothing to diminish the thrill of crowding around the kitchen table with my brother and cousins, as my Grandma Helen and Grandpa Phil strolled in the door, sporting grand smiles and a paper box stuffed with glazed, powdered and chocolate frosted circles of sweetness.
The second reason may be a bit quirkier.
I have an obsession with Americana. Something tells me that, in a past life, I cruised down Route 66 in a turquoise and chrome convertible, weaving through red desert mesas under the azure western sky. Just ask my brother, Justin; not a day passed on our cross-country road trip when I didn’t drag him to Graceland, Cadillac Ranch or the Big Texan.
So how was it that Randy’s Donuts — a mere 7.2 miles from my front door — was sure to serve up a dose of both guilty pleasures, and I had yet to indulge?
Well … as they say, timing is everything.
And July 4th was just around the corner. What better way to celebrate American independence, I thought, than to stuff myself with thousands of calories at a tourist attraction?
As the afternoon sun beat out the morning fog this past Saturday, I visually shape-shifted my 2005 Subaru Outback into a 1957 Chevy Bel Air and headed towards Randy’s Donuts.
Located at the intersection of Manchester and La Cienega Boulevards in Inglewood, Randy’s Donuts is open 24 hours a day and boasts both drive-thru and walk-up window options. Though the former seemed more in the spirit of the era that spawned such a spectacle, the promise of warm sun on my face was too enticing.
After taking some requisite photos, I practically skipped to the menu to decide what it would be. Apple fritter? Chocolate glazed? Cinnamon? After a few moments of indecision — I wanted them all — I decided to go with the sugar-glazed classic, a mere 70 cents.
As I handed the cheery clerk a dollar bill, and she in turn placed in my palm a donut that seemed nearly as big as the replica towering over us, I started to salivate.
As I stepped away, I took my first bite. It was positively scrumptious.
And then I did what any good American does. I ate the whole thing.